When I went to the MTC for the first time I was so excited. I was excited for all the new experiences I would have and all the people I would meet and I was excited to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I finally got out of the MTC and my first few months of the mission were very different than I expected. The missionary who trained me only had 3 months left in his mission and it became apparent that he was already "checked out." As a result we did a lot of missionary things, but I didn't really learn how to be a missionary.
To be fair, I need to acknowledge my own fault in this. Before I left on my mission I thought my testimony of Jesus Christ was really strong, but as I was confronted by the world I realized my level of commitment was woefully lacking. When my trainer wasn't stepping up I should have taken up the slack, but I just let it happen.
Well, I had some other mission companions and my experience kind of kept going the way it had been. I should say it wasn't all bad. I actually had some amazing life-changing experiences during this time, but generally my mission so far wasn't the experience I wanted.
Around the end of the year my current companion and I were assigned to work in the mission office and things just went down hill from there. Because of our office duties we didn't spend hardly any time teaching people and the light in me just continued to dwindle. One of my duties in the office was to sort the mail and forward it to the other missionaries' various living places. As Christmas approached hundreds and hundreds of letters and packages poured in for the missionaries, but rarely did anything come for me. Pathetically, I started to feel really sorry for myself and as a result I felt more miserable than I had ever felt before. It was truly the worst Christmas I had ever experienced.
Disclaimer: My mother is the kindest most wonderful person in the world. I would never blame her for my misery during this time of my mission. Needless to say if it was up to her I would have been showered with gifts and love. My misery was completely my own doing.
The next year in late spring I was finally sent to a new area with a new companion. I'm not sure exactly all the reasons, but I felt like this new area was my chance at a fresh start. I think at that point I was so "beaten" that I was finally ready to submit my whole will to the Lord and do whatever I needed to do. The new companion I was assigned also wanted to really step up and work hard. We did and for the first time I really started to capture the spirit of missionary work and we had some incredible experiences together. From that point on my mission completely changed. As I lost myself in the work I found a strength and a joy I had never felt before.
Well, you probably know where this is going. The next Christmas I had an entirely different experience. I didn't get any more mail or packages than I did the previous year and I was just as far away from home, but I was so full of joy sharing the message of Jesus Christ and trying to serve the people around me that I didn't care about gifts for myself anymore. It was the happiest Christmas I have ever had.
The secret to happiness is giving yourself to others. Give your time. Give your energy. Reach out and love someone.
Elder Levie served in the Washington DC North mission