I was sitting on my couch, most likely half asleep, when I heard President Monson’s voice say, “I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service at the age of 18, instead of age 19.”
My heart jumped into my throat and I was wide awake. I had just started my sophomore year of high school and knew plenty of seniors and their poor moms who were probably freaking out more than I was. I also had close friends who would be leaving a whole year earlier than they previously could.
In the midst of my complete shock, my mind cleared long enough to hear the next part, “Today I am pleased to announce that able, worthy young women who have the desire to serve may be recommended for missionary service beginning at age 19, instead of age 21.”
I honestly don’t remember what happened after that. I think I called my mom (because what else are you supposed to do in a moment of panic?) and I thought about all of my classmates. I went to a high school with an unusually high percentage of Latter-day Saints and knew this announcement would rock our world. Missionary service had always felt so distant, but at that moment, it had never felt more real and urgent. I could have a mission call in my hand before my senior year was over.
“Did you hear about the age change?”
The following weeks at school were interesting, to say the least. Everyone was talking about the “age change” and discussing what it meant for their future plans. I was blessed to have great friends with strong testimonies and the topic came up in our conversations almost daily. “Do you think you’ll go on a mission?” was a question we felt we needed to know the answer to immediately because we were asked so often not only by each other but by loving adults and Church leaders.
“Maybe, I don’t know yet” came out of my mouth more times than I can remember. Sophomore year ended, junior year passed, senior year started, and I attended farewells almost every Sunday during the summer. But when someone asked me if I was planning on serving a mission, my answer was still, “Maybe, I don’t know yet.” I grew more and more anxious as my friends who once said “maybe” started saying “yes.”
“You don’t have to go, but prepare anyway.”
One Sunday my bishop and I were chatting and he asked if a mission was in my future. I gave him the answer I gave everyone, and he gave me advice that I’ll cherish forever. He told me I didn’t have to go—that the decision was mine and the Lord’s to make. But he told me to prepare to go. This way if my answer was “yes,” I would be ready, and if the Lord had other plans for me, I would be spiritually prepared for what was ahead. So that’s exactly what I did.
I prayed, read scriptures, and listened to conference talks every day, but I was carefully avoiding asking the Lord the question I needed an answer to. I was honestly terrified that my “maybe” would turn into a “yes.” My stomach tied in knots just thinking about opening a mission call and embarking on an 18-month journey with so many unknowns. Something in my heart felt a little off whenever I thought about it, but I love my Savior and would do anything for Him. And if He told me to go, I would do it.
I finally prayed and got my answer.
I’m a procrastinator by nature, but soon after my 18th birthday, I knew I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I knelt by my bedside and asked my Heavenly Father if He wanted me to serve a mission. I didn’t feel anything immediately—I thought, “Maybe this is His way of telling me a mission isn’t for me.” I heard stories of warmth flooding over someone’s soul as soon as they knew they were to serve a mission, and that was definitely not happening.
I sat there for a minute and climbed into bed to read my scriptures. I turned to Doctrine and Covenants 11 and read verses 13-17:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy;
“And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining to things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive.
“Behold, I command you that you need not suppose that you are called to preach until you are called.
“Wait a little longer, until you shall have my word, my rock, my church, and my gospel, that you may know of a surety my doctrine.
“And then, behold, according to your desires, yea, even according to your faith it shall be done unto you.”
Relief instantly washed over me. I was prematurely assuming a full-time mission was part of my path before I had even asked God what His plan was for me. And the phrase “according to your desires” really calmed my anxieties. I could make the choice to serve or not, and after a long couple of years, I could finally admit that my path didn’t include a mission, and Heavenly Father didn’t love me any less.
I felt more peace than I had in quite some time, and that winter of my senior year, my answer was confirmed (again) when I met a handsome returned missionary. We fell for each other very hard, very fast, and we were engaged one week after my high school graduation. I went to my friends’ farewells hand-in-hand with my new fiance, and I was so confident that this was my path and Heavenly Father was happy with my choice to receive my endowment and be sealed to my husband for eternity. My testimony of personal revelation and God’s hand in my life multiplied during this experience.
I learned a thing or two throughout this long process that I want to share with anyone who didn’t serve a mission, is deciding whether or not they should, or just wants insights into what life was like for a high school student after the “age change.”
1. Every situation is different.
We are all children of God, and He has a perfect plan for each of us—none of which look the same. He guides us all in different directions, we go down different paths, and we each hear His voice and see His hand in our lives differently. But He is always there and loves us with a perfect love we can’t even comprehend.
When someone chooses not to serve a mission, it doesn’t automatically mean they’re bad, unworthy, or unwilling. It just means they’re on another path that will play an important role in their life, just like a mission would in someone else’s.
2. Missions and marriage are important, but don’t forget everything in between.
Serving a full-time mission is a serious labor of love and commitment that I admire in so many of my friends and family members who have served. Marriage is incredible too—getting to spend every day with the person you love most is challenging and rewarding. But don’t forget about the young adults—particularly women—who aren’t doing either of those things.
The percentage of girls who went on missions significantly increased when the age change was announced. Once we graduated and everyone went their separate ways, my friends who were single non-returned missionaries expressed that they felt out of place and like they weren’t progressing, which couldn’t have been further from the truth. They were doing wonderful things like going to school, working, participating in YSA wards, traveling, holding leadership roles, and finding themselves.
Missions and marriage are a huge deal, but individuals who don’t serve are also progressing and becoming more Christlike in their own, divinely designed way. We are all working to build God’s Kingdom no matter where we are in our journey.
3. Serving in the temple is the most important thing we can do.
Getting to the temple is the most important thing young adults can do, whether their future holds a mission, marriage, college, babies, a career, sickness, or anything in between. Life is rough, and it can be especially rough for young adults trying to figure out their path here on earth. I know from experience.
Boyd K. Packer said it best in the October 2010 Ensign, “At the temple the dust of distraction seems to settle out, the fog and the haze seem to lift, and we can ‘see’ things that we were not able to see before and find a way through our troubles that we had not previously known.”
I’m so grateful for missionaries who go out and bring people the joy of the gospel. The message they are spreading is absolutely priceless. I’m blessed with a faithful husband who served. His knowledge from his mission blesses my life every day. And I’m grateful for my life’s path, even though it didn’t include a full-time mission.
I love the gospel for many reasons, but one of my favorites is that we can receive personal revelation from God every single day. We can pray and He’ll answer because He cares so deeply about each of us. His plan is perfect, so whether or not yours includes a mission, remember that He is proud of you, loves you, knows you, and will guide you on a path that will eventually lead you back to Him.