“I Felt Like a Failure,” For the Strength of Youth, Apr. 2021, 12–13.
Have you ever felt like you failed at something even though you had hoped with all your heart you would succeed? That’s how I felt as I came home from my mission. Two years in France, and what good had I done? Sure, I had made friends, learned a language, and grown to love faithful Saints who strive to live the gospel.
But I hadn’t baptized anyone.
Then I remembered advice my mission president gave me during my final interview: “If you can honestly say that the Lord is pleased with the effort you have made, if you can honestly say that you did the best you could for Him, then that is the measure of your success. Nothing else matters.”
As I thought about that, I felt compelled to pray. Slowly, peace came to my heart. The Spirit whispered, “The Lord knows you did the best you could. Your sacrifice is acceptable.” It was time to get on with the next steps of my life.
Fast-forward many years. I was writing a letter to my daughter, who was serving a mission in Canada, when I heard a ping on my phone. Someone had sent me a photo of the inside front cover of a copy of the Book of Mormon with a testimony written in French—in my own handwriting! I had given the book to a sister who had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints while I was a missionary (though I hadn’t baptized her), but she had fallen away a couple of years later. Why would someone be sending me a photo of the testimony I had written so many years before?
The picture came with a message: “I thought you would be interested in seeing your testimony again. My aunt was so excited when I joined the Church that she gave me the Book of Mormon you once gave to her. I thought you would appreciate knowing what a treasure it is to me.
“My aunt didn’t remain active in the Church, but she always spoke highly of it, so much so that her younger sister (my mother) asked the missionaries to teach her. My mother joined the Church. She was married in the temple. She and my father raised four children as members of the Church. My three siblings and I have all served missions and been married in the temple. We are all active and faithful.”
Emotion overwhelmed me. All those years ago, I thought I had failed. But now I could see how the Lord had accomplished His work, in His way, over time.
Memories of other people I had taught as a missionary began to flood my mind. One joined the Church a year after I had returned home. He now lives in French Polynesia, and we chat by Skype all the time. Another joined the Church seven years after my mission. He served a mission himself, in Texas, USA. Now he’s the executive secretary of a stake in southern France.
I thought of other French members I still know and love—a sister in a care center who writes me letters; a man I knew when he was a teenager who is now a mission president in Africa.
If you had asked me at the end of my mission, I would have said I was a failure. But as I thought about the testimony I had written in that Book of Mormon all those years ago, I realized that you haven’t failed as long as you do your best for the Lord. “Maybe the only thing I failed at was being a failure,” I thought.
In the early days of the Restoration, a group of missionaries was sent to preach to American Indians living west of Missouri (see Doctrine and Covenants 28:8; 30:6; 32:2). They thought they were fulfilling Book of Mormon prophecies about Lamanites receiving the gospel in the latter days. But by the end of their mission, they had not baptized a single American Indian.
If you had asked them, what would they have said about failure? And yet, along the way they brought others into the Church. Among them were future leaders like Sidney Rigdon as well as many members in Kirtland, Ohio, where the first latter-day temple was later built. They learned, as I had learned, that the Lord will “show unto the children of men that I am able to do mine own work” (2 Nephi 27:21).
I sat back in my chair and smiled. I realized that setbacks in life can seem like failures at the moment. But over time, if you keep doing your best, the Lord will help you turn them into triumphs.