Thursday, March 5, 2009

Believing in the Lord As a Missionary When You Have Self-Doubts

One of the themes that constantly buffets a missionary is self-doubt. Missionaries struggle with doubts and fears that they won't measure up to the expectations of their mission president, companions, and members in the areas in which they are serving. Sometimes the baptisms are few and far between and sometimes they are plentiful. Missionaries measure their success in baptisms even though they report lessons taught etc.

Heber J. Grant said about converting others:
Why is it that Latter-day Saints are enabled to convert people? It is because they have the truth to offer, because they have no doubt in their minds regarding the divinity of the work in which we are engaged. (Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, comp. by G. Homer Durham. Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1941, p.104).

I do remember though there might be a few without testimonies since Elder Ballard used to tell us "if you don't have a testimony you can lean on mine until you do." I believe most missionaries have little doubt about the divinity of the work they are engaged in and the majority have testimonies.

I do think a few missionaries have self-doubts that they will be able to convince others of their beliefs and even if they do will the investigator commit to baptism. I remember an adage that we had in our mission that a man convinced against his own will remains of the same opinion still. It is not infrequent for a missionary to teach someone that fizzles out at the last moment.

I remember before I served a mission that I set a high baptismal standard for myself to baptize at least a thousand people like Wilford Woodruff did in the Potteries in England. I remember the angst I felt at my age feeling that I did not measure up when I only contributed to 38 people's baptisms and didn't break the hold of Satan in Canada. I even baptized three people in the Italy Rome Mission in the five short months I served there even when most elders didn't baptize one or two back in the 70s. I still feel unsuccessful and dissatisfied with my efforts. I have never been satisfied with my results and would say mine was an unsuccessful mission. I know I didn't have a good attitude and was constantly being distracted by emotional problems and self-doubts. I was up and down like a toilet seat.

It didn't help me feel better about myself hearing the story of Charles Callas either about how one baptism can make a difference. Nor has it helped me feel better that one Italian convert later served a mission and another became the first branch president in Ragusa that was opened by my first mission district. Another elder years before I served characterized his feelings:
Many years ago an elder who served a mission in the British Isles said at the end of his labors, “I think my mission has been a failure. I have labored all my days as a missionary here and I have only baptized one dirty little Irish kid. That is all I baptized.”

Years later, after his return to his home in Montana, he had a visitor come to his home who asked, “Are you the elder who served a mission in the British Isles in 1873?”


Then the man went on, “And do you remember having said that you thought your mission was a failure because you had only baptized one dirty little Irish kid?”

He said, “Yes.”

The visitor put out his hand and said, “I would like to shake hands with you. My name is Charles A. Callis, of the Council of the Twelve of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am that dirty little Irish kid that you baptized on your mission.” 15

That little Irish boy came to a knowledge of his potential as a son of God. Elder Callis left a lasting legacy for his large family. Serving as a mission president for 25 years and in his apostolic ministry for 13 years, he blessed the lives of literally thousands.

I remember on multiple occasions my mission president quoting to us:

"If it so be that you should labor all your days in crying repentance unto this people, and bring, save it be one soul unto me, how great shall be your joy with him in the kingdom of my Father!

"And now, if your joy will be great with one soul that you have brought unto me into the kingdom of my Father, how great will be your joy if you should bring many souls unto me!" (D&C 18:15–16).

I know each baptisms takes place one at a time but inherently every missionary wants to baptize as many people as they can. Otherwise mission presidents wouldn't constantly quote this scripture to their missionaries.

This was reemphasized to me in a recent MTC devotional when M. Russell Ballard said "You will sow a lot of seeds, but don't let it get into your mind that you are here for any other reason than the work."

What does Elder Ballard mean by the word work? Knowing him as intimately as I do as a former missionary serving under him in Canada it means finding, teaching, and baptizing new members. He said in the same 17 February 2009 devotional:
Counsel: Beware of anybody who says: "You won't baptize a lot." Don't believe that if you allow yourself to believe that Satan gets you. You can find teach and baptize everywhere you are going.
I believed what he says now is correct and also what he said when I was a young missionary serving under him in Canada that we can baptize more people. Unfortunately just like me many missionaries have self-doubts about their role in the work. There are periods when we have peaks and periods when we have plateaus. We need to get the right attitude to do as Elder Ballard counsels which is to think straight and overcome our doubts so there will be a consistent result of ongoing baptisms.

My own daughter who attended the Ballard devotional wrote us an email asking for advice on how to approach the non-Christians she will encounter in Taiwan. She wanted to know how she could get their attention so she could teach them. I can sense her frustration of going on a mission where people aren't always receptive. Self-doubts can sometimes show us that we don't always have the answers that is why missionaries have mission presidents, other missionaries and parents they can offer guidance. I think in order to be successful you need to have a vision or a goal. Then the missionary needs to trust in the Lord and believe she or he will have good results if they do the work the proscribed way.

I like Joseph Fielding Smith's optimism:

The faithful elders who go forth duly commissioned and with the spirit of the Gospel upon them, such as the Lord can call his friends, should have the guiding influence of his Spirit go before them: Behold, I send you out to prove the world, and the laborer is worthy of his hire” (D&C 84:79).

What a wonderful blessing is promised them: “And any man that shall go and preach this gospel of the kingdom, and fail not to continue faithful in all things, shall not be weary in mind, neither darkened, neither in body, limb, nor joint; and a chair of his head shall not fall to the ground unnoticed. And they shall not go hungry, neither athirst” (D&C 84:79). Thousands of missionaries have put this promise to the test, and the Lord has kept his promise to all those who have been faithful in their calling. Surely if the Father notices when a sparrow falls, he will not forsake any who in faithful obedience to his will seek his aid. That there have been those who have gone forth and have been weary in body and mind, and who have gone hungry, there is no doubt, for there are missionaries who have not given all their heart to the Lord, and they have idled away valuable time when it was needful for them to proclaim the truth. (Joseph Fielding Smith, Church History and Modern Revelation, 4 vols., Salt Lake City: Council of the Twelve Apostles, 1957-1950, 2:108-109).
Some of us as missionaries idled away our time doing less productive things than concentrating on the work. We could have done better if we really had been better self-focused on the work. I like Reid Robison of the West Indies Mission advice to one of his missionaries: "“Do ‘Missionary Work’, not ‘Missionary Things’.”

Even in the midst of the largest baptizing surge in the history of the West Indies Mission this same elder questioned if he would meet the expectations of his mission president when he was transferred from a successful area to one that was struggling.
I am being moved again. President Robison called me and asked if I was tired of all the moving yet. He then told me that I was going back to my first area. I will be finishing the training of a missionary as his second companion. I am a little nervous about that. I have only been out for 3 and a half months and am already involved in training an elder.

President told me that he wants kitty to boom. He said that we would have a great transfer. It will be easy going back because I know the area, but it is hard to leave this great area. The members are so great here in LaGrange. I have had so much success here and we have been able to do so much good. I definitely want to visit that area after my mission. The branch president was not too happy about me leaving the area. My Zone leaders even want me to stay, but the Lord wants me in Kitty.

I just hope that I will be able to do what he expects of me.
This week has been alright. We did not have any baptisms this week. The people we planned for did not come and we don't really know why, but I hope to get to the bottom of things. This next week is going to be a little stressful. I need to pack my bags again, say good bye, and get ready to move back to kitty.
Even in the midst of mission-wide success the uncertainty of going to a new area must have been hard on an elder who was baptizing in a thriving area. He didn't know if he could do as well in a new area. Fortunately in this case the elder and his companion did not fail but contributed to the success of his mission.

It is a natural feeling to feel stress as a missionary and want to be part of a cause and it is just as real to question whether you will baptize on a mission. Self-doubt can cause us to look outside ourselves and lose ourselves in the work of the Lord which is bringing his children back to Christ. We can perform on a higher level when we focus on finding, teaching, and baptizing. Especially the final step.

Self-doubt can be healthy if you learn to harness it and still keep doing missionary work even when you are discouraged with your results. The elder above gives the key to overcoming self-doubt in numerous passages in his blog when he keeps saying the mission will met the goal the mission president set. Keep your mission and vision with you constantly. This elder believed if he was obedient and would "thrust in his sickle with his whole might" the Lord would help him as a missionary accomplish the goal and overcome any doubts about baptizing his share of people. You have to believe in order to achieve.

Out of the mouth of babes I learned something that I will carry with me in my next mission which I plan on going in ten years. You have to really believe without wavering that you can accomplish your mission and the Lord will help you. It doesn't matter about what area you are in, or your companion contributing or any other external factors. You will get the results if you replace self-doubt with trust in the Lord, your mission president and your own ability.

I like what Gordon B. Hinckley said:

I hope you do. It will humble you down a bit. There will be no arrogance in the face of discouragement. But look ahead, my dear brethren and sisters, look ahead to the years down the line and see the flowering of your effort. Because as surely as the sun rises in the morning, this work will come into flower in the missions where you serve. (Gordon B. Hinckley, Mission Presidents’ Seminar, 23 June 2000). I truly hope and pray that missionaries who may be struggling with self-doubt can learn from their self-doubt to turn to the Lord. President Thomas S. Monson says this is his work and you are his servant and whom the Lord calls the Lord qualifies.

I don't know if all the missionaries in even in a successful field will be satisfied with their accomplishments. I do know that those of us who served in less successful places need to get over measuring our success as being less than adequate. If we did everything we were asked to do by our leaders I think we were still successful.

If a missionary can go home knowing he or she made a good effort and put their faith in the Lord and thrust in their sickle and worked with all their might, mind, and strength then the numbers will be exactly what the Lord wanted you to achieve. You baptized those you were meant to baptize no more no less.

If you didn't do all you could then maybe on your next mission as a couple you will find the ones you missed. A good thing is that a couple can choose where they go which in my case could be back to Rome or Toronto. I hope my health and finances and worthiness hold up so that I can live long enough to go back and find any I might have missed.

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