One of the ironies of a mission is that sometimes the very people who are there to help you succeed seem to be those who cause you to stumble. So it goes as you approach the end of your full-time service. By this time in your mission you will realize that eighteen months or two years is not going to last forever. Your time is rapidly running out, and you want to make the best of it. You try to shut out all thoughts of home, schooling, marriage, jobs, and postmission life. Just when you have decided to be totally focused, the harassment from other missionaries and members starts.
It is generally done innocently—and because others don't know what else to say. Nevertheless, it is unwelcome. The missionaries who have only been out for a few months may look at you enviously, especially if they are in the homesick stage. They may make comments like, "You lucky dog. I wish I were going home instead of you!" At that point you may want to trade places with them. Of course, that isn't possible. But you can help them by saying something like, "It seems like only yesterday I was in your position and thought my mission would never end. Tomorrow you'll be on your way home, so make every minute count." Some of the flak will come from missionaries who have been out long enough to know better. Their time is also drawing short. They may tease you because they realize their days are numbered too. Comments such as, "I'm sure glad it's you going home and not me!" are common. If you have served the way you should, your answer can reflect some teaching. "I'm glad I took advantage of the opportunities as they came along. I'd hate to be where I am and have a lot of regrets. If I were so lucky as to be in your position, I would redouble my efforts to make sure I ended positively."
Members constitute a different problem. They have become accustomed to missionaries coming and going. But that doesn't make it any easier for them to say good-bye. If you have served with honor, they will have grown to love you like a son or daughter. They are a bit more realistic. The chances of your coming back to visit very often are slim. Therefore, when they say farewell, they are cutting the ties for the rest of mortality. Often they are uncomfortable with showing too much emotion, because it makes things harder. So instead they joke and tease you. If they are sensitive, the joking will be in good taste. If they haven't had much experience, the teasing could be a bit more cruel. Often you will hear comments such as, "Oh, you'll just go home and forget all about us. You really don't care about us anyway!" That hurts because it's not true. Try to help them understand. You might say something like, "It is true our paths may not cross again, but one of the most consoling parts of the gospel is the knowledge that we will be together again in the celestial kingdom, where we never need to say good-bye again." This reassures members and gives them hope that the joy you have shared together in the gospel will not be lost forever.
People tend to joke and laugh when they are rather uncomfortable and don't know what else to do. If you promise to keep in touch, then do so. Avoid making too many promises. Life at home will be busy and challenging enough to demand your full attention. Even the best intentions to visit or write or call may not be reasonable. The problem comes when you promise and do not fulfill your promise. That casts a poor light on you as an individual and on missionaries as a whole. It would be better to be more conservative in making promises. Then if you have the time and inclination to keep in touch, it will come as a pleasant surprise. If you find you can't keep in touch, there will be no promises broken and no confidences destroyed.
Missions are like other phases in your life. You write each page of a chapter one day at a time. When the chapter is complete, although you reread it occasionally, other chapters demand your complete attention. Those missionaries who never quite leave the mission are not viewed as well-balanced individuals. Just as you may have hated to see your high school experience come to a close, so you may hate to see your mission experience end. But just as you discovered that there was life after high school, so you will also discover that there is a wonderful life after your mission.
A final observation about leaving your mission: strengthen those around you. You have worked hard to help those good people, whether members or nonmembers, and the last thing you want to hear is that they have wandered off into forbidden paths. If you made any commitments, honor them before you leave. Don't leave any unpaid bills. Bad feelings are created if you don't pay for what you receive. If you have promised to present a fireside for the young men and young women of the ward, schedule it before the crunch of the last few weeks hits. If you have promised to look up a relative or friend who lives in your area, now is the time to do it. If you have promised to do a service project with other members of your district or zone, schedule it before the last minute. One thing is for sure—the last few weeks will be so busy and hectic that you will wonder if somebody has sped up the clock. If you consciously start about three months before your departure date to organize the things you want to do before you leave, your departure will be a lot less hectic. If you fail to take this advice, you will know firsthand what I refer to —your mission will end in chaos.
Even though others may tease you, don't respond bitterly or angrily. Someday you will be glad that you didn't stoop to their level but instead tried to maintain a Christlike attitude during those difficult and trying days. You can do it, but it will require constant, diligent effort.
Excerpt from the Book: Serve with Honor, by Randy Bott, 1995