Provo, Utah: the college aged Mormon capitol of the world. Funny thing, is currently there are no guys aged 20. All the guys residing in Provo are aged 18-19 or 21 and up. By the age of 20, most guys have left for their mission. At least for another couple months, there won’t be any 20 year old return missionaries.
Being a 20 year old male is almost like being an endangered species. The only thing different, is we aren’t treated with so much respect and care. It’s actually quite the opposite. When someone finds out someone is 20 around here, they either think they are about to go on a mission or just not going. Then, sometimes, they think the worst….they came home early. It’s better to just not go than to come home early. I vividly remember sitting in my Bishop’s office getting my papers finalized and telling him my concerns and how I didn’t want to go until I was 100% positive this was the right choice for me. That’s why I had waited until I was 20. He said it would be better for me to not even go than to go and come home early. At first I didn’t believe him. Sure. It would be bad to come home early, but at least you went, right? Nope.
When someone finds out a missionary comes home early, their initial thinking is that they hated it or got in trouble. Lots of prematurely returned missionaries like to blame it on medical reasons as a crutch to deflect the judgmental views they would receive from hating it or getting sent home. Lots of missionaries come home for medical issues. It’s an unfortunate fact. That’s what happened to me. Unfortunately, the phrase “one bad apple ruins the whole barrel” comes into play. You get some missionaries saying they came home for “medical reasons” when that was obviously not the case, and then more and more people start thinking thats an excuse. Especially when they go throughout daily life completely fine.
Now, I came home due to a whole cluster of reasons. The main reason was chronic side pain. A stabbing, in-habilitating pain. That pain then snowballed and created issues such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, eating issues and so forth. I was getting worse week by week. I had never had issues with any of the above pre mission or pre side pain. It was clear it was all resulting due to the chronic pain. I couldn’t get healthy and I was scared. Scared of going home and being looked at like a disgrace and a failure.
Now i’m home. At first I had issues with accepting it and not caring what people thought or said. Then a few months passed and I didn’t care. I knew I fought to stay out for as long as I could. Now i’m back in the Mormon Meat Market. Girls and guys fighting for friends and relationships. Don’t get me wrong, the last thing I want is a relationship. But when I tell a girl that i’m 20 years old, it’s like going into a job interview with no experience or education. Immediately their opinions change, and often their whole demeanor towards you. Some of you will say that’s not true. To you, I say “shut up”.
Sure, I have found lots of people here who really don’t care. They know what happened or it doesn’t bother them. These are the people that more people should strive to be like. My first two weeks back in Provo have already been better than my whole first semester was. It’s largely due to the friends i’ve been able to make. The reason for this post is to shed some light onto what it’s like for the premature RM’s out there. Nobody knows what it’s really like in our shoes. You don’t know why we came home, nor should it matter. What should matter is what kind of a person we are.
Almost all of my guy friends in Provo have served missions. I’m the youngest of the group…obviously. We’ll be in a conversation with guys or girls, and I will be an equal participant. More times than not, year in school or age gets brought up. It’s at that point when opinions change. People will cover it up and be like “oh coming home early happens to plenty of people. Doesn’t change anything”. Wrong. It changed because of the fact that you even had to say that to me. Something about your prior opinion changed. There’s questions as to why. Human instinct is to want to know why. But I can’t tell everyone my story of why i’m home. Nobody has time for that and I don’t enjoy telling people all about the worst day of my life.
In a perfect world, i’m still on a mission. Sorry I got sick and had to come home. I can’t fix that. The rude comments along the lines of “finish your mission” are about the only things that actually upset me. One rude comment about my mission will ruin my whole day. “He couldn’t even last on his mission” is probably the worst insult i’ve had thrown my way. I fought for 5 months through pneumonia, side pain, insomnia, depression, anxiety, appetite issues and others. Yes, I couldn’t last. But nobody could. In January I almost went home. I made it until the end of March fighting each day. When someone makes fun of me for going home early, I compare it to someone working as hard as they can to get a degree, and someone saying it’s not a real degree because it’s not from their school.
People seem to idolize the missionary and return missionary status. People often feel like they are perfect beings. They’ll only hire an RM, or someone going on a mission is a perfect child. That is so absolutely wrong. So many future missionaries, current missionaries and returned missionaries that I know are terrible people. Most are great, but that is not the case for all. It is not a one size fits all type matter. Just because someone went on a mission doesn’t mean they’re perfect. People need to get over that fact. Your missionary isn’t perfect, nor is the RM your friend wants to set you up with. They’re still the same person they were before they left…just with better habits (hopefully).
I can’t wait until i’m 21. That’s when nobody will even have to worry about it. I’ll be normal and I can just tell people I served a mission and nobody will question it or think i’m lying. I’m sick of sticking out. I’m sick of still being sick. I’m sick of the judgmental Mormons who idolize the return missionary status. I’m sick of being told I won’t match up to that. I’m sick of not even being able to finish my mission.
It would do members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints a world of good if the first question they asked a guy in their 20’s “Where did you serve?”. Your mission doesn’t make you a good person. Judge a person based on their character, not on where they spent 2 years of their life.