Hello. My name is Jimmy Smith. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also called the LDS or Mormon Church. Mormon Mission Prep is a website to learn how to become an effective LDS missionary. Get answers to questions and tips on preparing both physically and spiritually for missionary work.
This website is dedicated to helping young people be better prepared to serve the Lord as full-time missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While we want every missionary that goes on a mission to complete their term of service fully and honorably, we know that a percentage of missionaries will need to come home early for one reason or another. In this article, I’d like to talk about the reasons why missionaries come home early, how to help those missionaries adjust to that reality, and what we as their friends, family, and fellow church members can do to help and support them.
Elder Holland once said this to a missionary who came home early because of mental health issues:
“Obviously we want everyone to have a full and complete mission. We’re anxious that no one succumb to homesickness or battle fatigue and truncate their mission, come home early. …But listen. Understand, this young man and anybody else out there in the audience who is concerned. There are reasons that people can’t serve a mission. There are reasons that people can’t go on a mission in the first place. We know that. We understand that. …So I say commendation to you, and the love of the Lord to you, and the blessings of the Church to you for trying to go, for wanting to go, and for the fact that you successfully served for four months.” (see Elder Holland’s Counsel for Early Returned Missionaries, March 2016)
I’ve heard many news stories in recent years about the increasing number of missionaries returning home early. While the Church doesn’t publish the exact number or percentage of missionaries returning home early, anecdotal evidence does seem to indicate the figures may be on the rise. Regardless of those trends, we know some missionaries do return home early and the brethren have taught us to love and support those individuals. As this 2014 Church News article reminds us, “Returned Missionaries Need a Friend, a Responsibility, and Spiritual Nourishment” regardless of why or when they come home.
Why Missionaries Return Home Early
Missionaries return home early from their missions for a variety of reasons—physical health issues, mental health, transgression, and other issues. A 2012 survey of 348 ERMs was published by BYU in a 2015 article called Return with Trauma: Understanding the Experiences of Early Returned Missionaries (see “Issues in Religion and Psychotherapy” Volume 37 | Number 1 | Article 9 by Kristine J. Doty of Utah Valley University and S. Zachary Bullock of Brigham Young University) examined the reason why missionaries come home early. It found that:
“Thirty-six percent reported that mental health issues were a factor in their return”
“Thirty-four percent returned due to physical health issues.”
“12% of the respondents came home due to unresolved transgression”
“11% for breaking mission rules” (see p40 of the article referenced above)
Another study of early returned missionaries (ERMs) conducted by Drake and Drake (2014) corroborated those results showing “38% of early releases were for mental illness diagnoses alone” and “34% who were released due to physical reasons” (p36). That leaves 28% for other reasons including transgression before or during mission.
That makes two studies within a two-year period that show basically the same results—the vast majority of early returned missionaries come home because of health reasons and only around a quarter of all ERMs are home early because of inappropriate behavior such as breaking the mission rules or entering the mission field with previous transgressions still unresolved.
Regardless of why missionaries come home early, almost all of them feel like they have failed at their mission and are uncomfortable talking about it. “Of the ERMs responding to the quantitative survey, 73% said they had feelings of failure. Two-thirds of ERMs felt uncomfortable in social settings, and 44% felt uncomfortable answering questions about their missions” (p 41). These feeling are prevalent among ERMs, “regardless of whether their early return was related to personal conduct” (p 41) or if it was due to health or other issues. Due to the fact that mental health issues is the biggest reason young people come home early from their missions, and due to many misunderstandings about this issue in our society, I, and the authors of the study we are examining, think it deserves a deeper exploration.
Returning for Mental Health Issues
The biggest reason missionaries are returning home early is due to mental health related issues. The authors of the study we’ve been discussing say, “mental illness is overrepresented in early returned missionaries (ERMs) compared to their peers who complete their full term of expected missionary service. For ERMs, the challenges and hardships missionaries face may overwhelm their coping resources and exacerbate the turmoil, anxiety, and crises of emerging adulthood.” (p36)
Internal Testimony rather than External Pressure for Good Mental Health
One thing that can be done to help reduce mental health stress on missionaries is to help them develop their own testimony instead of relying on the testimonies of others. The study we’ve been discussing found that missionaries who have a strong personal testimony and desire to serve the Lord without outside pressure from family or church leaders are more likely to have good mental health during their mission. Said the authors, “A high degree of intrinsic (internal) commitment to religion tends to correlate with good mental health better than an extrinsic (external) commitment” (p 36).
This reminded me of the oft-quoted statement from Heber C. Kimball, former apostle and member of the First Presidency:
“To meet the difficulties that are coming, it will be necessary for you to have a knowledge of the truth of this work for yourselves. The difficulties will be of such a character that the man or woman who does not possess his personal knowledge or witness will fall. … The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light. Each will have to be guided by the light within himself. If you do not have it, how can you stand?” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 3d. ed., Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1945, pp. 449–50)
Preparing for Transitions and Realities of Mission Life for Good Mental Health
The other suggestion from the authors to help lessen the likelihood of mental health issue by missionaries is to prepare them for the frequent transitions that occur in the mission field. Going on a mission is a big life style change for all missionaries. They transition from school or work or playing full-time, to full-time service of the Lord. They leave their family and friends and go to far off places, often having to learn a new language and culture. Every few months, they move from city to city and often have even more frequent changes in the companions they live with. There are a lot of transitions involved in missionary work, and young people will have better mental and emotional health if they know what they are getting into and are prepared for those transitions.
“A person’s mental health may be affected, however, if preparation for a transition is inadequate, if there is discontinuity between the roles, if there is too much change in too little time, or if those transitioning experience culture shock or role shock service—discrepancies between a person’s expectations and the realities of their new environments and responsibilities” (p36).
If future missionaries can be taught about the nature of missionary work and hear stories from others who have gone before them on a mission, they can be better prepared for the transitions of missionary work. And, say the authors of the study, “Mastering those transitions can lead to enhanced self-esteem, personal growth, and maturity” –all aspects of good mental health.
The benefits of emotional preparation to serve a mission cannot be understated. The study clearly showed that “missionaries who were emotionally prepared to serve and believed missionary work was the work of the Lord were more likely to have strong spiritual experiences while on the mission.”
Reception of ERMs by Home Ward Members
One aspect of the ERM experience upon which the study dwelt heavily, and which also deserves our attention, is how he or she was received by their home ward upon returning from the mission. “Fifty-eight percent [of ERMs] felt they were received indifferently or poorly by their congregation (ward), and almost half felt they were treated indifferently or poorly by their ward leaders. Thirty-one percent of the survey respondents indicated that their friends and family were indifferent or unkind.” (p 40)
Even without the judgement of others, “many ERMs feel like people assume they returned for worthiness issues. They feel stigmatized and ashamed, whether or not there was sin involved.” (p 40) However, “ERMs who felt their ward members received them better upon returning home had lower feelings of failure” (p 42)
“Nearly half of the survey respondents (47%) reported they are not as active in the Church as they were before they went on their mission.” In fact, one survey respondent said “I took a job on Sundays and that way I didn’t have to explain things to people anymore.” But again, there are things we are ward members can do to lessen the likelihood of ERMs falling away from the Church. Say the study authors, “ERMs who felt their ward members received them well upon their early return were less likely to experience a period of inactivity” (p 42).
Having said that, we should also remember to give ward members the benefit of the doubt on their reception of ERMs as often times ERMs perceive prejudice from ward members, whether or not it intended or even really there. “There appears to be a strong perceptual component to these reactions. Of the interviewees who stated they were poorly received, few had specific or concrete examples they could recall” (p 41). However, if we go out of our way to let ERMs know that they are loved and welcomed back into our wards, then we can dispel that doubt and they can enjoy the blessings of our ward families.
How to Help Early Returned Missionaries
In addition to the other helpful items we have discussed, the authors of the ERM study offer several other suggestions to help early returned missionaries. “The quick release [of an ERM] does not leave time for a young adult in the identity development phase to emotionally, mentally, or spiritually adjust to the change and consider the impact it will have on his or her immediate future.” They recommend these steps to help ERMs adjust and have a higher likelihood of remain happy, healthy, engaged with the Church and living the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Allow the ERM to share his full story. “We were surprised at how many ERMs did not feel encouraged, or even comfortable, to talk about their missions to anyone.”
Promote empowerment. “The majority of ERMs were not given the choice whether they returned home, they feel a loss of control. …The ERM will need to feel empowered to own his or her healing journey.”
Teach communication skills. “Work with them to gain assertiveness skills so they can comfortably express what they need to their family members and church leaders.”
Encourage the use of spiritual strategies. “Fasting, prayer, temple attendance, scripture study, and most importantly application of the Atonement can provide them continued emotional and spiritual strength to find their new path.”
Encourage good emotional coping resources. “Help ERMs learn to reject shame and embarrassment. Many choose church inactivity as a way to cope with shame and embarrassment.”
Avoid urging them to return to the mission quickly. “The ERM should be empowered to focus on resolving the reason for coming home before engaging in any discussion about returning to the field. Moving on with his or her future by securing employment or attending college or vocational training may be the path he or she prefers or feels inspired to take.”
Consider a Church-Service Mission. “Not all ERMs can finish the full term of their proselyting missions, but many want to successfully complete their service. …[therefore] investigate whether the CSM program is an appropriate option.”
I’ll conclude with a word for the study authors and another great quote from Elder Holland. The study authors say, “Therapists, church leaders, family members and friends can offer support in a meaningful way to help ERMs make the needed adjustment to their unexpected return. …If ERMs can focus on being refined rather than defined by their experience, they will be much stronger to meet the future life challenges that most certainly lie ahead.”
And finally, this is what Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said to one early returned missionary:
“[Your mission] wasn’t a full term, but it was missionary service. It was honest. You were loyally participating and testifying. And I want you to take credit for that. I want you to take the appropriate dignity that you deserve from that and to know that the Lord loves you and the Church loves you for serving. … I want you to be proud. Appropriately proud. I want you to take the dignity and the strength and the faith that came from your four months and cherish that forever. I don’t want you to apologize for coming home. When someone asks you if you’ve served a mission, you say yes. You do not need to follow that up with ‘But it was only four months.’ Just forget that part and say yes, you served a mission. And be proud of the time that you spent. … Cherish the service you rendered. Be grateful for the opportunity to have testified, to have been out in the name of the Lord, to have worn that missionary name plaque.”
“Our youngest son was called to serve as a missionary in the France Paris Mission. In preparation to serve, we went with him to purchase the usual shirts, suits, ties, and socks, and an overcoat. Unfortunately, the overcoat he wanted was not immediately in stock in the size he needed. However, the store clerk indicated that the coat would become available in a few weeks and would be delivered to the missionary training center in Provo prior to our son’s departure for France. We paid for the coat and thought nothing more of it.
“Our son entered the missionary training center in June, and the overcoat was delivered just days before his scheduled departure in August. He did not try on the coat but hurriedly packed it in his luggage with his clothing and other items.
“As winter approached in Paris, where our son was serving, he wrote to us that he had pulled out the overcoat and tried it on but found that it was far too small. We therefore had to deposit extra funds in his bank account so that he could buy another coat in Paris, which he did. With some irritation, I wrote to him and told him to give the first coat away, inasmuch as he couldn’t use it.
“We later received this email from him: “It is very, very cold here. … The wind seems to go right through us, although my new coat is great and quite heavy. … I gave my old one to [another missionary in our apartment] who said that he had been praying for a way to get a better coat. He is a convert of several years and he has only his mom … and the missionary who baptized him who are supporting him on his mission and so the coat was an answer to a prayer, so I felt very happy about that.”
“Heavenly Father knew that this missionary, who was serving in France some 6,200 miles (10,000 km) away from home, would urgently need a new overcoat for a cold winter in Paris but that this missionary would not have the means to buy one. Heavenly Father also knew that our son would receive from the clothing store in Provo, Utah, an overcoat that would be far too small. He knew that these two missionaries would be serving together in Paris and that the coat would be an answer to the humble and earnest prayer of a missionary who had an immediate need.”
“Some members of the Church seem to have a gift for [missionary work]. They love being ambassadors of the gospel. They boldly and gladly serve and lead the work as member missionaries.
“However, others of us are more hesitant. When missionary work is discussed in Church meetings, heads are slowly lowered until submerged behind the pew, eyes focused on the scriptures or closed in deep meditation to avoid eye contact with other members.
“…But remember, the Lord has never required expert, flawless missionary efforts. Instead, “the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind.”
“If you are already happily doing missionary work, please continue, and stand as an example to others. The Lord will bless you.
“If, however, you feel that you have been dragging your feet when it comes to sharing the gospel message, may I suggest five guilt-free things anyone can do to participate in the Savior’s great commission to help gather Israel?”
First, draw close to God.
Second, fill your heart with love for others.
Third, strive to walk the path of discipleship.
Fourth, share what is in your heart.
Fifth, trust the Lord to work His miracles.
“…What I am asking is that you always look for opportunities to bring up your faith in natural and normal ways with people—both in person as well as online. I am asking that you “stand as witnesses” of the power of the gospel at all times—and when necessary, use words.”
“…Pray not only for the missionaries to find the elect. Pray daily with all your heart that you will find those who will come and see, come and help, and come and stay. Keep the full-time missionaries in the loop. They are like angels, ready to help!
“…In whatever ways seem natural and normal to you, share with people why Jesus Christ and His Church are important to you. Invite them to “come and see.” Then encourage them to come and help. There are numerous opportunities for people to help in our Church.
“Pray not only for the missionaries to find the elect. Pray daily with all your heart that you will find those who will come and see, come and help, and come and stay. Keep the full-time missionaries in the loop. They are like angels, ready to help!
“As you share the good news, the gospel of Jesus Christ, do so with love and patience. If we interact with people with the sole expectation that they soon will don a white jumpsuit and ask for directions to the nearest baptismal font, we’re doing it wrong.”
“Our family members will grow in their desire to share the gospel as they feel the joy of forgiveness. That can come even as they renew covenants when they partake of the sacrament. The missionary spirit will grow in our homes as children and parents feel the joy of forgiveness in the sacrament service. By their example of reverence, both parents and children can help each other feel that joy. That joy can go far in turning our homes into missionary training centers. All might not serve missions, but all will feel the desire to share the gospel, which has brought them to feel forgiveness and peace. And whether currently serving full-time or not, all can feel joy in offering the gospel to others.”
“All 12 young men were gathered and baptized within two years of each other. Each was the only member of the Church in his family. But they were supported by their Church family.
“…Together they set a goal that they would all serve missions. Since they were the only Church members in their families, they had many obstacles to overcome, but they helped each other through them.”
“One by one, the young men received mission calls. Those who left first wrote letters home to those still preparing, sharing experiences and encouraging them to serve. Eleven of the young men served missions.
“These young men shared the gospel with their families. Mothers, sisters, brothers, friends, as well as people they taught on their missions, were converted and baptized. Miracles occurred and countless lives were blessed.”
“As General Authorities assigned to work on Preach My Gospel 15 years ago, we concluded that the attribute of love was essential to missionary work in our day, just as it has always been. Chapter 6, on Christlike attributes, including charity and love, has consistently been the most popular chapter among missionaries.
“As emissaries of the Savior, most missionaries feel this kind of love, and when they do, their efforts are blessed. When members gain a vision of this kind of love, which is essential in assisting the Lord in His purpose, the Lord’s work will be accomplished.”
“President Nelson has repeatedly emphasized that the “gathering [of Israel] is the most important thing taking place on earth today. Nothing else compares in magnitude, nothing else compares in importance, nothing else compares in majesty. And if you choose to, … you can be a big part of it.” The Latter-day Saints have always been a missionary people. Hundreds of thousands have responded to mission calls since the beginning of the Restoration; tens of thousands currently serve. And, as Elder Quentin L. Cook has just taught, all of us can participate in simple and natural ways, in love, inviting others to join us at church, visit in our homes, become part of our circle. Publication of the Book of Mormon was the signal that the gathering had begun. The Book of Mormon itself is the instrument of gathering and conversion.”
“When I was 16 years old, my oldest brother, Ivan, who was 22 at that time, came home one day and shared some news with the family. He had decided to get baptized in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our parents looked at him somewhat skeptically, and I remember not completely understanding what was going on. A year or so later, he gave us more surprising news: he had decided to serve as a missionary of the Church, which meant that we were not going to see him for two years. My parents were not thrilled with this news; however, I saw in him a clear determination that increased my admiration for him and the decision he had made.
“Months later, while Ivan was serving his mission, I had the opportunity to plan a vacation with some schoolmates. We wanted to celebrate the end of our high school years and spend a few days at the beach.
“I wrote a letter to my missionary brother, mentioning my summer vacation plans. He wrote back that the town he was serving in was on the way to my destination. I decided it would be a good idea to stop by and visit him. It was not until later that I learned that missionaries are not supposed to be visited by family.
“I made all the arrangements. I remember sitting on the bus thinking of all the fun Ivan and I would have together on this beautiful sunny day. We would have breakfast, chat, play in the sand, sunbathe—what a great time we were going to have!
“As the bus arrived at the terminal, I saw Ivan standing next to another young man, both in white shirts and ties. I got off the bus, we hugged each other, and he introduced his companion. Without wasting another minute, I told my brother my plans for the day, but little did I know what Ivan had scheduled. He looked at me, smiled, and said, “Sure! However, we need to do some errands first. Would you come with us?” I agreed, thinking that we would have enough time to enjoy the beach afterward.
“That day, for more than 10 hours, I walked through the streets of that town with my brother and his companion. I smiled at people all day. I greeted people I had never seen in my life. We talked to everyone, knocked on the doors of strangers, and visited people my brother and his companion were teaching.
“…Looking back, I realize that my faith grew that day because my brother gave me the opportunity to put it in action. I exercised it as we read from the scriptures, looked for people to teach, bore testimony, served others, and so on. We never got around to sunbathing that day, but my heart was bathed in light from heaven. I did not see even one small grain of sand at the beach, but I felt my faith grow like a small grain of mustard seed.4 I did not spend the sunny day as a tourist, but I gained wonderful experiences, and without realizing it, I was a missionary—without even being a member of the Church!
“… I am grateful for my brother Ivan, who not only shared the gospel with me but also indirectly invited me to live it and recognize my weaknesses. He helped me to accept the invitation of the Master: “Come, follow me”6—to walk as the Savior walked, seek as the Savior sought, and love as the Savior loves us. Months later, after my missionary experience, I decided to get baptized and to serve my own mission.
“Let me summarize a few basic implications of gospel learning becoming increasingly home centered and Church supported. The ultimate missionary training center is in our homes; secondary missionary training centers are located in Provo, Manila, Mexico City, and in other locations. Our most instructive Sunday School classes should be our individual and family study in our places of residence; helpful but secondary Sunday School classes are held in our meetinghouses.”
In additional to the weekly calls on preparation day (p-day) that are now allowed, missionaries also are encouraged to communicate with their families on special occasions such as their parents’ birthdays and other holidays of significance in the missionary’s home country or culture (like Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). It should also be noted that missionaries are still encouraged to write letters or emails to their family and friends to share their spiritual experiences and to have a good written record of the mission.
Prior to this announcement, and as long as I can remember, young missionaries had been only allowed two phone calls home per year, once on Mother’s Day and once on Christmas. This mission rule was designed to help missionaries stay focused on their job of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, and there were other practical reasons for the rule. When I went on my mission to Argentina, which was only about 20 years ago, long distance phone calls would cost an arm and a leg, making the cost of calling home very often prohibitive. Nowadays, however, phone calls, even international ones, are relatively inexpensive and video chats can often take place at no charge. I suspect this change in communication technology and costs is one of the reasons for the policy change.
Included in the announcement from the Church on this topic, they released a video of Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf explaining some of the reasons why the Church has made this change. He lists the following as an explanation of why Church leadership has instituted these new mission communication rules and the benefits we can all expect to see:
Missionaries love their families want to share their experiences with people back home.
Families want to hear what their missionaries are doing.
Part of the joy of missionary work is sharing what you do with your loved ones.
The Church hopes that a closer connection between missionaries and their families will stem from this.
Both missionaries and families should feel more comfortable with the situation of youth being away from home for two years or 18 months.
Missionaries will more motivate than even to go out and serve the lord with even brighter heart and a more joyful countenance.
Missionaries Now Have More Options to Communicate With Families - YouTube
Here are a few other important things to remember from the communication from the Church on this topic:
The missionary needs to be the one who initiates the phone call, text, or video chat.
The call and chats are meant to take place on the missionary’s preparation day (p-day).
If the family has a need to contact their missionary directly, they should contact the mission president first.
If a missionary’s parents live in two different locations, the missionary may contact each parent separately.
It is not expected that missionaries will call or video chat with their parents every week.
I personally feel that this is a positive move. I believe missionaries will now be able to get an extra boost of comfort and reassurance from their families that will help them serve with more confidence, energy, and enthusiasm. In the next few years my children will be old enough to serve missions and our family, particularly my wife, will be greatly comforted to know that she’ll be able to talk to her children once a week, hear their voice, and receive extra reassurance that they are well and that they are doing great work to build the kingdom of God.
Editor’s note: My niece has been serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the past 18 months in Oklahoma, USA, Spanish speaking. She gets home this week and below is one of the last . I thought it was a good representation of mission life and a good example of hard work and persistence in the face of trials so I include it here on this website with her permission.
We were talking to one of the other missionaries the other day and he was saying his motto for his mission is “TOAST” which stands for “thriving off awkward situations today” which I’ve decided to adopt myself. So, drum roll please, get ready for the top 3 TOAST moments of the week:
1. We were out tracting (knocking doors) in the cold on Saturday. We were walking back towards the car and we saw a lady in her garage a house or two down. The little devil on my shoulder says “don’t go talk to her. That’s weird. She won’t want to talk to you anyways. She’ll probably run you off.” The little angel on my other shoulder says “open your mouth and it will be filled! Send it! Con ganas! (with desire or eagerness)” I looked at my companion, Sister Wendt and was like “well, this might be kind of awkward, but let’s go for it!” We walked down her driveway and started talking to her. She was on her way out, so really quick before she got in her car we offered her a Book of Mormon…. and she accepted! She gave us her number and we are going to schedule a time to meet with her!
2. Sister Wendt and I went out to try to contact an investigator the missionaries in this area had taught before. We got to the neighborhood and pulled over for a second so that we could figure out exactly how to get to their house. All of the sudden we hear the engine start straining, and there’s mud flinging everywhere. We didn’t realize it but we pulled over right into a deep muddy ditch, and we got super stuck. We knocked on the closest house, and the lady opens the door and she seriously at least 20 dogs came out. That is not even exaggerating. And they were all barking and yipping and howling. So we’re trying to explain to her what happened and ask for help but it’s impossible to hear because we’re trying to yell over all the racket and at the same time fend off all the dogs that were coming at us.
Finally the lady just told us to try backing out. So we go back to the car, and we try again, but we’re still stuck. At this point another guy and his daughter walk up to us and start trying to dig the car out. As we talked to them, we realized they were the former investigators we were trying to find in the first place! The digging did nothing, so we called a ward member to pull us out and they got us out, thankfully. And we did get to find that former investigator, so it all worked out in the end, and it makes for a good story now, haha. We might need a car wash now though.
3. On Saturday, we decided to watch one of the videos of Jesus’ life with one of the people we had met. In the middle of the video, the husband of the family we were with says, “wait, I just remembered another video I really like” and proceeds to look up on his phone the music video for Ray Stevens – The Mississippi Squirrel Revival. Sister Wendt and I tried to redirect the conversation, but to no avail. So we now can say we have seen the Mississippi Squirrel Revival music video. I still like the videos of Christ’s life better, but to each his own.
Love you all! I know God is watching out for all of you!
Summary: A review of the doctrines and principles that influence what is modest as well as an overview of the modesty standards in the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet.
I have an analytical nature and I often analyze gospel doctrines and principles in order to understand them better. I find great insights often come by understand what’s at the core gospel topics. I have two teenage children, and modesty has been coming up as a topic more often so I thought I should do an analysis of the principles and practices of modesty. Many people typically think of modesty as a topic that applies primarily to how people dress, particularly for women. My study of the subject, however, shows that topic applies to behavior far beyond the clothes we wear and the modesty topic is just as applicable to men as it is to women.
The Church defines modesty as so: “Modesty is an attitude of propriety and decency in dress, grooming, language, and behavior. If we are modest, we do not draw undue attention to ourselves. Instead, we seek to “glorify God in [our] body, and in [our] spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:20; see also 1 Corinthians 6:19).” (see https://www.lds.org/topics/modesty?lang=eng)
A few parts of this definition stick out to me:
Modesty is about more than how you dress. It’s about dress, and grooming, and language, and all aspects of behavior.
Modesty is about using “propriety” in our dress and behavior.
Modesty is about giving glory to God and avoiding “undue attention” for ourselves.
So, let’s dive into what it means to have “propriety” in our dress and behavior, as well as the difference between “undue attention” and appropriate attention, and I think this will naturally lead into how modesty is a matter of all aspects behavior and not just our physical appearance.
What is “propriety” in dress and behavior?
Propriety is a word that many youth may be unfamiliar with. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary says propriety means the “state of being proper or suitable : appropriateness.” Therefore, to be modest is to be appropriate in dress, grooming, language, and all behavior. What is appropriate in one situation, may not be appropriate in another situation, so we must look at surrounding circumstances when determining modesty. For example, wearing a swim suit at a swimming pool is appropriate, but wearing a swim suit to school would not be appropriate and would therefore not be modest.
Since modesty is connected to the larger situation or context—where you are, what type activity you are engaged in, etc. –what is modest in one situation may not be modest in another situation. This reality helps explain why modesty is such a difficult topic to teach and underscores the importance of helping youth truly understand the principle of modesty in order to live it.
Other contextual factors that influence modesty could be what country you live in and what year you live in. If someone showed up at a Church meeting in Joseph Smith’s day wearing a modern suit or dress, their style would likely be considered extreme and therefore immodest. And vice versa, if someone showed up at a modern Church meeting wearing a robe and sandals from New Testament times, their dress would not be proper and would therefore be immodest. The exact same robe would be modest in a first century church meeting, but immodest in a 21st century Sunday school class.
Glory to God and Not Undue Attention to Ourselves
The other aspect of the definition of modesty that stood out to me was that we should not draw undue attention to ourselves, but rather, we should glorify God and bring attention to Him. This principle of bringing glory to God, I believe, really gets at the heart of modesty. As in all things, Jesus Christ is our prime example for giving all glory to God the Father rather than taking attention for ourselves.
In the pre-mortal council in Heaven, we are taught that Satan came before God and said “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor.” But God’s Beloved Son Jesus Christ said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever.” (see Moses 4:1-2) Jesus did not want to take inappropriate attention or honor to himself. He was dedicated to bringing glory to God and he did that by honoring God’s will in all he did.
We see this principle of bringing glory to God carried out throughout Jesus’s life. Jesus taught:
“Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.” Matthew 6:13
“The light of the body is the eye; if therefore thine eye be single to the glory of God, thy whole body shall be full of light.” (Matthew 6:22, Joseph Smith Translation)
“I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me” John 8:28
“The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do” John 5:19
“Not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Modesty is about bringing glory to God rather than attention to ourselves and Jesus is our example so therefore we should do as Jesus taught when he said that mankind shall “not live by bread alone” but that we should live “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt 4:4) Furthermore, God has said in the latter-days that “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same.” (D&C 1:38) We know that God is interested in modesty because through his modern prophetic servants, he has taught us standards of what is appropriate in dress and behavior.
The prophet has given us For the Strength of Youth standards which outline appropriate, modest dress and behavior and we will go over those standards a little later. But before we go into those details, the dos and don’ts of modesty, let’s examine more of the underlying principles of being modest.
Your Body is a Temple, therefore Glorify God
Most youth in the Church have heard that the physical body is a temple because it houses the spirit of God. This relates to modesty because, taught Paul, that like a temple we should use our body to glorify God. He said, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Paul is teaching that dress, grooming, language, behavior, and other things we do with our body can and should be used to glorify God. These outward expressions of our body are symbolic of our inward honor and glory that we give God. Conversely, immodest dress and grooming and inappropriate language and behavior can also be an outward expression of our inward pride and arrogance and neglect toward God.
Inward vs Outward Modesty
In an ideal world, the outward would always be an expression of the inward, but in this world, that is not always the case. Jesus taught, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) Conversely, the Savior taught by example that there are people who may appear bad on the outside, but on the inside, they are closer to God than most of us. “But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners?” (Luke 5:30)
While in this life, the outward is not always an expression of the inward, it often is and our long-term eternal goal is to be godly, inside and out. There are many people who are modest in dress and behavior, but inwardly still need to improve the way they glory and honor God. Conversely, there are many people who are inwardly dedicated to glorifying God, but their dress and actions still needs some improvement to reflect that. And there are plenty of people who need improvement both inwardly and outwardly.
A Tale of Two Trees
Some years ago, I met a friend who had bought a home with two large, beautiful oak trees on the property. He thought that these trees would stand for many years adding shade and beauty to his yard. However, not long afterwards, when a fierce thunder storm came through the area, one of the trees came crashing down. In the morning, when friend inspected the fallen tree, he discovered that it had been infected with insects and was rotting on the inside. While the looked strong outwardly, inwardly it was damaged and dying. Like these trees, if modesty standards are only surface level, outward only and not internalized then they will not help you withstand the storms of life. When our outward modesty is an expression of our inward reverence and glory to God, then we will be strong, inside and out, and we will be able to withstand the storms like the tree that stood firm.
Deep Beauty Shines from the Inside Out
Speaking on this topic in 2010, former Young Women’s General President Elaine S. Dalton said, “‘Deep beauty’ [is] the kind of beauty that shines from the inside out. It is the kind of beauty that cannot be painted on, surgically created, or purchased. It is the kind of beauty that doesn’t wash off. It is spiritual attractiveness. Deep beauty springs from virtue. It is the beauty of being chaste and morally clean. . . . It is a beauty that is earned through faith, repentance, and honoring covenants. The world places so much emphasis on physical attractiveness and would have you believe that you are to look like the elusive model on the cover of a magazine. The Lord would tell you that you are each uniquely beautiful” (Elaine S. Dalton, “Remember Who You Are!” March 2010 general Young Women meeting).
For the Strength of Youth
The prophets have documented their teachings about appropriate dress and behavior in a booklet called For the Strength of Youth (FTSOY). Therefore, I think it is appropriate to conduct a brief review of the dress and conduct standards outlined by the prophet there. In FTSOY, the First Presidency of the Church reminds us that the modesty standards of dress and behavior standards established there will help us look appropriate, act appropriate, and become people inside and out that will be able to have eternal joy in the Celestial Kingdom of glory. They have said:
“The standards in this booklet will help you with the important choices you are making now and will yet make in the future. We promise that as you keep the covenants you have made and these standards, you will be blessed. … Keeping the standards in this booklet will help you be worthy to attend the temple, where you can perform sacred ordinances for your ancestors now and make essential covenants for yourself in the future. … It is our fervent prayer that you will remain steadfast and valiant throughout your lives and that you will trust in the Savior and His promises.” Click here to read my related article on the history of the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet.
Appropriate Dress and Appearance
“Immodest clothing is any clothing that is tight, sheer, or revealing in any other manner. Young women should avoid short shorts and short skirts, shirts that do not cover the stomach, and clothing that does not cover the shoulders or is low-cut in the front or the back. Young men should also maintain modesty in their appearance. Young men and young women should be neat and clean and avoid being extreme or inappropriately casual in clothing, hairstyle, and behavior. They should choose appropriately modest apparel when participating in sports.” (FTSOY)
The language we use isn’t always the first thing that comes to mind when talking about modesty, but it is just as much a part of that topic as how we dress. Remember, modesty is an outward expression of our inward feelings, feeling about ourselves, about God, and about our relationship with God and others. Our inward reverence to God, or lack thereof, shows outwardly in our dress and in our language.
The prophets have taught: “How you communicate should reflect who you are as a son or daughter of God. Clean and intelligent language is evidence of a bright and wholesome mind. Good language that uplifts, encourages, and compliments others invites the Spirit to be with you. …Speak kindly and positively about others. Choose not to insult others or put them down, even in joking. Avoid gossip of any kind, and avoid speaking in anger. …Do not use profane, vulgar, or crude language or gestures, and do not tell jokes or stories about immoral actions. These are offensive to God and to others. Remember that these standards for your use of language apply to all forms of communication, including texting on a cell phone or communicating on the Internet.” (FTSOY)
“Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good.” (Ephesians 4:29)
Just like King Benjamin who said, “I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin” (Mosiah 4:29), it would be impossible to list all the behaviors that are appropriate and inappropriate. But let me attempt to touch on a few important areas:
Appropriate Behavior: No Bullying
Extremes in Friendship can be bad on either end of the spectrum leading to cliques on the one end that exclude people and bullying and mistreating others on the other end of the spectrum. “To have good friends, be a good friend. Show genuine interest in others; smile and let them know you care about them. Treat everyone with kindness and respect, and refrain from judging and criticizing those around you. Do not participate in any form of bullying. Make a special effort to be a friend to those who are shy or lonely, have special needs, or do not feel included.” (FTSOY)
Appropriate Behavior: Honesty and Integrity
“Closely associated with honesty is integrity. Integrity means thinking and doing what is right at all times, no matter what the consequences. When you have integrity, you are willing to live by your standards and beliefs even when no one is watching. Choose to live so that your thoughts and behavior are always in harmony with the gospel.” (FTSOY)
Appropriate Behavior: Music
Styles of music can be influenced by the world, extreme, and immodest just like styles of dress. Remaining modest means also being modest in the music we listen to. “Music has a profound effect on your mind, spirit, and behavior. Choose carefully the music you listen to. Pay attention to how you feel when you are listening. Some music can carry evil and destructive messages. Do not listen to music that encourages immorality or glorifies violence through its lyrics, beat, or intensity. Do not listen to music that uses vulgar or offensive language or promotes evil practices. Such music can dull your spiritual sensitivity.” (FTSOY)
Appropriate Behavior: Dancing
“Dancing can be fun and can provide an opportunity to meet new people. However, it too can be misused. When dancing, avoid full body contact with your partner. Do not use positions or moves that are suggestive of sexual or violent behavior or are otherwise inappropriate. Attend only those dances where dress, grooming, lighting, lyrics, music, and entertainment contribute to a wholesome atmosphere where the Spirit may be present.” (FTSOY)
Appropriate Behavior: Dating
“A date is a planned activity that allows a young man and a young woman to get to know each other better. In cultures where dating is acceptable, it can help you learn and practice social skills, develop friendships, have wholesome fun, and eventually find an eternal companion. You should not date until you are at least 16 years old. When you begin dating, go with one or more additional couples. Avoid going on frequent dates with the same person. Developing serious relationships too early in life can limit the number of other people you meet and can perhaps lead to immorality. Invite your parents to become acquainted with those you date. Choose to date only those who have high moral standards and in whose company you can maintain your standards.” (FTSOY)
Appropriate Behavior: Sexual Purity
“Do not have any sexual relations before marriage, and be completely faithful to your spouse after marriage. …Never do anything that could lead to sexual transgression. Treat others with respect, not as objects used to satisfy lustful and selfish desires. Before marriage, do not participate in passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person’s body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings. Do not arouse those emotions in your own body. Pay attention to the promptings of the Spirit so that you can be clean and virtuous.”
I encourage you to be intentional about modesty. If you’re not intentional you will get caught up in the fashions and behaviors of the world, which are often designed to be provocative and sensational and not in line with the teachings of the prophets of God. We should be intentional in our clothes choices and try to convey reverence for God and ourselves in all our behavior.
In President Russell M. Nelson’s worldwide devotional for youth in June 2018, he encouraged modesty in dress and behavior. He said, “The Lord needs you to look like, sound like, act like, and dress like a true disciple of Jesus Christ” (“Hope of Israel”, worldwide youth devotional, June 3, 2018). As you do so, “you will be blessed with the companionship of the Holy Ghost, your faith and testimony will grow stronger, and you will enjoy increasing happiness.” (FTSOY)
P.S. Below is a link to a Kahoot quiz I built about the standards from the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet that goes along with this lesson on modesty.
Paul and Terry Smith visiting their son Jimmy and some of their grand children who live in the area of Texas where they were called to serve a mission in 2018.
Editor’s Note: My parents completed their senior mission last month and I wanted to give one final report. As they were beginning their mission, I posted several articles about their senior mission, written by my dad:
Editor’s Note Continued: My dad wrote weekly emails to the family during their mission. The following are excerpts from his last few letters. They should give a good flavor of the work they did for a year and a half, and additionally it contains a good testimony bearing. It has been good to visit with my parents from time to time during their mission. In fact, we saw them much more during their mission than before they were missionaries thanks to the travel flexibility given to senior missionaries. They are from Maryland, but they got called to serve in the Dallas metro area where I live with my family–miraculous. Without further adieu, here are some of the final letters from my dad. Please note that names of people they worked with have been changed.
Aug. 20, 2018
Below is our weekly report. Our mission is drawing to a close, but we feel there are several things we need to accomplish before leaving. Among our remaining goals is for three specific individuals to be baptized. Actually, we think all three will be baptized. Whether or not this happens, and when it happens is out of our control. But because we love and care for them, and because we pray for them with all our heart we are accomplishing what the Lord wants us to do. We cannot force others to accept the gospel, but when our hearts are drawn out to those we serve with love and the commitment to help them–this is fulfilling the calling that the Lord gave us. As we recognize this and appreciate the fact that the love of God is in us and is helping us–this is what happens when we magnify our missionary callings. Nevertheless, and as wonderful as this is, our hearts do fill with increased joy when these people we love have the courage and determination to enter into the waters of baptism.
We have some good news about Elizabeth and Isabelle. Both of them are saying positive things about being baptized. Mom and I visited Elizabeth in the knee rehabilitation facility on Friday, August 10th. She has conducted a lengthy and thorough investigation of the Church. She said she would like to be baptized, but she said she still had questions about marriage in heaven and about “sealings.” I think we answered these questions to her satisfaction. We hope she will schedule her baptism after her knee heals from the recent surgery.
With regard to Isabelle, the Elders told me Saturday that she now wants to be baptized, but she wants to make sure that she thoroughly understands the doctrines of the Church before she does so. I told the Elders that Brigham Young followed the same approach. We pray for Elizabeth, Isabelle and Anna to obtain the witness and to have the courage to join the Church–the blessing of receiving the sanctification of the Spirit fills my soul with love and happiness and with desires to serve God and my fellow man. With all my heart I yearn for these sisters and for all my family to experience this same transformative blessing that comes in complying with the ordinance of baptism and receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost.
We are starting to prepare the syllabus for our Pearl of Great Price class that will begin in a week. I love the Pearl of Great Price. We are looking forward to teaching two classes on this.
Saturday night we attended the wedding reception for Xander and Lillian. They are both wonderful people. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to participate in their celebration. We have had about ten marriages in our YSA ward this year–this has taken 20 strong people from our ward. We celebrate their marriages, and then try to figure out how to move forward in the YSA ward. Fortunately, we have a bunch of new people coming into the ward.
God bless you all. We pray for you every day. Love, Mom and Dad
August 26, 2018
We have four weeks to go here in Denton, Texas and our schedule is totally full of things to do until then. On Tuesday, we will begin to teach two classes on The Pearl of Great Price. We are really looking forward to that–there are so many marvelous truths that are taught in that book.
The young lady Isabelle confronted an obstacle this week, which I hope she will be able to overcome–the Institute director had a sign put up that no animals were allowed in the Institute building. The support specialist put the sign up on Friday, right after Isabelle and her dog walked out of the building, after having a missionary lesson with the Elders. After I spoke with the Institute Director this morning (Monday), he took the sign down, although they will be barring dogs from the building in the future.
September 10, 2018
We attended another wedding reception on Saturday. I’ve counted ten weddings in our ward this year–and together they have involved many of the leaders in our ward. Nevertheless, we have a couple of dozen new people, and the ward keeps on doing well.
The wedding this weekend was a temple wedding, but the bride’s parents were not happy about it. The bride is an attractive, intelligent young lady, who has was president of the Institute council. The groom is also intelligent and has a great personality. So the wedding festivities unfolded under a disappointing shadow, as the bride’s parents did not attend either the wedding or the reception.
The young lady we have written about previously, Isabelle, has decided to be baptized. It is scheduled for tomorrow night. Mom and I really rejoice about this. We love Isabelle, and we have befriended her for over a year. She has gotten over the Institute’s anti-dog policy incident that I previously mentioned. She is intelligent and talented (a harp player), and she is very concerned about eternal things. We had the privilege to be at the Institute building a couple of months ago when she came to talk about our relationship with God and the purpose of life. We will always cherish that discussion. Despite her parents’ efforts to dissuade her from having anything to do with the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, Isabelle has received spiritual witnesses that are now culminating in her baptism. Last year she was dissatisfied with the gospel because she felt it was chauvinistic. She has come a long way. She understands plural marriage, and she is very impressed with the virtue, goodness, kindness and faith of the young single adults. We rejoice at Isabelle’s progress and decision.
We had an outdoor pool party for the Institute people on Saturday night. Even though it drizzled all night, we still had 50 people attend. They swam and played games and ate hamburgers and hot dogs for about four hours. We had at least two investigators, both of whom fit in very well. We love being a part of the growing of the kingdom of God on earth.
We love you all, and we pray for you every day. Love, Mom and Dad
September 17, 2018
We only have a few days left before we leave for home. We are leaving with flash and flare. At church, Sunday, Isabelle was confirmed a member of the Church. I had the honor to be in the circle confirming her. We love Isabelle, and we have prayed for her and attended her recitals, and chatted with her with some regularity for a year and a half. Her boy friend, Wyatt, confirmed her. I don’t believe she was baptized just to please Wyatt. From what I observed, she had made the decisions before that relationship developed. I do believe that Wyatt was a help, but I think the conversion to Jesus Christ and the restored gospel was genuine.
On Saturday, we visited 79-year-old Elizabeth in Decatur. We had a wonderful visit with her. She again mentioned her interest in being baptized. She wanted to talk to her bishop about whether she should do this even though there continued to be some things she did not yet understand.
On Saturday evening we visited Jimmy and Heather and their children. We have been so blessed to be able to visit with them several times during our mission. We love them and their children. We will miss them being so close, as we move back to Maryland.
Today, I taught the Institute Director’s two Institute classes. He had to attend meetings today with Church Institute leaders who were visiting from Utah. I loved teaching those classes—both lessons pertained to the Lord’s commission to Joseph Smith to proclaim the gospel to the world. In 1829, revelations confirmed that this is the thing that is greatest worth to us—to preach the gospel to the world. This type of service is uplifting and satisfying, as we teach the knowledge about the divine purpose of earth life, and as we teach about and offer the covenants of the gospel of Jesus Christ to those who will believe in Him. We are so grateful for the Gift of the Holy Ghost, which brings us peace and joy and certainty and good desires.
On Sunday, at church, the bishop asked us each to say a few words to the YSA ward, as that was to be our last Sunday. We were happy to do so. We love them, and we have devoted our time to being there to greet them with a smile, an encouraging word or a compliment. We rejoice in their successes, and we sorrow with their struggles. In just two or three minutes, I shared with them my witness that God lives, that Jesus Christ is the Savior, and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church on the face of the earth that has the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Other churches have many truths and many great people. But none of them teach all of the important, fundamental truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is so sad that other good Christians do not accept The Book of Mormon. The messages about and from Jesus Christ that are conveyed in the Book of Mormon are wholesome, pure, virtuous and true. Those who want the truth will not rest until they embrace the Book of Mormon. Those who know and love the Lord Jesus Christ will eventually accept and embrace The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know this is true.
It has been the greatest privilege and opportunity for mom and me to serve the Lord as full-time missionaries for eighteen months. We have been very impressed with all the young missionaries with whom we have labored in Denton, Texas. They are pure and dedicated and disciplined—just the way God’s servants have to be.
We love you all. Mom and Dad
Editor: Here are some other photos from their mission.
Paul and Terry Smith in the kitchen of the Institute building in Denton, Texas by the campus of the University of North Texas. Each Friday they prepared a lunch for all the Institute students.
In a continuing effort to answer the most pressing questions from readers, today I want to address the prospects and limitations and procedures of missionaries who’s health situation requires them to be on prescription medications during their mission. The Church doesn’t say a lot about this subject publicly, so I am going to pull together all the resources I can find and hopefully it all comes together and makes sense.
I am not an expert on the matter of prescription medications, but due to the many questions I get from the readers on this subject, I’m going to attempt it. My hope is that this article can answer some questions on the minds of future missionaries and their parents regarding the options and limitations for those who have to take prescription drugs. And for those questions that I can’t answer right now, I’m hoping the article can spur participation from people who do know the answers in the form of comments on this page. Nothing here should be construed as professional medical advice or official counsel from a Church leader.
Burning Question: Can They Serve a Mission?
The burning question on the minds of numerous future missionaries and their parents is: will the fact that an individual is on prescription medications prevent him or her from going on a mission or limit where he or she will be able to serve? The answer, unfortunately, is that it depends on a lot of factors. The fact that the potential missionary is taking prescription drugs usually does not prevent them from going on a full-time mission, but it frequently does affect where they can serve. There are a lot of considerations you and the Church and doctors have to make on this matter, so let’s start to unpack it.
“Missionary work is not a rite of passage in the Church. It is a call extended by the President of the Church to those who are worthy and able to accomplish it. …Good physical and mental health is vital. …There are parents who say, ‘If only we can get Johnny on a mission, then the Lord will bless him with health.’ It seems not to work out that way. Rather, whatever ailment or physical or mental shortcoming a missionary has when he comes into the field only becomes aggravated under the stress of the work. …Permit me to emphasize that we need missionaries, but they must be capable of doing the work. …There should be an eagerness and a desire to serve the Lord as His ambassadors to the world. And there must be health and strength, both physical and mental, for the work is demanding, the hours are long, and the stress can be heavy” (“Missionary Service,” First Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting, Jan. 2003, 17–18).
The manual goes on to emphasize that potential missionaries who are suffering or have suffered with mental or emotional illness (such as depression or anxiety) should prepare for a mission by seeking professional treatment and perhaps medication. But again, the implication is that if the condition can be controlled through medication, then a full-time mission is possible. Elder Richard G. Scott, former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
“Missionary work is extremely demanding. If you have emotional challenges that can be stabilized to meet the rigors of a full-time mission, you can be called. It is vital that you continue to use your medication during your mission or until competent medical authority counsels otherwise. Recognize that emotional and physical challenges are alike. One needs to do all that is possible to improve the situation, then learn to live within the remaining bounds. God uses challenges that we may grow by conquering them” (in Conference Report, Oct. 2003, 45; or Ensign, Nov. 2003, 43)
In March 2007, Donald B. Doty, M.D., then Chairman of the Church Missionary Department Health Services, wrote an article for the Ensign magazine called Missionary Health Preparation. He said that “during the course of preparing to serve, prospective missionaries may discover serious physical or emotional issues. Prospective missionaries and their parents should be completely candid in disclosing all health issues and medications on the missionary recommendation application.” Regarding chronic health issues he said:
“Headaches are a common, difficult health problem that may worsen during missionary service and that can be difficult to evaluate and treat in the field. Occasional stomach and bowel problems may also become chronic during missionary service. Heart problems and breathing problems such as asthma should be thoroughly evaluated before missionaries begin service. With proper treatment, many health problems become controllable, making missionary service possible if treatment continues throughout the mission. …Those who suffer from chronic or recurring feelings of depression, sadness, anxiety, or fear should be evaluated by a doctor or mental health counselor. Mood swings, especially when they involve temper and anger, should also be evaluated. Treatment, including counseling or medication or both, often reduces or relieves mood disorders, making missionary service possible.”
Everything I’ve read from the Church indicates that prospective missionaries that have health challenges in their life, whether physical or mental, who can get those issue under control, including with the aid of prescription medications, and have reasonable expectations to be able to do the missionary work and live the mission schedule can serve a full-time mission.
Laws Governing Prescription Drugs May Limit Where You Can Go
While people on prescription medications can serve a mission if the guidelines above are met, where they serve may be limited due to the nature of the medication, the laws governing it’s transportation, and the ability to see doctors to keep prescriptions current. According to United States Postal Service rules, in order to send prescription medicines through the mail, you must be a registered drug manufacturer, pharmacy, medical practitioner, or other authorized dispenser. In most cases this will mean that missionaries taking prescription drugs will need to have the medications mailed to them directly by an online or mail-order pharmacy. Parents will not be able to pick up medications at their local town pharmacy and mail them to their missionary.
Laws governing the transportation of prescription medications across international border can be even more problematic. As Latter-day Saint, we strive to obey the laws of the land, therefore these legal requirements have natural implications about where a missionary can serve. In most cases that I am aware of, and please correct me if I’m wrong, when a missionary has a medical condition requiring continuous prescription medication, then he or she is generally sent to serve a mission in the country where he or she is from. They are not usually sent to a foreign country because of the difficulties getting the medications there and also I believe the Church likes to keep them in their home country in case a medical situation arises, that they are close to their home doctors.
Another legal factor in this discussion that can affect where a missionary serves is that prescriptions need to be kept valid and often times that means the doctors are required to physically see the patient periodically in order to keep the prescription up-to-date. If the medical condition is relatively straight forward, like asthma or diabetes, a physical meeting with the doctor may not be required for the duration of the mission or if it is, establishing a relationship with a local doctor in the mission is not difficult. But for more complex medical conditions, like mental and emotional health disorders, periodic physical visits are often required and establishing a relationship with a doctor in a far away place is not practical. In such cases, serving a mission close to home may be the only alternative.
Instructions to Priesthood Leaders
Local priesthood leaders are in charge of making sure every full-time missionary that leaves from their ward and stake are fully qualified to serve a mission and are medically capable of performing their duties. In 2017, the Church issued a policy that bishops and branch presidents should assess the worthiness of youth and their physical and emotional preparedness to serve a mission by periodically reviewing with them a standard set of missionary interview questions in the years before their mission. In addition to testimony and worthiness topics, these questions are designed to help priesthood leaders determine whether a prospective missionary is ready for the demands of missionary service physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Only those individuals who are capable of handling the rigors of missionary work should be recommended to serve. If prescription medications are required to help a missionary stay physically and mentally able to serve, they can still go, though the medical issues and drugs taken will need to be disclosed in the missionary application. If approved for missionary service and the youth receives a call, the mission president will work with the family to help ensure the missionary’s physical and mental health throughout the mission. Mission presidents are instructed to become familiar with the medical histories of each of the missionaries that arrive in the field including becoming aware of any chronic health problems, mental health issues, and medications they are taking.
Develop a Plan with Your Doctor
If you are a prospective missionary who takes prescription drugs and you feel capable of fulfilling a full-time mission, or if you are the parent of a youth in this situation, I encourage you to develop a plan with your doctor before you submit your application to the bishop. Do your homework and know where you can and cannot get the medications you need. Know where, geographically in the world, it will be possible to get the prescriptions needed or to have the medications mailed to you. Have a plan for who is going to call the doctor or go to the online pharmacy periodically to make sure the prescription gets renewed.
Be prepared to discuss your plan with your bishop and stake president as you are turning in your application and fully disclose the situation in your mission paperwork. Also ask your doctor to put a helpful note in the comments section of the medical forms he or she fills out for your mission. This comment section is a good place the the doctor to explain your health situation and instill confidence in your priesthood leaders, including those at Church headquarters, that though you are taking prescription drugs, the situation is under control, you will be able to continue to take them during your mission, and that you are fully capable of serving as an ambassador of the Lord in a full-time mission.
I should also warn you that if you have health conditions similar to those discussed in this article, be prepared for delays when your application gets to Church headquarters. There is a team of doctors at Church headquarters who reviews the medical portion of each mission application form. They are trained to look out for certain medical conditions and prescription medications that are often associated with missionaries who have had a hard time fulfilling and completing their missionary service. If the missionary is flagged for those health reasons, the doctors will want to be very certain you are capable of missionary service before they allow your application to proceed in the mission call process. Often times this can mean many communications between yourself, Church headquarters, your doctors, and priesthood leaders. So please be patient.
Honorably Excused and Church Service Missions
Unfortunately, some health problems can present insurmountable obstacles to serving full-time proselytizing missions. The First Presidency has stated: “There are worthy individuals who desire to serve but do not qualify for the physical, mental, or emotional challenges of a mission. We ask stake presidents and bishops to express love and appreciation to these individuals and to honorably excuse them from full-time missionary labors.” (First Presidency letter, Jan. 30, 2004) In such cases, if the youth still has a strong desire to serve, young people should seriously consider a Church service mission. Church service missions allow individuals to live at home and receive appropriate medical care while serving a mission with part-time or full-time equivalent hours in a variety of functions. Talk to your bishop and stake president about arranging a Church service mission that would be a good fit and enjoyable.
In summary, I hope this article has been helpful. As I began to write this, I didn’t think I would find much official information from the Church, but in the end I found quite a bit. If you have additional questions or if you have had experiences related to this topic, please use the comments section below. The road to going on a full-time mission for youth on prescription medications can be bumpy, but for many of them, it will result in serving an honorable full-time mission, which is an experience unlike any other and one well worth the struggle. Both missionaries and the people they teach are recipients of the wonderful blessings of missionary work such as growth in faith and testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope and pray that as many as possible will have that opportunity.
I recently heard of a confrontation a man had with two missionaries where he accused them and their church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of being racist. As evidence, the man pointed to a verse in The Book of Mormon, 2 Nephi 5:21, which reads:
“And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.”
The man felt that this verse is proof that The Book of Mormon and its followers are racist against people with black skin. One of the missionaries told the man that he was taking the verse out of context and reiterated that the Church is not racist, that their message, Christ’s message, is one of love for all people, regardless of race. It was clear, however, that the young missionaries did not know how to respond to the particulars of race and skin color in The Book of Mormon. Of course, this is not an easy topic to discuss, and I think this would have been a difficult situation even for the most prepared missionary. The story made me realize that this is a topic many missionaries may face and one that certainly should be discussed on a mission preparation website so missionaries can be as prepared as possible to respond.
How to Respond? Always with the Spirit of God
How you choose to respond to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon will depend on a lot of factors, the most important of which should be the promptings of the Holy Ghost to you in the moment. The Spirit of God is the true teacher and testifier, so for a missionary to be effective he or she must have the Spirit. There are several things you need to do to have the Holy Spirit with you as a missionary:
Study the Scriptures: Studying the words of God found in the holy scriptures regularly and thoroughly will bring the Spirit of God into your life more fully and help prepare you for the discussions you will have with those learning about the Church. D&C 84:85 says, “Neither take ye thought beforehand what ye shall say; but treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour that portion that shall be meted unto every man.”
Obey the Mission Rules: The First Presidency states in the Missionary Handbook that living those rules will help missionaries have the Spirit of God with them. “Follow these standards. They will help you magnify your calling and protect you physically and spiritually. Use this handbook regularly. Strive to understand and live the principles and standards taught in it. Learn and live the higher law as taught by Jesus Christ (see Matthew 5; 3 Nephi 12). Strive to enjoy the companionship of the Holy Ghost, and follow His direction in living these principles and standards.”
Don’t Argue: Verbal battles and Bible bashing are not effective teaching methods. Such behavior is unbecoming of a missionary because anger and contention drive away the Spirit of God. 3 Nephi 11:29 says, “For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”
When you do all within your power to have the companionship of the Holy Spirit, you will be in the best position to respond to this question about The Book of Mormon, and all other questions you’ll need to respond to on your mission. But beyond having done your spiritual preparation, I recommend that you study the issue of race in The Book of Mormon specifically in order to be able to speak intelligently on the subject, should it come up. One of the primary drivers of how you will respond to an accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon could hinge on whether you interpret the dark or black skin of the Lamanites as literal or figurative, physical or spiritual.
Is the Lamanite Dark / Black Skin Literal or Figurative?
A large number, perhaps the majority, of Latter-day Saints take the black or dark skin of the Lamanites mentioned in The Book of Mormon to be literally the physical skin pigmentation. It should be noted, however, that there is a growing body of Saints, myself included, who feel the dark or black skin is a spiritual metaphor not to be taken literally. The purpose of this article isn’t to convince you one way or the other regarding that topic, but in responding to the question of racism in The Book of Mormon, it is important to know that those two perspectives present two alternative ways of addressing the issue. If you want more detail on why I think the Lamanite dark or black skin is figurative and spiritual, then read this article on my personal website.
Literalists: The Skin is a Sign and Not the Curse Itself
Many Church leaders and manuals teach that the dark skin of the Lamanites was the sign of the curse and not the curse itself. The following quote is from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1970 to 1972. It is quoted in the Book of Mormon Student Manual for Institute.
“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing. The dark skin was the sign of the curse [not the curse itself]. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord. …The dark skin of those who have come into the Church is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse. … These converts are delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 3:122–23).
After establishing that the changed skin color is not the curse, the Institute Manual chapter goes on to explain what the curse is–being “cut off from the presence of the Lord” (2 Nephi 5:20). The curse is caused, according to verse 21, “because of their iniquity” and “hardened … hearts.” Throughout the history of the earth, the wicked choices of men and women has always resulted in this curse of being cut off from the presence of the God.
Literalists: The Book of Mormon Teaches Racial Harmony
Ahmad Corbitt was serving as president of the Dominican Republic Santo Domingo East Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a few years ago when he wrote an article titled Revelations in the Summer of 1978 — A Personal Essay on Race and the Priesthood. Brother Corbitt appears to take the skin color references about the Lamanites literal in his four part essay and points out that The Book of Mormon contains an excellent example of a biracial nation living together in harmony.
“My friends were surprised when I told them that the Book of Mormon is, in my view, the most racially and ethnically unifying book on the earth. In response to their surprise, I shared the following overview of the Book of Mormon as it relates to the unity and harmony of the human family, irrespective of race and ethnicity. …It is miraculous that a book published in 19th-century America could include a record of a ‘fair’-skinned nation and a nation with a ‘skin of blackness’ reaching pure equality and unity. That it could rise in ever-increasing relevance to become, in my view, the most racially unifying book of scripture in the world compels both mind and soul to recognize the hand of God in its emergence.”
As evidence that The Book of Mormon is racially unifying, Brother Corbitt cites these scripture verses from it:
“He inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” 2 Nephi 26:33
Throughout The Book of Mormon, converted Nephites referred to Lamanites as their “brethren,” and converted Lamanites used the same term when they spoke of the Nephites. See, for example, Jacob 2:35; Jarom 1:2; Mosiah 22:3; Helaman 15:1, 3–4.
“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders, nor any manner of lasciviousness; and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God. There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God. And how blessed were they!” 4 Nephi 1:15–18.
Mormon said on the title page that the book was written and compiled for “the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manifesting himself unto all nations.” The reference to “Jew and Gentile” encompasses the entire world, including all races and ethnic groups.
For those of you who interpret the dark skin of the Lamanites to be literal, these quotes by President Smith and Brother Corbitt make excellent responses to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon and clearly show that that is not the case.
Figurativists: It’s A Spiritual Metaphor
For those who believe that the references to dark or black skin are figurative, the response to the accusation of racism in The Book of Mormon is simpler in some ways and more difficult in other ways. Simply put, it’s not racism because The Book of Mormon is not talking about literal skin pigmentation but rather it is speaking of spiritual darkness. This explanation, however, can be a difficult thing for many people to accept.
As far as I can tell, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no official position on whether or not the dark skin of the Lamanites is to be understood as literal or if it is a spiritual metaphor. I have searched LDS.org long and hard and there is almost no discussion of the subject. In fact, all I could find on LDS.org on this topic is one web page, the lesson in Institute manual with the quote from President Smith as referenced above, and even that doesn’t come out and state a position. Rather it appears to be simply going on the assumption that the dark skin is literal.
Again, my purpose here isn’t to convince anyone one way or the other about the literalness or figurativeness of dark skin. I think both are valid points of view. And if the Church ever publishes an official interpretation, I’ll be happy to get behind it. Until then, given that the figurative interpretation is more rare, I do want to provide a couple of pieces of evidence so people don’t think I’ve gone rogue.
Dark and Black Mean Gloomy, Impure, and Wicked
If you go look at the scriptures, in the Bible and The Book of Mormon, at the use of the adjectives dark, black, and white and the noun skin, you will see that a vast majority of the time when these words are used in reference to people, they are metaphorical and spiritual in nature.
Black means gloomy, dark, impure, and hidden. See Lamentations 4:8, 5:10, Job 30:30, Jeremiah 8:21, Nahum 2:10, and Joel 2:6.
Dark means filthy, wicked, impure, and the absence of light. See Matt 6:23, 1 John 1:5, 1 Nephi 12:23, 2 Nephi 30:6, Jacob 3:9, Mosiah 27:29, Alma 19:6 “the dark veil of unbelief”, Alma 26:3 “the Lamanites were in darkness”, and Mormon 5:15.
White means clean, pure, true, and righteous. See 1 Ne 13:15, 2 Nephi 30:6 (the word “pure” was “white”prior to 1981, see footnote b), Jacob 3:8, 3 Nephi 19:25 (“white as the countenance … of Jesus”), and Mormon 9:6.
Skin means the outward appearance and countenance. See Job 30:30, Lamentations 5:10, Jacob 3:8, Alma 3:6, and 3 Nephi 2:15.
For more detail on the meaning of these words in the scriptures, may I point you to an excellent video by Marvin Perkins. Brother Perkins’ video, titled Skin Color & Curses, outlines his research and explains that “the words black and white do not refer to literal skin color in the scriptures.” He points out that “every scripture in The Book of Mormon that made you believe that the Lamanites had a darker skin than the Nephites, every last one of them, have a new footnote on it” in the post 1981 edition of the scriptures leading readers to the Topical Guide entry on Spiritual Darkness.
The Heart Metaphor
For those hesitant to accept that the word “skin” is being used as a metaphor, may I draw your attention to metaphor often used in the scriptures that references another part of the body–the heart. A quick search on the scriptures section of LDS.org shows 1,475 occurrences of the word “heart” in the scriptures. The vast majority of those instances are clearly metaphorical and not a literal reference to the bodily organ that physical pumps blood.
as a man “thinketh in his heart” (Proverbs 23:7)
“Blessed are the pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8)
“Harden not your hearts” (Hebrews 3:8)
the “intents of his heart” (Alma 12:7)
the “poor in heart” (Alma 32:3)
“bringeth a change of heart” (Helaman 15:7)
In the scriptures, the “heart” is a reference to our inner most feelings–our metaphorical core–just like skin is a scriptural metaphor for our outward appearance. Both, of course, are metaphors we still use in society today.
Figurative Interpretation Supported by Hugh Nibley
Hugh Nibley is one of my favorite LDS authors. He was a scholar, a professor at BYU, and highly regarded within the LDS community. On the topic of Lamanite dark skin, he made the following statement:
“The Book of Mormon always mentions the curse of the dark skin in connection with and as part of a larger picture: “After they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people,” etc. … We are told (Alma 3:13, 14, 18) that while the fallen people “set the mark upon themselves,” it was none the less God who was marking them: “I will set a mark upon them,” etc. So natural and human was the process that it suggested nothing miraculous to the ordinary observer. …The mark was not a racial thing but was acquired by “whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites” (Alma 3:10); Alma moreover defines a Nephite as anyone observing “the tradition of their fathers” (Alma 3:11). Which makes the difference between Nephite and Lamanite a cultural, not a racial, one. Does this also apply to the dark skin? Note that the dark skin is never mentioned alone but always as attending a generally depraved way of life, which also is described as the direct result of the curse. When the Lamanites become “white” again, it is by living among the Nephites as Nephites, i.e., adopting the Nephite way of life (3 Nephi 2:15—16).” (Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites > Desert Ways and Places)
Hopefully, the material in the article will help you better understand the issue of race in The Book of Mormon and thus equip you to better respond if the topic comes up on your mission. My purpose here isn’t to tell you how to respond so much as it is to prepare you with knowledge and the perspective of prominent authors. Most importantly, as I stated in the beginning, my purpose is to encourage you to avoid contentious arguments, testify of the truths you know, and let the Holy Spirit guide all that you say and do as a missionary. Good luck, and God bless.