“When you find your path,
you must not be afraid.
You need to have sufficient courage to make mistakes. Disappointment, defeat, and despair are the tools God uses
to show us the way.”
― Paulo Coelho
“Have no fear of perfection –
you will never reach it.”
― Salvador Dali
I have been keeping up with some of my missionary friends since being home from my mission. One in the field told me they were feeling down because they thought they weren’t doing enough to talk to people and that they were failures because of this. Hearing this, I dusted off my soapbox and gave my two cents on the matter. I thought the advice was equally important for those who aren’t missionaries to hear as well. So here we go –
I have been noticing in your emails a trend of thought similar to what I had in my mission, particularly when I was in Sardegna. The whole “I need to be more courageous”, “I need to talk more” mentality. You haven’t said it in so many words, but you are letting off the vibes that you think you are letting the Lord down or something.
Let me tell you a little something:
In my final interview with my mission president, he said something that you could tell he said to a lot of missionaries. He didn’t have any particular feeling behind his voice when he said it. He kind of tossed it out there like it was just another thing to say. But when he said, “You did your best, and the Lord is proud of you,” in his rote way of saying things, the Spirit punched me in the face. In a good way. When he said that, the Lord truly did shower His Spirit onto me more strongly than I think I have ever felt it. I could never deny that that was the Lord speaking to me right then and letting me know that no matter what my mission president thought as he was saying it, and no matter what I thought of my own mission, no matter how cookie-cutter that phrase was, the Lord wanted me to know that I really had done my best, and that he really was proud of me. And that changed my whole mission, even though it was the exit interview.
I don’t know if you read my letters from when I was in Sardegna, or even really at any point in my mission, but I never felt that I was doing good enough for the Lord. In a certain sense, you could argue the point for that one. The Lord really does deserve perfection.
But is there EVER any way that we could deliver that?
Is the Lord aware of this?
VERY. More than any other person who has lived or will live.
He knows it, He expects it, and He doesn’t want us to beat ourselves up about it.
Because what it comes down to – what doing your best really means – is simply that you do what you can. Not what you expect of yourself, because I know that you and I – we expect the ideal of ourselves.
Reality check: our best is not the ideal. Come to terms with that, and you have already won half the battle.
Our best is not perfect, it’s not ideal, it’s not even excellent. Our best will always be a flawed, imperfect, half-hearted attempts at doing the right thing. The Lord knows this, and He loves us for it.
On my mission, I was never the missionary that could stop everyone on the street. I was never the one that could work the gospel into every conversation. I was never the one that could pass out a Book of Mormon every day, or even every week. I was lucky when I passed one out once a month. I was never very good at making the Spirit erupt in my every day. And I never felt very successful, when it comes down to it.
Is that because I wasn’t a good missionary? No. Because the Lord told me at the very end of my mission – after every mistake and omission and failure and sin that I could catalog and alphabetize and chronicle down to the finest detail – the Lord let me know that I did my best.
WHAT? HOW COULD THAT BE MY BEST? But I didn’t question that feeling for an instant – I knew the Lord was telling me more loudly and clearly than I have ever felt the Lord in my whole life (it was as clear as a Heavenly voice thundering from the heavens would have been – that undeniable, and even more so) that I had done it. I had done my best on my mission, and He was proud of me for it.
So I have had cause to pause and think about that. If my efforts on my mission were considered my best, even though I have never been so dissatisfied with my own efforts on ANYTHING in my WHOLE LIFE – then the question is, what is my best?
After thinking it over, I think it comes back to the idea that my best is what I am capable of doing. Some people are great at approaching strangers. Some people make it look easy to work the gospel into a casual conversation. I have seen missionaries that could get a phone number from someone like they were picking daisies from a meadow. I have seen missionaries that could give out a Book of Mormon every time they left the house.
But the Lord knew somehow that those approaches in missionary work would never be easy for me. And He didn’t expect them to be. I had other talents, and He knew it. Of course He liked me to try. But the Lord never ever ever ever EVER wants you to beat yourself up about it. EVER.
Do you hear me? THE LORD NEVER WANTS YOU TO BEAT YOURSELF UP.
Is your heart in the right place? Yes. Do you want to do the right thing? Yes.
Does that mean that suddenly you are going to be able to do everything you want tomorrow? No.
Sorry to break it to you, but change and transformation were never that easy.
I love the Apostle Paul. He’s one of my heroes. What a conversion story right? What an absolutely amazing missionary right? You know what we don’t often hear about Paul? After his conversion, he went away for 3 YEARS before doing anything slightly missionary. And when he started his mission, he was hanging out with the apostles and other dudes in Jerusalem, and they had to take him aside more than once and tell him to change tactics.
Paul is great, we are so blessed to have his writings. But was he a natural missionary? By no means. He had to be honed and perfected. And it took his whole life to get there. And even then, he still wasn’t a “perfect missionary” (as if there were such a thing). He would walk up to people in the marketplace and actually start arguing with them about Jesus.
Every missionary has their strengths. Every missionary has their weaknesses. The Lord knows these. But He doesn’t want you to give yourself a bad time about it. Recognize it, yes. Make goals to work on it, sure. But never feel bad for it. You are giving 18 months of your life to His service. He knows that you are doing your best. Because you want to do good.
Your best is not perfect and never will be until you are resurrected and have Jesus as your personal coach in the Celestial Kingdom. That’s a little far away, so in the meantime, just be happy that you are doing good things! Because you are! Think of all the people you can touch with a simple smile. Or a mere hello on the street. That’s powerful! And you are one more bright ray of sunshine in the world to do that.
So never feel bad for what you can’t do. Never feel bad for what you lack. Just look forward, and keep smiling. You are doing your best. I promise you this. Don’t think I am only trying to make you feel better. You are doing your best. And that is enough.
The Lord is pleased.
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