This, this is the reason Elder Holland is special to me.
You see, I never went on a mission. In that sense, I was lucky. I never had to deal with the intense emotional repercussions of being sent home early, whatever the reason for it. I’m pretty sure I would have been—I suffer from bipolar disorder. It was only by a miracle that I found help and medication that effectively neutralizes the extremity of emotions.
And it was because of that miracle that I wanted to try to repay the Savior for what He did for me, and go about preparing to serve a mission.
I discovered the right moment to submit my papers in an unexpectedly concrete way. Related thoughts had been slowly bubbling up in those days, and one day I wrote in my journal the words, “I want to serve…” and stopped. For a moment I pondered what words should follow after: did I want to serve “a mission” or did I want to serve “God”? Both would have worked fine, but as an aspiring writer I wanted to use just the right words. I ended up scribbling, “I want to serve God and go on a mission.” This word choice may seem inconsequential to most people, but for me it proved significant. When I looked up D&C Section 4, the quintessential missionary scripture, it repeated back to me the phrasing I knew was influenced by the Holy Ghost: “Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work.”
I knew it was time.
They were officially submitted by that next May, and like every prospective missionary I looked forward to finding out where I would go. My guesses were either Canada or Chile, where each of my namesakes (Elder Neal A. Maxwell and my Uncle David, respectively) were sent.
But the weeks passed, and the call didn’t come. After a few months, my stake president inquired as to what was going on. He discovered what has become one of the greatest ironies of my life: the medication that I take for bipolar disorder, the medication that saved my life and helped put my soul in such a state that I could be worthy to serve a mission, caused a red flag to go up in Salt Lake. Why? Because Geodon is technically an anti-psychotic medication. I wasn’t psychotic, of course, but how would the church offices know that? Revelation, sure, but they can’t take chances, and I’m sure even then the Spirit would have told them I wasn’t supposed to go.
And so, after months of patience and quiet work and prayer, my stake president asked me how I felt about “not going on a mission and moving on with [my] life.” And because of that patience and work and prayer, I was prepared for this answer. I accepted it. I accepted it as a call to something else. Some other work.
After I made this news public, my sister Jen, who served in Japan, left this brief note on my Facebook missionary page wall, written as if extending a different kind of mission call:
“Dear Neal, you have been called to serve your mission throughout your entire life. You will be blessed for your service. Through your faith and prayers you will see much success. Keep up the hard work.”
Those words she wrote were a confirmation of the feelings I already had—that my mission was elsewhere. My duties and purposes were elsewhere.
This recent interaction with a returned missionary was not the first time Elder Holland has spoken to people like me. He also addressed us in October 2011 General Conference.
We also recognize that there are some who have hoped all their lives to serve missions, but for health reasons or other impediments beyond their control, they cannot do so. We publicly and proudly salute this group. We know of your desires, and we applaud your devotion. You have our love and our admiration. You are “on the team” and you always will be, even as you are honorably excused from full-time service.
When I first heard those words, I cried a little, there in the cultural hall.
Others who have been given an honorable release from the responsibility of serving a full-time mission will testify that guilt can still enter in—guilt that you are not working as hard or sacrificing as much as full-time missionaries. Guilt that, somehow, you weren’t worthy enough to go or you weren’t as capable or as needed by the Lord for His cause.
There’s no easy answer to those feelings, other than to pray and further develop your relationship with your Savior. He will tell you when your sacrifice, even if it’s just your willingness to sacrifice, is acceptable.
And He will tell you, with the subtle whisperings of the Spirit, what you can do for His cause instead.
Because that verdict does not excuse us from other aspects of the work. Instead, it as an invitation to spend our own free time, our whole life, in service to God, in the ways He commands us through our priesthood leaders and personal revelation. Whether it’s through official channels and callings or merely personal promptings to use our talents to guide others to the Savior, we are all enlisted, we who have the truth.
Though we may not be called to serve a mission, we are ALL called to serve God.