Monday, September 16, 2013

Senior Missions, Senior Blessings

From the early years of our marriage, Pat and I talked about serving a mission together -- even establishing a mission savings account (which we had to use for other purposes more than once). We looked forward to being able to serve together and share experiences as missionary companions after I retired and the children were married. We had a lot of hopes and dreams..

We've learned a lot during the past couple of years and we'd like to share our experience in the hope that other couples thinking about serving a mission might benefit.We have learned that senior couples who accept the call to serve full-time missions for the LDS Church usually encounter many things they did not expect, including new opportunities to define and refine their marriages.

In reality, our mission experiences have exceeded what we anticipated, both in joy received and in the hard work required. We could not have imagined the satisfaction and closeness that would come to us as we have served. But we also did not anticipate how the many stresses of serving a mission would test our patience and our relationship. Establishing a new home and a new life with new responsibilities in a foreign country was challenging! And even though we've been married 46 years, being together 24/7 with no breaks was also a stretch!

Like many men, I discovered that I had allowed myself to be defined too much by my career and service in the community, church, and other personal pursuits.  More accurately, I was pretty comfortable with my achievements -- too much pride, not enough humility - and used to doing things on my own. Pat's identity came largely from her devotion to family as a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother, as well as many service opportunities. She was pretty used to being her own boss, too. We both had held many and varied callings in the Church, mostly independent of each other. Most of our gospel study had also been individual, not shared.

To serve effectively as missionaries, we had to learn a whole new set of skills -- to study, plan, teach and serve together -- and we had to establish a new sense of identity as a senior missionary couple. During our first mission, teaching Institute classes to young single adults in the Washington DC South Mission, Pat and I had to learn how to share responsibilities for lesson preparation and presentation: what to include in lessons, how to develop and integrate power point materials with lesson objectives, what questions to pose, and how to divide class time and decide who would teach which principles and for how long.  It taxed us to prepare lessons for five classes taught in four scattered locations each week.  We learned quickly, but not without some pain, that to feel the spirit and be effective in our teaching, we had to take the time to work things out and to work together.  As we persisted in efforts to improve, and focused on the students, we learned humility and gained patience, unity, deeper spirituality, and felt mutual respect and new closeness.

In our current responsibility to direct the Visitors' Centre at the London Temple, we've faced a whole new learning curve. We've learned to navigate British roads, embrace a new culture, contact church and community leaders, train missionaries, coordinate schedules, and plan and develop programs and activities that strengthen members, promote missionary work, and build the image of the Church.  It has taken two minds and two hearts, knit together in a common purpose, to fill the responsibilities of this mission.  Neither of us could have served alone. Often Pat's thoughts, ideas, and skills are better than mine. Sometimes my thoughts and skills work best. We have learned to trust and rely on each other, respect our different abilities and tasks, pray and plan together, and support and cheer each other on during times of trial and discouragement. A pleasant byproduct of missionary service has been the deeper trust, respect, and love we have felt for each other as well as greater appreciation for our marriage.

The Lord has asked that we learn to live together in love (D&C 42:45) and He gave a specific commandment to husbands: Thou shalt love thy wife with all thy heart, and shall cleave  unto her and none else. (D&C 42:22)   He also said neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 11:11)   In order to serve and teach the gospel effectively, we know we must have the spirit, and we've found that we cannot have the spirit unless we work together in love and unity. For us it has required increased effort, humility, patience, and understanding.  Since we believe our marriage is eternal, I can't think of a better way to prepare for living life together, forever, in peace, harmony and love, than time spent serving full-time senior missions.

As we look back on the past 20 months in England, we can see clearly that we have been richly blessed and seen many successes and miracles we never could have anticipated.  We've also seen that in our absence, all of our family members have been greatly blessed.  It's true that no matter how much you try to serve the Lord and show gratitude, you will always be in His debt.  So... to all senior couples able to serve who are wondering if the time is right to jump in and become missionaries, we say, "Just do it! Wonderful experiences await you!"

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