Rusty’s post about rating his companions made me think again about my own mission companions and missionary experiences. I went back and re-read the journal I kept during my mission and was astounded at how little I actually mentioned my companions. Mostly, the journal entries are about the experiences I was having with tracting, teaching, meeting and interacting with Church members and investigators and people in general in my assigned areas. My companions are treated mostly as interchangeable. Some are not mentioned at all.
I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but as I read through my journal entries something else jumped out at me as a bit of a recurring theme: the struggle for inspiration, and the real frustration of sometimes not getting it.
It seems we were taught to seek and expected to receive inspiration from God concerning everything from the most mundane (What area should we tract today?) to the most mission-critical (How and when should we ask this person to be baptized?). Sometimes we got it. My journal is replete with instances of real divine help, received pecisely when it was needed. Most memorable and sacred to me is the time, near the very beginning of my mission, that I received direct communication from the Lord concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. My unending gratitude for those experiences can never be overstated. And yet…
And yet there are so many of the other kind as well. Times where we sought for help or guidance or confirmation and it just didn’t come. I always wondered and agonized about why. Were we not worthy? Asking the wrong question? Asking about the wrong subject? Hadn’t put in the necessary study and work? All of the above? Surely it was my companion’s fault! Often it was terribly frustrating not to get an answer. Didn’t the Lord know we were on a short timeline here? I can almost picture myself tapping my watch and gazing heavenward with a puzzled expression.
The hardest times were in the mission office. We had to get transfers done and called out by a certain time each month. Hundreds of missionaries were waiting on us, not knowing whether to pack or where they might be going. A dozen or so new missionaries were arriving in the mission and almost the same number had just left and yet the juggling and switching and discussing and weighing seemed endless. We always prayed for guidance at the beginning of this process and we always prayed at the end to see if what we had decided was acceptable. We generally were exhausted and stressed and we (or at least I) generally got little in the way of divine intervention to help us.
At the time, I usually felt that, if we didn’t get any answer then we should just go with our best guess. After all, if God didn’t want to get involved when we needed his help, well then, he knew how to contact us and knew we had a job to get done and if we screwed it up it was his fault. I mean, we did our best and we did ask! What more could we do, right?
Now I’m not so sure. Now I think that maybe the process of seeking for divine guidance is more important than the answer we get. Now I think that maybe the deadlines we impose on ourselves and God are arbitrary and meaningless. Now I think that if people have to wait an hour or a day or a week longer in order to be sure you are doing the Lord’s work the Lord’s way, then maybe they should wait. And maybe so should we. Now I see my youthful frustration and impatience as being (maybe) my biggest impediment to receiving the Lord’s help. Now I think maybe (just maybe) I was a spoiled brat.