Chapter 11 – Inactivity, Sin, and Regret

Returned missionaries are not perfect people. You cannot expect perfection from yourself. However, you should have high standards for your conduct and, when you fall short of those standards, be prepared to get back on the path. If you find yourself off the path, there are steps you can take to get back on. We’ll discuss ways you can deal with and overcome inactivity, sin, and regret.

Inactivity

The causes of inactivity are as numerous and different as the people you meet everyday. But the result of inactivity is certain – stunted spiritual growth. When you are going through rough times in your post-mission life, the important thing is to just keep going to church while you work through these times. When you least feel like participating in church is probably when you most need it.

If you have not been given a calling soon after returning home from your mission, ASK FOR ONE. Having a calling helps you to give service, gives you accountability and a reason to go to church even on those days when you don’t feel like it, and helps you establish good attendance habits which will stay with you throughout your life.

Inertia is usually the first step toward inactivity, and inertia is almost impossible when you have responsibilities to assume and make efforts to keep those responsibilities.

Try and take an interest in the people you go to church with and try and serve them. Apathy can lead to inactivity. Serving others will help keep you from becoming apathetic.

Regular temple and church attendance helps you remember your baptismal and temple covenants and give you the strength to keep them. Church attendance strengthen us to keep our commandments. The scriptures teach:

“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day.” D&C 59:9

Staying active will help you keep sin out of your life to the best extent possible. But staying completely sin free is just as impossible in post mission life as it is in mission life. We have to remember that none of us is perfect. None. The scriptures teach:

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:32

How we deal with that fact is vital.

Sin

Sin can be difficult to overcome for a missionary for various reasons.

Many returned missionaries feel that sin is hard to overcome because sin seems like a huge fall, especially after a mission; it feels like an irreparable failure. To other missionaries, to have to overcome sin is hard because they’re not used to being the person who needs help. For two years they’ve been helping others in need, with weakness. To have to ask others for help or to need help seems to be weakness. One thinks, “But I do the helping, I don’t need help!” Still others make serious errors, but just hope that the guilt and consequences will go away with time.

I heard a story once. I don’t know who first told it, so I can’t attribute it, and I don’t even know if I’m telling it right, but it illustrates a great point.

There was a farmer working around in his field one day when he happened to glance over at the enormous tree in front of his house. He saw a peculiar figure moving among the branches, and then dart down a hole in the trunk. It was a squirrel. Upon closer inspection of the tree he discovered that the squirrel had burrowed its way deep into the trunk of the tree, leaving a good portion of the tree hollow –which portion would be unable, over time, to support the weight of the tree. Someday the tree would fall. Whether tomorrow or in ten years, the giant tree would collapse. Not only would his home and yard lose all the wonderful shade it had provided, its fall could possibly cause great harm to his home or his family when it fell.

The way he saw it, he had two choices. He could cut the tree down now, before it collapsed, and save his home and family from a potential disaster, or he could just let “nature take its course” and let the tree collapse. If he cut it down now, it would be a great expense, a lot of labor, and a real burden on the family, but they would be safe and with time another tree could grow and things would be as they had been before. If he didn’t cut it down, it might someday fall and cause a great tragedy.

After contemplating his choices for a long while, the farmer shook his head, sighed, and muttered, “I wish I had never seen that squirrel.”

Some of us are like this. We come to a realization that something is not right with our life, and when we look at all the work that will have to be done to fix it or the great tragedy we could suffer if we don’t, just wish we had “never seen that squirrel” in the first place.

Returned missionaries are not immune to sin, and the way they react to their errors determines their ultimate destiny. I have several friends who committed serious moral transgressions after their missions. One even served in positions of great responsibility and stewardship on his mission, and it was particularly hard for him to realize that he had erred so greatly when at one time in his life he felt the Lord had trusted him so much. He actually fathered a child out of wedlock after his mission. However, he determined that he would do whatever it took to get back on course and is now a wonderful father sealed to his family and doing his best to serve in the church. He’s now a happy man looking forward in his life, not backward.

I only relate that so that you understand that (1) even good missionaries can make serious mistakes and (2) the atonement of Jesus Christ can save all who have seriously sinned, if only they will resolve it.

A returned missionary I know committed a serious moral transgression, but instead of resolving it, he justified it by saying that the church’s rules were too strict and that he had been repressed his whole life. He slipped away into a life of sin and inactivity and eventually married a non-member with basically no hope of having a temple marriage. His wife is a wonderful woman, strongly involved in her own faith, but because her convictions about her church have exceeded his, he has not been able to introduce his family to additional gospel truths that could bless them all.

If you have sinned, the first thing is to understand that all people make mistakes, even returned missionaries. You will not be perfect. You will make mistakes, and you will sin. Hopefully, the sins will not be serious ones, but if they are, do what you have to do to make it right. Pray for the desire to change, and when that desire comes pray for the strength to change. Let others help you, particularly your priesthood leaders and family members. Pray for the courage to humble yourself and let your leaders, friends and family help you. You may fear the censure of those you love or respect. Just remember that any friend, church member, church leader, or family member who would condemn you or judge you harshly when you are voluntarily trying to correct any mistakes you’ve made and is not fully living the gospel himself (“I the Lord will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” D&C 64:10.). Don’t concern yourself with such. You will be surprised at how most people will respect you and admire you for your courage and your faith in the power of Christ to help you make right anything that needs righting in your life.

The most important thing to remember about sin is to just do whatever it takes to resolve it. Repenting of sin can be a peaceful process that brings one closer to Christ and leaves one on a higher spiritual plane and with joy in one’s heart. Remember, when you’re forgiven from sin, you are totally clean. While there are still sometimes painful consequences from sinful behavior, there is ultimately no residue that remains and you will have complete peace and happiness.

Regret

Some missionaries experience regret over their missions, particularly if they feel were not focused enough, were disobedient to mission rules, or did not use their time well. Their missions end, and they don’t have that satisfaction that they did everything they could do to spread the gospel in the time they had.

“Sadly enough, I probably wasn’t focused enough on the missionary work, because I wasn’t too shocked about things when I came home. I guess I was already ‘ready’ to be home because I hadn’t been on that high of a spiritual ‘high’ while I was out. Don’t get me wrong, I felt the Spirit often and had an incredible mission. It was very positive, but unfortunately I’ve always carried a feeling like I didn’t do enough on my mission. Like I sold myself and the Lord short by not putting out enough effort. That’s what I regret most day after day.”

This regret is justified, but, like every other challenge in life, it can and should be overcome, and it can be overcome through the atonement of Jesus Christ. As far as what can be done about these feelings, repent and let the feelings go go; leave the past behind and look forward. Realize that you’ve learned a great lesson that you’ll take with you the rest of your life. The same returned missionary quoted above told us how he works to overcome his feelings of regret:

“I’ve tried to simply focus on how I can better serve the Lord now, with what I’m doing now. I obviously can’t change the past, but I have power over the future. And I know that I will be a profitable servant in the Lord’s hands, and so I am working to become available to the Lord whenever He needs me.”

If you are working through inactivity, sin, or regret, I’d like to share with you words of a very wise man, a member of the stake presidency in my home stake. He spoke these words on more than one occasion and they have comforted me many times in my own life:

“Regardless of your past, your future is spotless.”