Dear 100 Hour Board,
So I'm a female freshman and a lot of my female friends (and people in my ward) are planning on going on missions. But to be honest I don't know if I want to go. My parents really want me to and I know that in the Church they don't require women to go (but still encourage it), but I feel like my testimony isn't strong enough to go preaching to people. There's also a small part of me that feels like if I don't go, I'll miss out on some valuable experiences. Do you have any advice or something that might help me decide what to do?
Just a few thoughts:
1. You're not obligated to go. It sounds like you already recognize this, but even with that knowledge, the social pressure to serve can be enormous, so don't forget it. Whatever decision you make, you are and always will be a valuable, worthy daughter of God. Choosing not to serve isn't a sign of weak faith or poor testimony.
2. You don't need a blazing testimony to serve a mission. Personally, as someone whose pre-mission testimony was more logical and coldly analytical than it was especially spiritual, I found that a mission was precisely what I needed to have real, genuine spiritual experiences and experience God in my own life. Even as late as my time in the MTC, I didn't feel like I had the spiritual "spark" I needed to have a real testimony. Mission life helped me find that spark.
I do want to be very clear on this one: ultimately, only you have a sense of the strength of your testimony, and my experience will not necessarily be yours. If you really don't feel comfortable teaching the gospel full-time, don't feel forced to by any means. But I do want to offer the caution that if you delay out of worry about your testimony failing to meet some arbitrary, undefined standard of "strong enough," you may find yourself waiting forever for a moment that never comes. (If not now, when will your testimony be strong enough? How will you know if it is? I can't answer those questions for you, but they're things to consider.)
3. Ask God. I know this is bordering on the trite, the overdone, the Primary-level answer--but it's pretty good advice if you ask me. Quite frankly, if I had had my way, I almost certainly would not have chosen to serve a mission. Between my acute social anxiety, my intense introversion, and my general dislike of change, a mission sounded like the worst possible experience I could have. I served anyway because the Spirit was quite clear with me that it was something I personally needed in my life; it was without question the most difficult experience I have ever had, but it was also my most valuable.
It may be that there are valuable experiences that God wants you to have that can only be obtained this way, as it was for me. It could also be that the path He wants you to take is in fact entirely different, and doesn't involve a mission at all. Or maybe it's entirely up to you, and there is good waiting behind both sides of this decision (sometimes these decisions are the most difficult ones to make). I would wholeheartedly recommend praying to seek His will on this question. You don't have to work this out alone.
Above all, remember that God is mindful of you. I think if you're striving to do and to be good, you'll find happiness and fulfillment whether you take on a proselytizing mission or not. I hope this helps you as you ponder your decision!
Six years ago I was in your shoes. I hope telling you my story will help you make this decision that you can only personally make.
I was a month from turning 19 when the age change happened in October 2012. I watched the announcement with one of my male cousins who asked me if I was going. I scoffed and said no (as I had a crush on his roommate, who was also there). You can imagine all of my friends and family going and everyone asked me if I was going to go. I didn't want to go just because everyone else was going. Truth be told, I didn't really have a testimony of my own, I was just riding off my parents' testimonies since they were the ones paying for my college education.
I found out in January that my Dad was going to be losing his job. When I got home from Idaho in April, I knew that going on a mission would be a financial strain on my parents. I only had $100 to my name and I wasn't going to magically get all of the money to go on a mission.
Then I started to go to all of the mission farewells of people I loved. I continued to go back and forth about it while continuing to get pressure from everyone. I prayed about it, but I never really got my answer.
Finally, I went to a mission farewell for one of my cousins. Her topic was about prayer and that's the talk that changed my perspective on things. She quoted the Bible Dictionary:
Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort. (source)
When I was previously asking God if I should go on a mission, I was not prepared to act upon the answer He wanted to give me. It was only then when my heart had changed and I wanted to do God's will.
Right before I prayed, my Mom came into my bedroom and conveyed a message from my uncle. "If Goldie Rose is supposed to go on a mission, God would provide a way to make it possible (referring to my Dad's job loss)". That's when it hit me, and I decide to pray in that God's plan was the best plan for me. I was willing to go on a mission if He asked of me, but I was also willing to continue my education.
I ended up putting in my mission papers, not knowing how I was going to pay for everything. I saved every nickel and dime while faithfully paying my tithing. It was hard at first since I thought to myself that the money would be going to build up the Lord's kingdom anyway. But I ended up paying tithing after a really good Relief Society lesson we had about it
I was preparing for my MTC date in November, while still having no clue on how to pay for my mission. One of my family members told my parents that they'd pay for half of my mission. I bawled and my parents told me that they could pay for the other half, as they knew the blessings that would come from it.
I had entered the MTC not having even finished the Book of Mormon once. I told myself that if I found out that everything was false and not true, I would just go home. But God was aware of my situation and put certain people in my path that helped me gain my testimony quickly. It was hard, but worth it. I even ended up being placed in certain areas on my mission where I was able to gain additional Bible knowledge before I was really thrown into the Bible belt areas full of preachers.
Missions are great, but my best friend who has a rocking testimony was told she need not go. I don't look down on her at all because God places us in certain situations to help us grow individually. I echo 9S by saying pray with intent to follow His will and you'll be blessed.
Please let me/us know what you decide!
My approach was to not throw out the idea entirely, but recognize that I wasn't going to go unless I felt particularly pressed to do so. I went based on the "fog" knowledge that Elder Bednar talks about in the Patterns of Light videos. I took steps based on what felt right each semester and I didn't hear God telling me I was doing the wrong thing, and I felt confident in my decision to keep going to school. You can do that too - just go bit by bit, and if you pray and feel like you need to go, then you can work based on that impression. Just don't put your life on hold until you figure out what you want to do. Just keep taking steps that feel good and if you need some redirection, you'll get it. If not, you should feel sure that God is happy and content with the life choices that you're making.
I, too, felt that part of the reason that I didn't want to go was that I didn't feel I believed it enough to want to teach other people. Some folks might try to tell you that your mission is what will convert you, so you should go anyway. In my opinion, that's not great advice. Sure, it probably works for some people, but this mindset has also led to a lot of struggle and pain and stress for others. I think that I made it through the last 2 years of doubts and frustration and confusion because I had the time and space to work my own way through my testimony, without investigators relying on me. I got to enjoy (or even not enjoy!) taking BYU religion classes, learning at my own pace, and focusing on my own faith, and I have figured out who I am and what I believe. It may be possible that I could have done this on a mission, but I genuinely feel that that would not have been true for me. I needed to focus on myself to get through it, not teach other people things that I wasn't sure I believed in the first place. I'm glad I made the decision that I did, even though it was also a hard experience.
And, for the record, experiencing tests of faith is not a result of choosing not going on a mission. I had a few people try to tell me that I wouldn't feel the way I did if I had gone, which is pure speculation and certainly not their business. So, at this point I should forewarn you - though, granted, this may not end up being the case for you, so take this with a grain of salt - that people will have a lot of opinions. And those opinions are pushy and can sometimes make you feel guilty and maybe angry or upset. Since deciding not to go, I have had a lot of people (TOO MANY!) try to convince me that going on a mission was the best thing I could be doing and that I should wait to get married until I came back and it would change my life and blah blah blah... and quite frankly, I don't like being around those people. I have felt and been told that God is proud of me and my decisions, so I walk with confidence that choosing not to serve was perfectly fine in His eyes.
I echo what everyone else has said. If you feel that God has confirmed with you that you don't need to go, walk with confidence that you are in line with His will, and don't let other people's opinions make you feel otherwise.
Don't go on a mission because other people want you to go. It's your life, and only you have the authority to decide what to do with it.
It is true that going on a mission would give you valuable experiences. It is also true you will gain equally valuable experiences without going on a mission. I did not serve a mission, and I have never felt any kind of lack for that. Pray to God to know what is best for you, and if you don't receive a clear answer, simply serve or do not serve a mission according to what you want. God isn't going to punish you for making a choice when He didn't specifically direct you as to which choice you should make.
When I was a freshman thriving in Helaman Halls, I fell into a similar predicament. But my reasons for wanting to go on a mission didn’t have anything to do with the gospel and might not be relevant to your situation.
For me, it seemed like every other week a girl in my hall was opening her mission call. They would go down to the lobby, invite everyone they knew and live stream it. They would read where they were going to serve and the whole lobby would erupt into cheers and applause. Everyone would swarm them after to give them a hug. Everyone was so proud and happy.
I wanted to feel that. I felt like a lowly freshman who didn’t know what they wanted to do, I had no status or a stable friend group, so I thought opening a mission call would be a way I could get those feelings.
Also, I was scared that all of the friends I did have would leave me and I would be the only 20-year-old sophomore at BYU. I was scared that everyone would know I didn’t go on a mission and judge me.
I thought about it, talked to my family, and talked to my bishop and carefully analyzed why I wanted to go on a mission. I realized that I honestly didn’t want to go on a mission. Some people wanted me to go but I didn’t have a testimony and I didn’t want one. At the time, I wasn’t even sure if I believed in God and so I didn’t feel comfortable committing to a mission.
Luckily, a lot of my fears went away when I came back for my second year. To my surprise, not everyone my age went on a mission and I was able to make new friends. I had a job where the work was meaningful, I figured out my major, I got more involved at BYU and had some awesome opportunities, and I had the time and maturity to figure out who I was as a person and what I wanted out of life. I also felt like I had the mental energy to really question my spirituality and what I believed, which I’m not sure that I would’ve gotten on a mission.
I didn’t go on a mission, so take my experience with a grain of salt, but my advice to you is that there isn’t a right decision. From what I’ve heard from close friends who have gone on missions, they had valuable experiences and grew. And life is long so they also had plenty of valuable experiences when they get back. But I also have had valuable experiences and grew, not going on a mission. Either way, it is what you make of the experience. It’ll be up to you if it’s valuable. If you go or don’t go, remember to trust yourself, what you value, and what you feel is right. Not what you think you should do based on shame, guilt, or pressure.
I wish you the best in whatever you decide.