Physical Illness

According to a study about missionaries who returned home early by Kris Doty, chair of Utah Valley University’s Department of Behavioral Science, “73 percent of men and women who returned home early from their missions for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints experienced feelings of failure, and the majority came home for medical or mental health reasons.”

So, if you came home because of a physical illness you are in good company. Physical illness necessitated my early return home, and, as a matter of fact, all of the other “early-returned missionaries” I’ve met came home early because of a physical illness. However, knowing that you are not alone, does not always alleviate the pain of the experience.

Coming home early from a physical illness can be very difficult because of a few things:

(1)A struggle with feelings of unworthiness and/or a sense of “What did I do wrong?” often happen. Coming home early because of a physical illness should be the most obvious for coming home early through no fault of your own. But all too often, missionaries feel like they became ill because they did something wrong. I know I sure did. It took time for me to conquer those thoughts and to realize that I came home because I got sick—not because God was angry with me or could no longer use me.

(2) Similar to point number one, oftentimes people expect that if you just have enough faith, you can be healed and not come home early from your mission. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you were told that you came home early or that you were not recovering because you did not have enough faith, you were either lied to or told this by someone who did not understand faith, God’s timing, or physical illnesses. God has commanded us to take care of our bodies. It is okay that you came home early to recover.

(3) After recovery, many people expect you to immediately return to your mission. You even expect yourself to return immediately. However, I find that there is often the fear factor in missionaries that come home early. For me, I know that I was very scared to return to my mission for fear of getting sick again. I also needed to recover emotionally from the onslaught of traumatic feelings I went through as a result of being sick out in the mission field, especially in a third world country where health care is not the best. I was scared to go back. Now, I believe that returning to the mission should be a decision made between the missionary, priesthood leaders, and the Lord. This decision-making process is discussed more in “Advice: Temporal Advice: Stay Home or Go Back?”

Most missionaries are extremely discouraged by coming home early. It was not expected nor was it wanted. A physical illness adds to the discouragement and frustration immensely. This discouragement also adds to the fear of whether the illness was  serious enough to necessitate an early return home, or if the missionary just wasn’t “strong enough,” “righteous enough,””obedient enough,” etc. In the field, missionaries hear so often about miracles taking place, they wonder why God didn’t miraculously cure them from their illness and instead sent them home. Were they not good enough?

If you came home early from your mission because of a physical illness, recognize right now that it was not your fault. You did not do anything to deserve a physical illness. Perhaps you were careless and touched something or put something in your mouth, or something to that effect, that caused the illness. But did you do those things with the intention of getting sick and coming home early? Of course not. Did you want to come home at times on your mission? Probably. That thought process is normal, even for missionaries who manage to complete the expected time requirement. But did you also have desires to serve honorably until the end? Of course you did. Stop beating yourself up. It won’t aid your recovery one bit. Rely on the Lord. He is still there for you. Keep pressing forward, and when the time comes to make new decisions, continue to rely on the Lord for help. Trust in His timing and in His will. When the time comes, you’ll know what to do.

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