Do you know what the most awkward group on the face of the planet is?
ding, ding ding! You guessed it! Recently returned missionaries! We are the most adorably awkward people on earth. And you can’t really blame us.
I’ve had some interesting experiences the past couple of days with recently returned missionaries. First, I’m taking an institute class for recently-returned RMs. As one person so bluntly put it, “It’s like RM rehab.” We all just cling to each other and as other RMs tell their stories/experiences/share their testimonies, we all get this dreamy, faraway, knowing look in our eyes: “Oh, yeah. I know exactly how it is.” [but the thing is, we really do. just in different ways. and yet eerily similar ways. it’s a weird phenomenon.] We are all crazy and weird together and it is great, because we all understand each other. [yep. RM rehab.]
Then yesterday, I went to volunteer at the TRC (the Teaching Resource Center) at the Missionary Training Center. And I was with a bunch of recently-returned RMs who all went to Russia on their missions. So, we were an even smaller and rarer group of awkward. We all just bonded over how weird it was to be back in the MTC, and about how we almost died when we went to Costco for the first time, and we spoke Russian with each other and swapped Soviet train stories. We were all besties in like, five minutes. And all so awkward. Wonderfully, adorably awkward. Love it.
But the thing is, the transition back is hard. It’s hard for everyone. And it should be hard. You’ve just left some of the most trying, refining years of your life. And you’ve changed . . . and it feels as though the world around you hasn’t.
There are two ways I like to explain coming home from a mission. One way is from a friend of mine, the other is my own idea.
My thoughts. Coming home feels a lot like when Frodo comes back to the Shire in Return of the King. Do you remember that scene when he’s back at Bag End, writing some memoirs, and he says,
“How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart, you begin to understand, there is no going back?”
Because there is no going back. You can’t go back. You have to move on—because you’re a new, changed person, and the world around you is different. Mostly because you’re different. So you have to move forward. You go forth with faith.
Wisdom from my friend. Coming home is like the last scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when the Pevensie siblings come tumbling out of the wardrobe . . . and they’re suddenly back, without any preparation. And the world around them is exactly the same, and they look exactly the same, but they have all of their experiences in Narnia—they have grown up in Narnia, and they have become kings and queens there and their souls are entirely different. But no one understands, except those who have been to Narnia.
[image courtesy of aceshowbiz.com]
In short, coming back from a life-changing experience is not easy.
I've obviously been thinking about this quite a bit. So, I’ve compiled some thoughts of challenges I and others have experienced when coming home and my own two-cents of how to cope with these challenges . . . at least, what has been helpful for me.
Common challenges of being home:
- What it feels like: crushing, disconnected, weird, alone, I feel like I don’t belong anywhere. These are just a few responses I’ve heard/I have felt.
- You know you’ve changed, but people expect you to be the same.
- You keep wanting to go back; you are homesick for your mission.
- Not sure where you fit in anymore.
- Keep wanting to build the kingdom of God/be of some type of service . . . and feeling like you are wasting time/not being helpful.
- A general feeling of “now what?” You know that last scene of Finding Nemo where the aquarium fish finally get out of the dentist office and into the sea? They’re so happy to be out and “free” . . . but they’re still stuck in the plastic bags and the pufferfish says, “Well, now what?” Yep. That’s us.
- I know there are more. Too many to count, really.
Some things that have helped me adjust:
- Have a schedule. Whether it’s work, school, or a schedule you create yourself, it is good to have things to do and to be consistent. This is not only good for right after the mission, but it’s just healthy to be organized. Make sure that you make time for gospel study and for service.
- Be patient. Remember that it is a transition. It takes some time. Also, if being a “weird RM” means that you love and talk about the Gospel more than you used to, that’s not a bad thing. You don’t want to go back to how you used to be. Because you’re better than you used to be.
- Do talk about your mission. Don’t worry about stereotypes. Find someone who you can trust and who will just listen. And then talk, even if you both know they won’t understand everything.
- Smile and be happy—attitude really does matter. Humor helps, too.
- Write down how you are feeling. Writing is a wonderful outlet.
- Love and move forward. Faith, hope, and charity.
You can never go wrong when you follow advice from the prophet: “The past is behind, learn from it. The future is ahead, prepare for it. The present is here, live it.” – Thomas S. Monson
- Again, I know there are more remedies.*
It’s not easy, this thing called life. It’s full of growing pains, changes, and sometimes it is downright confusing. But, if there’s anything I learned on my mission (and that I need to apply every day), is that I need to trust in God more. He loves us. He knows what He's doing. He really does care for us, and He has a plan for each of us; He wants us to be happy. Because that's what the plan is called, isn't it? The Plan of Salvation. The Plan of Happiness.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6
*If any of you have more advice/thoughts on adjusting—to anything, whether it be post-mission or postpartum life, feel free to comment below.