Eight months into my mission I sat in a little mission car with my companion looking out over a beautiful beach in a small ocean-side town and I cried like I have never cried before. It doesn’t seem to make sense that I could feel such despair and depression while serving in a highly coveted area full of sweet members and gorgeous views, but that was the reality.
I could have wondered how Heavenly Father could let me feel so much sadness. I felt that I was failing despite our hard work and that I had no purpose in being called to that area as a missionary. I wondered if another sister could have done a better job. But what I have realized as I have pondered this day in the year and a half since it happened, is that almost all missionaries experience days like that one.
Missionary work is difficult, because it is so important. As missionaries, we give so much of our time and feeling to the work and when it doesn’t go the way we desperately hope it will, it can be heartbreaking. Agency, while a beautiful gift, also allows investigators to say, “no thank you” and potentially argue with us on the things that matter most.
The reality is that the work that missionaries do is so important that Satan will put thoughts of self-deprecation into our minds. He will do anything to stop us from doing the amazing work that we are capable of doing. As I look back on that day, I now understand that we weren’t doing anything wrong as a companionship. It wasn’t our fault that the work seemed slow. I was feeling, as all missionaries do at some point, the weight and importance of the calling I had been given. If it wasn’t so important it wouldn’t be so hard.
That’s my story, but I want to share some practical advice as well. In the middle of a breakdown caused by feeling like you are not doing enough, stopping to take a break will be the last thing you feel like you should do. But as the common phrase goes, “you can’t pour from an empty cup”. On the day that I broke down on that beach my companion listened. She didn’t try to fix my problem right away. Instead, she suggested we take a walk and breathe in the clean air instead of staying in our stuffy car and contemplating what we were doing wrong. As I walked with her, my fears did not all go away at once, but I was able to pull myself into a clearer head space and take a minute to breathe and to pray.
Once I had spent a few minutes on myself, I could go out and do the work much better than I could have if I had forced my emotions out of the way and pushed forward. It is important to take care of ourselves as we work to take care of others.
Sister Stimpson served in the Oregon Eugene Mission.