Writing Yourself a Letter

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Randy Bott

Toward the very end of your mission, you may begin to worry a little about going home. Will you be able to keep the Spirit the way you did while serving your mission? Will you fall off the table spiritually, as you have seen some returned missionaries do? Will you be able to fit in without compromising your standards? Dozens of other questions flood your mind. What can you do to make it through those first few months at home?

When I was about to complete my first mission, I was cleaning out my desk in the mission office when I noticed my old manual typewriter. Without really thinking about what I was doing, I took a piece of mission letterhead and put it into the typewriter. I started to type: "Dear Elder Bott..." I went on to explain to myself that I had now successfully completed the most difficult assignment that the Lord had ever given me. I reminded myself of the commitment I had made to continue faithful.

The next paragraph started a series of questions. "Are you studying the scriptures daily? Do you attend all your meetings? Are you a full tithe payer? Are you keeping your thoughts clean as you promised you would? Are your relationships with members of the opposite sex on a plane as high as you said they would be? Are you being kind to your brother and sisters?" The list continued as I thought through every phase of my life and the commitments I had made.

I realized I was still very much under the influence of my call as a missionary. I concluded the two-page, single-spaced letter with the following admonition: "Now Elder Bott, if you have slipped in any of these areas, repent. Your eternal life depends on it! Your Friend, Elder Bott." Then I sealed it, postdated it for six months later, and put it with the other papers I was sending home.

A couple months later, I was sorting through my mission papers and ran across the letter. Although it hadn't yet been six months, I decided to open it and read what I had written. As I read through the long list of questions, I felt a flood of memories, emotions, and a little guilt. In answer to most of the questions, I could honestly report that I was doing well. But a couple caused me to sit up and take notice. When I got to the end and read my rather pointed challenge to either shape up or perish, I couldn't really get mad at anybody, because it was I who had written the letter!

I put the letter on my dresser by my bed and read it at least once a week for the next three months or so until I lost it. But I discovered it had helped me through the turbulent times of readjustment. As a mission president, I suggested to the returning missionaries that they do something like that. Many followed the counsel and later reported that the letter had greatly helped them keep one eye focused on things of eternal worth.

You may think it is a dumb idea, but it worked for me and has worked for many others. If you decide not to write a letter, at least take the advice of another mission president who suggested that "every Sunday for the first three months, and then monthly for the rest of your life, hold a personal interview with yourself. Ask yourself seriously and soberly how you are doing with regard to your activity in the Church, your attitude, your obedience level, and your spiritual state of health."

If you can maintain your obedience and spirituality for the first six months after your return, you will probably stay active for the rest of your life. There is a little psychology in the letter or the interview. If someone else chastises you for not being as righteous as you know you should be, it is natural for you to become defensive. If, however, you are the one chewing yourself out, whom are you going to get mad at?

The main point is to have some definite, clearly defined method of coping during those first few months. You may have heard of more creative or more effective methods. Don't leave your level of righteousness to chance. If you have firmly decided to keep active and keep the Spirit with you, you will find it isn't that difficult. If you haven't decided, it is far too easy to discontinue those practices that brought the Spirit into your life while you served your mission. Remember that prayer, scripture study, and service brought the Spirit back in a hurry. Those same three things will continue to bring the Spirit into your life as a returned missionary.

Excerpt from the Book: Serve with Honor, by Randy Bott, 1995