My mom’s joyous sobs soaked into my shirt as she embraced me. I held her head, the feeling of her hair in my hands waking me to reality: She was really there at the airport to pick me up. And so was Dad. My once young and goofy sister was now a beautiful young woman. My younger brother hugged me, and I had the distinct realization that he was now taller than me. I tried to take everything in. But once the tearful hugs and reunions were over, awkward silence set in. I took a deep breath and asked my family, “So now what?”
Most returned missionaries probably experienced something similar when returning home. Nothing can describe the sweet joy of reuniting with loved ones. But after my initial excitement wore off—when I realized I was home and wasn’t going back to my mission, and when everyone returned to their daily lives—the shock set in. The hard realization that I had to be “normal” again crept in. Yet there was a question in my mind that I think arises in some shape or form for any returned missionary:
How do I be “normal”? And what does “normal” even look like?
I’ve been home from my mission for several years now, and looking back, it was a struggle for a good year. My family moved out of state, my long-term relationship ended, and all my friends seemed to be married and starting their eternal families—all of which contributed to a difficult time of transition for me. When I expressed that I wanted to make chicken and waffles (a Southern classic where I served), that I still wanted to study my scriptures early in the morning, that I wanted to share a pass-along card with the gas station employee, people told me I was awkward. “All returned missionaries are awkward at first,” they’d say. “But don’t worry. In a few months, you’ll be normal again.”
This was when I realized the great divide of normalcy between missionary life and regular life. For me, it was hard to hear that my life, my desires—the way I’d been changed by Jesus Christ and His Atonement and dedicated my heart to God over the last 18 months of my life—were considered awkward, that they weren’t “normal.”
I’ve witnessed this dangerous mindset in many returned missionaries. In a desperate effort to feel accepted upon returning home, missionaries might quickly abandon the very habits that would’ve helped their transition. Thankfully, several wonderful, wise people gave me the one piece of advice that helped me during this time of transition more than anything else: with the help of Jesus Christ and His Atonement, you have to find your new normal.
Returned missionaries from all around the world experience a wide range of challenges after a mission. Their previous life plan might have changed. They might have returned home early for whatever reason and feel judged for it. They might even feel a little weird not having a companion with them 24/7.
Every missionary returns home to a unique set of experiences. Each one will see some blessings and some challenges. For many, plans change, people change, and most of all, they themselves have changed. The plan that guided their life pre-mission may not be sufficient after spending years in the Lord’s service.
Working, doing homework, spending time with friends and family, and constantly getting set up on dates can seem to lack the eternal significance of missionary work. Though different, all these things are part of post-mission life back home. However, weaving things of eternal worth—such as prayer, scriptures, and service—into your new daily life is the best thing you can do to assure your transition keeps you close to Heavenly Father.
Another common struggle is the fear of returning to old bad habits, and let me tell you, it’s a slippery slope with entrances on all sides.
My first Sunday home, I was lying on my bed and realized I hadn’t looked at Facebook since coming home. I opened it and was overwhelmed by the nostalgia of pictures and videos from before my mission. I love to dance and had started watching some dance videos when I heard my mom call up to my room, “Breanne! What are you listening to?”
I listened more closely and realized how inappropriate the background music was. I was pretty embarrassed that here I was—a freshly returned missionary—listening to music that wasn’t inviting the Spirit.
That experience helped me realize how easy it is to become more relaxed in how much we maintain our gospel standards when we aren’t full-time missionaries. I wanted to stay changed. I wanted to remain the person God had helped me become. Luckily, I recognized that, for me, what I was listening to wasn’t bringing the Spirit and was able to adjust.
Over time, with all the busyness that is life, some returned missionaries can also experience guilt as mission habits begin to dwindle. The hour of personal study might slowly shrink to 10 minutes or less, or the goal of keeping in contact with those you were teaching on your mission might be forgotten.
Although you adapt your habits as your life changes, that doesn’t mean that you’re disobedient. The Lord doesn’t give a quota for how long to read the scriptures or how many copies of the Book of Mormon to share. All He asks us to do is to believe in Him and be “an example of the believers” (1 Timothy 4:12). As you seek and listen to the guidance of the Spirit, you’ll know what the Lord expects of you now.
There are many more struggles I’m sure other returned missionaries experience, but the lesson I learned in all of this was to find ways to deepen my conversion as I took on new roles—and found my new normal.
Our purpose as missionaries was to “invite others to come unto Christ.”1 What is our purpose after our missions? Alma taught that “this life is the time for men to prepare to meet God; yea, behold the day of this life is the day for men to perform their labors” (Alma 34:32). What labors are we to perform? Well, the Lord has taught that we are to live His gospel—to have faith, repent, live worthy of our covenants and the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. We are to love and serve those around us. We are to continue to invite others to come unto Christ. And we will be continuously blessed and supported in every step of our journey as we do so.
It took me some time before I found my new normal. But as I stayed busy doing good things and waited patiently on the Lord to help me feel more settled and confident, I grew in remarkable ways. I learned patience and trust. My faith was tried and strengthened. But I got there. I never lost my purpose. I found my new normal. And I still love chicken and waffles.