Sisters in the church can be great missionaries, but seriously, some people think that a young woman in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is somehow less worthy to be a wife and mother unless she’s served a mission.
I saw this quote recently and almost lost my lunch:
Many young women are serving missions. Many are preparing to serve. Not because they aren’t married or have nothing to do, but because they have a desire to serve and are therefore called to the work. The reason so many are going is because in the next generation, Heavenly Father will be sending His priesthood army to earth and wants to send them to mothers who have been properly trained and taught in the gospel. What better training can a young woman have than a mission? – Guess who said it?
No LDS Church leader with authority to speak for the church has said this, but doesn’t it sure look nice all italicized and printed up on a bookmark?
This false quote is causing harm to many young women. While the first half of the statement is true, many young women DO serve missions because they feel strongly that they should, this so-called “quote” is the source for misjudging young women in the church who do not receive the inspiration that a mission is what Heavenly Father wants for them. It’s been mis-attributed mostly to President Gordon B. Hinkley, but also to President Ezra Taft Benson, as well as President Spencer W. Kimball, and I have an official source that says it’s NOT TRUE.
“This statement is without foundation and should not be perpetuated. If you have seen it (or anything similar to it), do not quote or pass it along. In relation to these types of statements, we remind all personnel of the counsel the First Presidency sent to priesthood leaders on May 13, 2004: “From time to time statements are circulated among members which are inaccurately attributed to the leaders of the Church. Many such statements distort current Church teachings and are often based on rumors and innuendos. They are never transmitted officially, but by word of mouth, e-mail, or other informal means. “We encourage members of the Church to never teach or pass on such statements without verifying that they are from approved Church sources.”
I’ve heard of young men these days who say that they will only marry a girl who’s a returned missionary, partly due to this false “quote”. So I’d like to raise my voice and quote President Dieter F. Uctdorf and say, “Stop it.”
Stop judging young women as somehow “less-than,” who have sincerely prayed to Heavenly Father about a mission and received the answer, “No, not now.” Or, “No, not this way.” Stop judging girls who are explicitly following the counsel of the current prophet, President Thomas S. Monson, when he said,
“We affirm that missionary work is a priesthood duty—and we encourage all young men who are worthy and who are physically able and mentally capable to respond to the call to serve. Many young women also serve, but they are not under the same mandate to serve as are the young men. We assure the young sisters of the Church, however, that they make a valuable contribution as missionaries, and we welcome their service.” – Pres. Monson (emphasis added)
The counsel President Hinkley gave to bishops and stake presidents still stands:
Here’s my news flash: I am a mother of 5 children who have served, or are currently serving LDS missions, plus one son whose mission call is waiting for him to open it. I never served a formal mission and I rolled my eyes when someone would say to me, “Your mission is raising kids.” Thanks for your patronizing attempt to pacify any inferiority you may have just implied I have. I would think this, but not say it aloud, before I rushed to take care of the next child-related calamity. (FYI, you can’t get a quart of honey out of the carpet with a rental machine.) This is how I felt about that statement for the next 28 years, until recently, just before I said farewell to my last daughter to leave for her mission. I was walking home from church when the words randomly popped into my head, “You are serving the mission I called you on. I called you to raise missionaries.” This is called eating humble pie, served up by the Holy Spirit. The irony of this idea, to me, is that my focus as I raised my children was less on pushing them to “go on a mission,” which I was certainly supportive of, but rather more on being people who live a gospel-centered and service-oriented life every day, with an emphasis on being worthy to enter the temple, and doing those things that would enable them to create an eternal family.
So here’s the thing I’ve learned. As a mother, I HAVE been serving a mission all along, even though I haven’t been “on a mission.” And just like every mission, there have been some hard, hard things. I’ve had companion challenges, my “investigators” have hit me, spit on me, yelled at me, told me to go away, and even broken my personal belongings. I’ve also had the opportunity to love from the depths of my heart to the point of deep pain and glorious exaltation. I’ve seen them get baptized, struggled with helping them learn to appreciate the scriptures, and mourned with them when their choices brought them pain. It is not required to serve a formal mission to fully serve the Lord and raise a family up unto Him.
I counsel my children to do what Heavenly Father prompts them to do and to be respectful of others who receive different answers than theirs. This applies to everyone, whether or not they choose to serve a mission, to whomever they choose to marry, and to other people, whose prayers and answers are simply none of our business. Be kind, and remember that we are not all on the same place on the path back to Heavenly Father. Be kind, and have the courage to stand up for the answers you personally receive to your prayers, in spite of how it differs from all the “shoulds” everyone else throws at you. I encourage them to remember that life has a way of teaching us the things we need to learn, regardless of whether we learn it on a formal mission, or whether we learn it as we pursue a career, or whether we learn it as we build our own families – so when it comes to judging others, “Just stop it.”
“What better training can a young woman have than a mission?” How about a mother who teaches her daughters and sons to love God and their neighbors, and shows them that the Lord is faithful in all His promises. Because mission preparation is also marriage preparation, and career preparation too.
47 Now they never had fought, yet they did not fear death; and they did think more upon the liberty of their fathers than they did upon their lives; yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them.
48 And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.
– Alma 56:47-48
Heather, I absolutely love this, but probably not for the reason you might think. I served a mission and I don’t think it qualified me for the wife and mother of the year! However, my son served a mission for two months. He returned home because he needed to take care of some things. I have heard people say numerous times that girls should not seriously consider marrying someone who is not a returned missionary. This is hurtful and judging and wrong. Would I like to have had Jeff serve for the entire two years faithfully? Sure. But he is one of the most faithful, righteous people I know, and he knows the atonement better than most of us. Thank you for posting this. It meant the world to me. Marc and I would love to get together with you and Brad sometime. Let me know when/if this will work for you. Love, Shelley
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The atonement is real, and it’s power to heal and change lives is so important to understand. I think it was Elder Ballard who said the most important convert on your mission is you. If your mission doesn’t change your own heart, then you didn’t put in, or get out of it as much as you could have. I think sometimes people are called to a mission to help them face the weaknesses and problems they may have been hiding or unaware of, so that they can have the conversion experience Heavenly Father wants them to have, whether it means they have to come home early and deal with it, or they have to learn how to cope with it throughout their mission and become stronger that way. Heavenly Father knows our path. Our job is to keep that in mind and apply it generously to others as well as ourselves.
What a lovely post, Heather. This is exactly the kind of thing that the Apostle Paul had to fight against and the reason we have most of the New Testament. lol People share their ideas without the needed “and this is the gospel according to me”.
I know a guy who joined the church while he was in the Marines. When he got out, he went to school at BYU. While attending one of the young marrieds wards, a teacher in one of the classes (I think it was priesthood) made the statement that only people who were born in the church could get to the Celestial Kingdom. This friend of mine raised his hand and reminded everyone that he was a recent convert. He said that man’s statement was fine because my friend would have lots of company–like Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor …
lol Good thing he had a sense of humor, but he made his point very well and the teacher took back his words.
I love the way your friend made his point.
Oh my gosh, you have no idea the relief this article brought me.
About a year ago, my twin sister and I were approaching our 19th birthday. I had always planned on serving a mission, she was unsure, but we both decided to pray and fast about it. Guess who got which answer?
Now my sister is about halfway through her mission. It’s better now, but when she was getting ready and had just left, I had a hard time. Besides being separated from my best friend, I had well-meaning people asking me when I was going to submit my mission papers, too. I even had someone ask me if I wasn’t going because of a worthiness issue.
It stung a lot, and I was worried I’d be missing out on spiritual experiences. I was afraid (it sounds silly) that my sister would “pass me up” in terms of spirituality. We used to discuss the scriptures/insights from church a lot, and quotes like this made me worry I’d get left behind.
I never told her any of it, because I didn’t want to spoil it for her.
I remember one specific time when I was on the Internet and came across this exact quote, attributed to an apostle. I literally read it and sat there crying. I was so afraid that I would have less to offer as a wife and mother.
Fast forward to now, and I know perfectly well why God told me to stay home. Besides serving in several callings that I love, I also work at a group home and have become especially close with one of the children there. I can’t imagine leaving that child for 18 months. I’ve grown so much spiritually during the last year. I no longer feel the need to “measure up” to sister missionaries. I’ve become much more confident in my testimony.
But this quote has been a niggling thorn in the back of my mind, because if an apostle said it -well, I can’t argue with that. So thank you for putting my worries to rest once and for all.
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I’m so happy to debunk this and relieve your mind. I think the work you are doing is angelic. Kids in group homes need an extra measure of love, and it takes someone blessed with special gifts and talents to do this. Heavenly Father certainly cares more about HOW we serve, than about WHERE we serve. I also think it’s a blessing to be able to forgive those who have been so thoughtless as to butt in and make nosy or rude comments about something that is just none of their business. Brava for your courage to live the answer you received, even in the face of persecution! I hope your sister’s mission is going well also. I’m sure she appreciates your love and support from home.
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I absolutely adore this post. I feel like all too often young women are being pressured into feeling guilt that holds no meaning. Being at college and hearing so many girls talk about their missions can be so hard for many of my friends. They can feel the pressure of church means, the unspoken looks, and it does WAY more harm than good. Instead of encouraging these girls to be their best, they are being told that because of one thing they will never be enough. I’m so grateful for this post, and I hope that it has helped others as well.
I’m glad it spoke to you. It’s so important for us to respect the answers others receive to their personal prayers. I’ve seen so many young women almost put into a crisis of faith because of this issue, because of pressure from others. We need to exercise faith in the answers we receive. Thanks for reading!
[…] say all sisters should serve, despite prophetic guidance on the issue. And some will continue to circulate misattributed quotes to pressure sisters to […]