Until the day I die
I loved the second area of my mission. The Bishop was engaged in missionary work, the ward mission leader was a rock star, and the members were warm and accepting. It was really awesome– definitely one of the highlights of my whole mission. I was there quite a while; I spent 6 months (and 5 companions) in that ward. But no matter how awesome an area is, you can still burn out.
You know you were starting to burn out when you were tracting and could remember knocking on these same doors a few months ago. "I know you weren't interested last time, but how about now?" Yep, the repetition starts to get to you after a while. Even though I had a great companion and a great area, I had started thinking wistfully about other pastures.
One day as I daydreamed of my next area, I was prompted with this question: "How would you react if God were to leave you in this area for the rest of your mission?"
I thought on that for a while. Trying to be diligent, I answered, "I'll go where you want me to go, I guess. But I think I'm ready for a transfer." Then, into my mind floated these words of Ammon to King Lamoni:
I desire to dwell among this people for a time; yea, and perhaps until the day I die.
I'll never forget that gentle rebuke of the Spirit. Ammon didn't tell Lamoni, "I desire to dwell among this people for a few transfers" or "until I feel burned out" or "as long as the ward is helpful." Ammon's humble heart was in it for the long haul. He was willing to spend the rest of his life loving and serving and living with a people he had never met and may never be receptive to his message. No strings attached, and no end date in sight.
The Lord encouraged Church members in this dispensation to develop that Ammon level of long-term thinking. When the homeless Saints of the Colesville branch arrived in Kirtland, they settled on a few acres of the Leman Copley farm. Even though the Lord promised them they would stay there only "for a little season" (only a few weeks, it turned out), He nevertheless commanded them to "act upon this land as for years, and it shall turn unto them for their good" (D&C 51:16-17).
I had a decent number of hard areas after that first burn-out. Areas poisoned by the irresponsibility of previous missionaries. Tiny areas where we knocked the same door every 3 weeks. Even an area where the Bishop told our investigator not to get baptized and rebuked the ward mission leader for inviting members to bring their friends to Church.
In difficult areas, discouragement breeds quickly. I found myself looking forward to escaping problems instead of wanting to solve them:
"My companion and I aren't getting along. Good thing he's going home in two weeks."
"This investigator is driving me nuts, good thing she'll be someone else's problem next transfer."
"The ward dislikes us, it would take months of trust-building to soften their hearts, why even try?"
When I encoutered such thoughts, I tried to remember the example of Ammon and the Colesville Saints. I tried to develop a heart willing to "act upon this [area] as for years" and "dwell among this people… until the day I die." I've tried to carry that long-term attitude with me throughout the various wards and callings I've occupied since my mission, and it continues to impact my life today. That doesn't mean I've fallen in love with every single calling I've held (sorry Cub Scouts), but it has given me the ability to love those I serve even more. And that's made all the difference.
Mosiah taught that when we are in the service of our fellow beings, we are only in the service of our God. That calling to serve is a lifetime calling. So if you're feeling the weight of your calling, if you're feeling buned out in service a bit, avoid the temptation to look forward to your transfer, your release, or even your death. Try to be smile, love the people, and develop the attitude of Pres. Kimball, who taught:
My life is like my shoes– to be worn out in service.
I originally wrote this post in 2018.