Two months ago today I awakened to the hustle and bustle of preparations being made for a wedding. It was the first time in two years--731 days--that I didn't wake up to the obnoxiously loud and terrifying shrill of my $5 alarm clock from Walmart. While I did enjoy being able to sleep past a highly regimented hour, a part of me felt hollow and distant. That alarm clock had been one of the only consistent things in my life over the last two years.
As cheap as it was and as much as I hated it, that alarm clock symbolized to me the most important and most powerful time in my life. And now, waking up without it for the first time, it hit me that this period of my life had come to a close. Tears came to my eyes as I thought back to what I would be doing at that same time on a Monday morning one week before. "Right now," I thought, "I would have finished my two hours of studying and I would be in the midst of an hour-long Skype call with Johnathan."
But not this Monday. No, this day, I would awaken alone, shower, prepare for the day alone and wonder what I would do with my time, a pattern that would fill each day of my new life. So many more choices; so much more freedom; so much less accountability. It was liberating. It was exciting. It was terrifying.
You see, two months ago today was my first day of life since concluding my two year service as an online missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. As I woke up that morning, fear came to my mind. What would my new life hold? How was I going to proceed? I was an adult now, a big boy; it is time to start living and working towards new goals and new objectives. But what were they?
Lying there on an air mattress in my aunt and uncle's house, one fear after another poured into my mind. But each was quickly replaced by the faith I had developed through my service. The thought, "What am I going to do with my schooling and where do I want to take my future career?" soon subsided to the more potent "It doesn't matter. The Lord is in control. He will guide me. He will lead me. He will take care of me. I just need to trust in Him and do my best."
This faith, I decided, must define the new me. After being away from my dearest friends and family members for two years, what would they think of me? What would they see me as? Was I just another returned missionary to them? Were they wondering if I would become one of the statistics whose faith was weak, who returned to old habits soon after returning from a mission? Now was my time to decide. Now was my time to determine that and define who I would be.
My goal throughout my mission was to work hard, to serve the Lord, to love those with whom I associated and, as a result, reflect the Savior whom I love and emulate more than the Ryan Tucker who entered the Lord's full time service. That was my desire, my motivation, to be more like the Savior than the old me. So when I awoke on that first morning, I determined that is who I would be. I would do my best to be like the Savior just as I had been doing for the past two years.
But how? It was so much easier to do that when I had a tag on my chest every waking moment that said in beautiful white letters Elder Tucker, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. A sense of power came with that as did a feeling of authority and protection and almost super powers. Things that had sounded ridiculous and so cliche throughout my life were finally making sense in a rush of thought and emotion in my first few waking moments this Monday morning.
But that was two months ago. What about now? What is life like now?
Well let me tell you. Life as a returned missionary is hard. Each and every day can quickly turn into a challenge to keep composed and stay strong. At the flip of a hat you can feel vulnerable. You instinctively reach for your tag which was so reassuring whenever times got challenging before. But now it isn't there and the first thought is the reality that it will never be there again and you become distant as you fight back the tears.
There are times of deep sadness. I read talks that were given while I was on my mission. Many of these talks include lines such as "Tonight there are many thousands of our number throughout the world who are serving the Lord as His missionaries." A stabbing, almost mocking wave of sadness rushes across as you realize that such statements applied and were directed to you just five months previous, when the talk was given. When you heard those words live, a sense of honor and gratitude for being in such a position was instant. But now those same exact words seem foreign.
There are even times of depression. Things that were never hard before are now large hurdles in your life. Something that was one of the greatest strengths when you wore the black tag is now one of your greatest weakness and flaws. Everything has changed. The people you once knew are nothing like they were before. The places you knew inside and out are filled with an overwhelming number of mysteries and changes.
You knew life wouldn't wait for you, you knew everything would be different. But within your soul you craved that they wouldn't. You longed and occasionally prayed that things would be the same and that you wouldn't have to adjust. But alas, what you once knew is no more and what never was encompasses you.
But there is exactly one thing that remains the same. One thing and one thing only: the love your Heavenly Father has for you. Never at any time over the past two months have I questioned or doubted that love. Never have I thought that the Lord had given up on me. With that one constant, that one eternal truth is entailed large ramifications.
As much as I loved my mission and as hard as it is to be home, never have I wanted to go back for by so doing, I would have to sacrifice what lies ahead. The Lord, the God of heaven and earth, my Father and Creator, called me to serve Him for two years. Who am I to say He was wrong? Who am I to wish He would change His mind? He is my Father. He loves me. He has everything mapped out for me to reach the peak of joy and satisfaction in life; why would I think that joy and happiness didn't lie ahead? If the Lord had guided me along the trials of my mission to the joys found within, why wouldn't He do the same for me as I pursued this new stage of my life?
Faith and trust and conversion to that one individual, elemental truth of the Lord changes everything. That is the single most powerful testimony with which I have been blessed. That is what has helped me to enjoy being home. That is what has given me the strength to smile at the trials and to know that they are simply temporary. That is what continues to inspire me to a new sense of devotion and an even greater desire to serve. That is what has changed my life and I testify that it will change yours.
I often hear about missionaries who return home and long to feel the same things they felt on their mission. They long for the Spirit, they desire His guidance. But for some reason, they don't receive it like they used to and they don't know why. I am grateful to say that is not true of me. The Spirit I feel at Church and in the temple is the same Spirit I feel as I go about my day.
I have often thought about why that is and what makes the difference and I have come to the conclusion that it is my mindset. I have been released as a full-time missionary, but my mind is still focused on strengthening my relationship with the Savior and helping others to do the same through serving them. That is at the forefront of my thoughts and motives as it has been for the past two years and, as a result, that missionary Spirit is still there. If you want the secret to experiencing what a missionary feels, that is it.
Life is hard. It is hard for me as a returned missionary and it is hard for each and every individual out there. We each make mistakes. We each fall short of where we could be. But in spite of that we all live for something and have a purpose to our existence. At times that purpose is overshadowed by the "temptations and the sins which do so easily beset [us]" but the light of God's love does pierce through. It is our choice to see that or to turn our back to His light and His love and focus on the negative.
I don't know about you, but I much prefer to see the light and to walk towards it rather than towards the impending darkness. And that is precisely what makes life worthwhile. That is what brings joy to each day.