Starting a mission can sometimes feel like you’re starting an entirely new life. Your environment is different, you’re away from your friends and family, and you have schedules and demands that are unique. You also have the pressures of adjusting to living with a companion 24/7 and stressful situations that might affect your mental health. But these adjustments don’t have to get the best of you. Here are some thoughts to consider as you make the transition to a missionary lifestyle.
Having a companion can be such a relief, especially as you start your mission. Your companion helps you navigate the new culture, learn the area, and talk to members and other people. Whether you’re serving in your own country or one foreign to you, it’s always nice to have someone you can rely on. After all, the Lord has had His servants preach two by two for many years for many reasons (see Doctrine and Covenants 42:6; Alma 10:12; Alma 15:18).
Although missionary companions are essential, some missionaries find it difficult to get along with different companions. Missionaries come from diverse backgrounds and have their own experiences with the gospel. Each companion, including you, brings unique strengths and weaknesses to the pairing.
But how can you strengthen your companionship when you struggle to get along?
Don’t forget that he or she is a child of God, just like you! Although you both might have different ideas or expectations about missionary work, you both also have the same desire to serve God as missionaries. It can be easy to see the differences when you’re having challenges in your companionship, but trying to find your similarities will help you feel united.
Serve them. Serving others makes it easier to forget about yourself and your list of differences. Think about how Ammon served King Lamoni—although they came from two different cultures, hearts were opened through service, and friendships were made (see Alma 17:20–25). Love is more often something you do than something you feel. Feeling love frequently follows doing things to show love.
Take advantage of companionship inventory. You have time set aside once a week where you and your companion can talk openly and lovingly about your companionship. This is not a time to nitpick your companion’s personality or habits, but rather a time to lovingly identify things you can work on together to improve your companionship with the goal of becoming better missionaries. For example, one time my companion pointed out that I was complaining frequently. I hadn’t noticed, but once she helped me recognize that, I was able to make an effort to be more positive, and our work improved.
It can be hard to resolve conflicts and discuss any challenges that might be keeping your companionship from working together in unity, so you should approach these conversations with humility and the desire to improve together. You also don’t have to limit these conversations to just your weekly formal companionship inventory. Some of my best inventories happened while I was walking down a dusty road just chatting openly with my companion.
Occasionally you might be paired with someone who struggles with following all the missionary rules. When a missionary is disobedient, it can severely hamper the Lord’s work and put a strain on your companionship.
While that companion has his or her agency, you also have your own agency to choose to be obedient. You should do everything you can to follow mission rules and schedules. Your good example will always work better than anger. For example, when I served my mission, we had one hour every preparation day for emailing. I had some companions who would go significantly over their allotted email time. I would use my time, pay the internet café, and then quietly sit next to my companion until she was done. I noticed that although I never got mad at my companions or told them they were going over our time limit, they would usually start using less time and trying to be more aware of the rules. It’s amazing how powerful a righteous example can be for a missionary who might be struggling.
Degrees of disobedience vary, and if you ever feel like a situation is hindering the work, you always have support. Seek guidance from Heavenly Father through prayer and scripture study. Reach out to your mission president or his wife, or talk about your concerns with a leader. This should not be a chance to complain or gossip about your companion; use this time to receive inspiration on how to help them best. Attempting to resolve the problem directly with your companion before talking to others reduces the likelihood of gossip.
Recognize that missionaries who struggle most likely do want to be good missionaries. They might be struggling with a personal issue or have a weakness that is hard to manage. Your job is not to call your companion to repentance or to shame them. You were called to serve and help people come unto Christ, and that includes your companion. Regardless of your companion’s behavior, do your best to love them, be obedient, and show them a good example.
While most people are polite when they don’t want to learn more about the gospel, it can still be frustrating and discouraging when your message is rejected.
When you’re turned away, remember that everyone has their agency to choose to learn about or reject the gospel. As long as you give everyone the option to understand and learn the gospel, you are being successful in your calling. It can be sad to see someone reject something you know would give them so much joy and direction in his or her life, but you can’t force someone. Force was the plan of Satan in the premortal life, while God wanted to preserve His children’s agency and allow us to choose for ourselves, proving to ourselves and to Him “if [we] will do all things whatsoever the Lord [our] God shall command [us]” (Abraham 3:25).
Don’t take it personally when someone rejects God’s message. Usually a rejection just means that the person isn’t ready yet, and there is always the potential for that person to listen to missionaries at the right time. Someone not being ready for the gospel is not a reflection of your ability as a missionary. Even Jesus Christ Himself was rejected, and He was the perfect missionary.
If you keep trying to contact people regardless of the possibility that you might be rejected, you’ll be given power to find those people who are ready for the gospel. Don’t give up or fear rejection, “for God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).
Adjusting to any type of change can affect your mental health, including becoming a missionary. Missionaries face rejection, physical exertion, challenges of learning languages and getting used to new cultures, homesickness, and so on. Sometimes these challenges can culminate in serious mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. If you feel your mental health is suffering beyond your control, reach out to your mission president to get the help you need.
For many missionaries, though, minor mental health challenges can still come up. So it’s not only important but essential for you to find new, mission-appropriate ways to relieve stress and manage your mental health. Since our physical health can affect our mental health, you should always make sure that you’re eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise (it’s built right into the missionary schedule, after all!), and getting enough sleep—these simple but important steps will make a huge difference in your overall health. Let’s also look at a few other ways you could relieve stress on your mission:
Pray and study the scriptures
Meditate or ponder
Write letters to your friends and family on preparation day
Talk to your companion or mission leader
Draw or color a picture
Read a Church magazine
Sing a hymn or write a poem
Journal about trials, questions, miracles, or blessings
Exercise with your companion as directed in the daily schedule
Listen to relaxing Church music at appropriate times
Cook a favorite meal or buy a treat
Spend time in nature on preparation day
Plan activities with members and those you are teaching
Don’t be afraid to look for ways to have fun. One of my apartments had a place where I could look out the window across my area. My companion and I would sometimes sit there after a day of teaching to ponder and stargaze. Taking the time to slow down and enjoy the beauty of my area helped me recharge and maintain my enthusiasm for the work.
Although the culture, food, or people might be different from what you’re used to, you can always find things to love. On your preparation day, play sports with other missionaries or visit some of the historical or tourist sites in your mission, as appropriate and directed by your mission leaders. Ask a local member to teach you how to cook a new dish, or do an activity unique to the area. Serve a missionary, someone you’re teaching, or a member. God always wants you to find joy and happiness, especially on a mission.
Missionary work can be hard. And realizing that doesn’t make you a bad missionary. When you’re struggling, remember that God is on your side and that He is available and willing to help you when you ask. He is always ready to listen to your heartaches, and He understands perfectly what you’re feeling. Don’t be hesitant to ask for strength to manage your expectations or to control your attitude. Don’t be afraid to call down miracles for you and the work in your area.
You can also reach out to your companion or leaders, who most likely have felt the same way you do at times and might know how to help you.
And remember that Heavenly Father and the Savior are there to bear your burdens and challenges with you (see Matthew 11:28–30).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has taught that “missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. ... How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for [Christ]?”1
When you’re struggling to adjust to your new life as a missionary, you can find strength in knowing that “the [Savior’s] Atonement will carry [you] perhaps even more importantly than it will carry [those you are teaching]. When you struggle, when you are rejected, when you are spit upon and cast out and made a hiss and a byword, you are standing with the best life this world has ever known, the only pure and perfect life ever lived. You have reason to stand tall and be grateful that the Living Son of the Living God knows all about your sorrows and afflictions.”2
Keep trying, keep loving your companion and those you serve, keep being obedient, and keep following Christ. You will get through hard things, become stronger because of them, and be the successful, Christlike missionary the Lord knows you can be.