"Why are there so many rules?" is a question frequently asked by missionaries. It seems like rules cover everything. What's the matter—doesn't the mission president trust you? Nothing could be further from the truth. If you were not a trustworthy person, you would not be called to serve a mission.
Because of your young age and, for many, the rather protected environment you grew up in, the First Presidency and Council of the Twelve have decided to give you rather strict guidelines. If you follow them, they will help you avoid situations that can he spiritually fatal. Some missionaries become disgruntled at seemingly being told everything to do. That is one way to look at it. A different approach might be to stand back in awe at how much Heavenly Father loves you and how "with it" the Brethren really are. In Doctrine and Covenants 38:16 the Lord explains, "And for your salvation I give unto you a commandment, for I have heard your prayers." Earlier in the same section, the Lord cautioned the early elders: "Behold, the enemy is combined. And now I show unto you a mystery, a thing which is had in secret chambers, to bring to pass even your destruction in process of time, and ye knew it not" (verses 12-13).
The devil will never let you go unnoticed or unchallenged. From the many accounts written by missionaries, I have marveled that the Lord has so constantly watched over his missionaries. Some missionaries were warned to flee their apartments in the middle of the night. Others were prompted to stay at a member's home longer than usual, thus avoiding physical harm from a pending disaster. Others have talked about being prompted to leave investigators' homes, take alternative routes, or make phone calls that interrupted suicide attempts—and the list goes on.
Very often it is not evident at the time why we are prompted to do certain things. People may laugh and mock our attempts to be sensitive to the Spirit. Sometimes we never find out what the Lord was protecting us from. Other times we learn why we behaved as we did. Given the number of missionaries who have recorded how they on occasion did not heed the promptings of the Spirit and then suffered as a result, I have a firm testimony that the Lord's promised blessings—including those of protective watch care (see D&C 84:42, 88)—are more surely with us, as he says, "when ye do what I say" (D&C 82:10).
Sometimes we may feel we are being treated as little children because instructions often come without explanations. Father Adam set a godly example for us:
And Adam and Eve, his wife, called upon the name of the Lord, and they heard the voice of the Lord from the way toward the Garden of Eden, speaking unto them, and they saw him not; for they were shut out from his presence.
And he gave unto them commandments, that they should worship the Lord their God, and should offer the firstlings of their flocks, for an offering unto the Lord. And Adam was obedient unto the commandments of the Lord.
And after many days an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying: Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord? And Adam said unto him: I know not, save the Lord commanded me (Moses 5:4-6).
Our Grand patriarch did not feel that an explanation of the reason behind the commandments was necessary for him to obey. The scriptural phrase "after many days" often denotes the passage of many years. We should be more faithful. Adam knew that God did not frivolously command anything. Because he had perfect faith in God, He obeyed. Since we have enough faith to come on missions, shouldn't we exercise faith and obey the rules until the Loud helps us understand?
If you really struggle with a rule, obey it until you can receive a clarification. Ask other missionaries if they know why that rule was given. If they don't know, ask the president in one of your weekly letters or during an interview. Often a light will turn on when you see the rationale behind the rule. I have heard so many times, "President, I had never looked at it that way before!" However, even if you receive what seems to you to be an unsatisfactory answer, you are not authorized to break the rule.
Perhaps an illustration will help. On page twenty-one of the Missionary Handbook, under the heading "Letter Writing:" you will read, "Do not carry on any unauthorized communication, by phone or letter, with individuals (including members) within or close to your mission boundaries." Later, on page twenty-five, the handbook continues: "You are not to telephone, write to, or accept calls or letters from anyone of the opposite sex living within or near mission boundaries:" From your point of view that may seem rather silly. Naturally, you have become close to members and investigators in other areas. To you the rule may seem illogical. Consider just a few of the implications from a mission president's point of view. You are a part of a set of missionaries who are well liked and have many close friends in a particular area. When you and your companion leave that area, there is an automatic resistance to change, so the new missionaries may not be welcomed as warmly as they could be. If there is a telephone dialogue between you and the members, the friendship and support for the new missionaries may be delayed for many weeks. You then become responsible for those who should have been taught and contacted but were not because the new missionaries never gained trust in the area.
Now for the other edge of the sword. While you are calling, writing, and thinking about your former area, you cannot devote your undivided attention to the new area. You cannot serve with "all your heart, might, mind and strength, because you are working less than you could in the new area. You will have to account also for those people you failed to contact and teach in the new area. Add to that the fact that you have openly disobeyed mission rules, and this, to a degree, deprives you of a fullness of the Spirit. Without that, you will miss promptings you otherwise might have enjoyed. Lessons for the present and future will go unlearned, and everyone will suffer. It is also possible that your companion will see your disobedience and use your example to justify breaking mission rules. The members may hear you talk and realize you are not obedient. They don't want their family and friends taught by a disobedient missionary, so they withhold their investigator until a new, more obedient missionary comes to the area. The ball rolls on and on, and the work does not prosper as it should.
The rules are given for your protection. On pages twenty-two and twenty-three, under the title "Recreational and Cultural Activities," the handbook cautions against engaging in "contact sports, water sports, winter sports, motorcycling, horseback riding, mountain climbing, riding in private boats or airplanes, handling Firearms or explosives of any kind, or similar activities. Never go swimming. You may play basketball but not full court or in organized leagues or tournaments." What a list! Each of those activities could be discussed at length. The wisdom behind most missionary rules is evident.
Regarding sports activities, it is important that missionaries avoid losing their tempers. Many missions have banned basketball because one or two missionaries failed to control their tempers. More than once, reports came to the mission office of investigators who discontinued taking the discussions because some immature, hot-headed missionary acted like a little kid on the basketball court. How much is the worth of a soul? If you uncontrollably lose your temper when you play, then be adult enough not to play. Think how it might feel trying to explain to the Savior how you allowed yourself to drive someone away from investigating the gospel by your unsportsman-like conduct.
Every mission has stories about the tragic effects of missionaries who failed to live by the rules. Sometimes the consequences are only the destruction of a mission car or a bicycle, but other times, injury or death is the result of care less actions. Whatever the consequences, when the missionaries go down, the work is not done. Does it matter if you choose to disobey only a few rules! The Lord counseled, "No man receiveth a fullness unless he keepeth [God's] commandments" (D&C 93:27). It is hypocrisy of the worst kind to teach people to listen and obey if you listen and choose to disobey. If you are going to represent the Lord, do so by first keeping all his rules and commandments.
One of the most frequently used excuses is "Everybody else breaks the rule." Is that supposed to justify your actions! In the early days of this dispensation, the Lord chastised the prophet Joseph Smith by saying: "Behold, you should not have feared man more than God. Although men set at naught the counsels of God, and despise his words-yet you should have been faithful." (D&C 3:7-8).
The happy missionary is the faithful, obedient missionary. There is never any fear in him or her. So what if the mission president makes a surprise visit! The obedient missionary will always be found doing what he or she is supposed to do. What if the Savior came personally or sent an angel for a visual account of what you are doing! There's no problem if you are obedient. If you are not, there will always be fear of being caught or embarrassment for not doing what you have promised. You cannot have the peace and confidence the Lord has promised to the faithful and obedient unless you do what is asked.
One of the greatest favors you can do for yourself, your future family, your companion, the mission, and the Lord is to decide, before you enter the mission, to follow Nephi's example of obedience. The Lord has promised that he will open the way for you to accomplish what he has commanded you (see 1 Nephi 3:7). Happy indeed is the missionary who can sit in the president's office for the exit interview and truthfully report having been totally obedient for the entire time he or she served.
Excerpt from the book: Serve With Honor, by Randy Bott, 1995