Chapter 2 – Guilt: Worthy but Feeling Guilty

Some missionaries feel a sense of guilt when they return home. The causes of these guilty feelings vary. Some feel regret over not having done enough on their missions. Some feel guilty that they have so much abundance in their lives after having served in parts of the world that suffer much want and poverty. Still others feel that they should still be doing missionary work 24/7. Even though in their minds they understand that they have been released from full-time missionary work, some find it hard to suddenly change their focus and be OK with engage in non-missionary related activities. They carry a feeling of guilt for not doing missionary work. Such feelings can be very hard to shake. For two years feeling guilt for engaging in non-mission related activities would’ve been wholly appropriate. One’s mind often can’t make the change quickly.

“I had severe feelings of unworthiness. Not because I was doing anything wrong – because I wasn’t. But I felt like since I was not devoting all my time to the Lord anymore that I wasn’t doing anything productive with my life.”

“I had some serious emotional trauma that came some time after my return. I can’t help but think that my mission had something to do with them. Because it wasn’t until recently that I quit comparing my failures and successes to my mission. I wasted A LOT of time doing that.”

Guilt is a remorseful awareness of having done something wrong. But it is also a self-reproach for supposed inadequacy or wrongdoing. It is possible to feel guilty without being guilty. For two years you have followed a very strict code of conduct, the violation of which was very serious. As a missionary, you could not work without the Spirit of the Lord. If you were knowingly disobedient to the guidelines given you to follow, the Spirit left you. Often this feeling was very intense and was accompanied by guilt that left you only when you repented and made things right. However, when you returned home from your mission many activities that formerly brought on guilt and a departure of the Spirit were not only sanctioned, but also encouraged! What a confusing thing for your mind, your emotions, your neurological patterns, etc.! People don’t recondition themselves immediately. It’s probably natural that you feel some guilt over participating in some activities that were formerly prohibited or by omitting other activities from your life.

How do you deal with it? First, understand that it will leave over time. Second, understand that just because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are guilty. Let your understanding temper your feelings in these instances. Allow yourself to feel guilty without responding to the guilt or changing the behavior. Do not desensitize yourself. Allow yourself to feel the guilt, but also reassure yourself that feeling guilty and being guilty are not the same thing. If you need reassurance, by all means seek our help from friends, parents, or leaders who can help reassure you that your guilty feelings are not tied to wrongful behaviors. If you have questions, ask your bishop or branch president if there anything wrong with your behavior because you feel bad about it. Perhaps hearing them give you feedback that there is nothing wrong with your choices or behavior will help you shed some of this irrational guilt. Be understanding of yourself and your situations, and give yourself the benefit of the doubt.

If you don’t feel guilty feelings, don’t worry about that, either! Many missionaries do not experience any irrational guilt at all. And that’s fine, and healthy. If you aren’t living like you should, and you feel guilt, then it’s a good thing. Such guilt is an invitation to change your behavior and take steps to put your life in order.