My name is Tanner McAlister. I am a returned missionary from the Peru Chiclayo Mission, but like most of you who will read this article, I did not serve for 2 years. I served for 11 months until I was honorably released because of mental health issues. I wanted to share how I was able to regain my confidence after I had this experience, and how today I am a stronger and more faithful member of the church.
Like many of the other early return missionaries, my heart was filled with fear when I returned from my mission. I had many questions, such as: What will my parents think of me? What will my younger brother and sister think? What will my older sister and other friends and family members who are currently serving full time missions think of me? What will the members of my ward think of me? What will my non-member friends think of me? If I am not able to return, how will I be able to date? What will my mission president and my old companions think of me? What will the people who I served in Peru think of me? How will I tell my future kids that I did not serve a mission for two years? Does this make me unqualified for future blessings in the church? How will I ever be able to accept that I did not fulfill my personal goal of serving a mission for 2 years? How are people going to understand that this 18 year old kid, who was living life with such joy and success before his mission, now needs weekly therapy sessions? 1 Nephi 3:7 says that God will prepare a way for us to keep his commandments, isn’t serving a mission a commandment? And, the biggest fear, what does God think of me?
I pondered these questions daily and for many days I felt helpless, as if nobody understood my problems. I prayed and searched the scriptures diligently, I met with my stake president, counseled with my parents, went to church every Sunday, and I even gave talks and taught Sunday school. But for a while I didn’t feel like I was making much progress. I didn’t dare read my patriarchal blessing, because after reading it once, I felt like a failure and I knew that it would just feel the same way. I began to search for help online, and began to watch every Mormon message video that I could find and I began to read all kinds of early return missionary blogs. I fell in love with the video, “Men’s Heart’s Shall Fail Them” by Elder Russel M. Nelson. I also gained strength from the blog, “8 Powerful Reminders for Missionaries Who Come Home Early” by Andy Proctor. But I still could not find inner peace. I was restless and yearned for some kind of answer. One thing that helped me along this path was actually my non-member friends. I have the privilege of living an area of Northern California where I grew up with mostly non-members, so although they knew I was serving a mission they did not understand that coming home early was a rare thing. Many asked things like, “Are you home for the holidays?” And when I explained why I was home, there was no judgment at all. Some people who did not know me before my mission would ask if I was a student or if I was working, and when I responded that I was neither and that I had recently returned from a year of church service in a foreign country, they were in awe. They congratulated me for doing such an awesome thing, and it made me feel really good. I hope everyone can stop for a second and just marvel about what you did. A young adult leaving to an unfamiliar land to teach others about Jesus Christ is just amazing.
Since I had been home many people had reassured me that no matter what happens, I was a returned missionary. My parents, stake president, ward members, friends, and even my therapist. But I just could not accept it. But one day I was able to say to myself, “Tanner, no matter what happens, you are a returned missionary. God loves you and he has a plan for you.” This time I actually believed it, and for the first time since I had been home I felt peace. I was finally confident about how God felt about me. I was truly able to see myself through God’s eyes. When I shared this with my stake president, he told me that the spirit witnessed to him that that was true, and we could finally see that I had made a lot of progress. That little step made all the difference. I was finally able to see through God’s eyes. I still didn’t have an answer to all of my questions, and I didn’t know whether I was going to be able to return or not, but I knew that God loved me, and that he had accepted my service (D&C 124:49). I invite anyone who is reading this to ask God to allow you to see yourself as he sees you, because that is what made my transformation possible.
Now, I truly had a full brightness of hope. I knew that God loved me and that he would reveal his plan to me. My faith increased to a level that it had never been before. I was able to pray with all my heart, knowing that God knew that my heart was in the right place. God knew my only intent was to do his will. Of course I still had some fears and doubts. The thought of returning to my mission scared me to death. I was also equally afraid of not returning to my mission. I still feared judgment from my peers and family members, but I was able to push all of the negative thoughts out of my mind and just listen to the Lord, and I knew that he was also listening to me.
One Sunday evening while I was praying I felt impressed to read my patriarchal blessing, which I had not done for a while, because it made me feel like a failure. My patriarchal blessing talks a lot about my mission, and talks of it as a wonderful experience and speaks of me as being a powerful missionary. So naturally I figured that I would “finish” my mission. But as I read it this time, I gained a new perspective. I was able to truly see my mission as God saw it, and I was filled with the spirit. I realized that my mental health issues are something that I had always had, but God had suppressed them for those 11 months, just so that I could serve. He blessed me immensely, and through me he was able to touch the hearts of many. In my mission I never had a baptism, but I know that I served with all my heart, might, mind and strength, and because of that my mission resulted in great things, for me and also for all those with whom I served.
In the following days, with the help of my stake president, I was able to make the decision to not return to the mission field, and I was confident that that was the will of the Lord. After making that decision I felt really sad. The reality of not being able to return and serve the people that I loved really hurt, but I knew that I had “finished” my mission. God had planned for me to serve for 11 months and that’s what I did. My sorrow was just a result of how much I loved the work of salvation and the people who I had served. My sister is currently serving a mission in New York, New York north, and she recently wrote me and shared the following words, “I had an interview with my mission president last week, and he knows about your situation and everything so he asked me how you were and he told me some cool things. I really felt the spirit. He paraphrased some words that Elder Holland said recently. He said that never let the length of your mission degrade its value or significance. He said just tell people, "I served a mission in Peru." It doesn't matter how long it was. And also, it says in your mission call letter that you are "anticipated to serve 2 years". It doesn't say you WILL. So it's ok that it was shorter. He also said that back in the day, in the beginning of the church when missionaries were serving in England, some would serve for 4 years and some for 8 months. That's just the way it was. Elder Holland said that it is kind of like that today too. I really felt the spirit when my mission president was saying all of this! Hope everything is going well, love you!”
I think her words can be applied to all of us. All that matters is that we serve the Lord, and that we do what he wants us to do. I know that whether you are an early return missionary because of health, or worthiness, or even if you have not made the decision to serve yet, that God will show you the plan of the happiness that is designed especially for you. Be patient and prayerful, the answer might not come when you want it to, but it will come. I love and appreciate each of you that have read this article. If there is anything that I can do to help you, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.