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LDS Missionary age change and regrets

06 October 2012
Today I listened as President Thomas S. Monson announced that young women will be allowed to serve LDS missions at age 19 - a full two years earlier than they were allowed to serve just yesterday.

I am slightly ashamed to say I burst into tears - not out of joy, but of regret, jealousy, and bitterness.

I graduated from high school and with my Associate's degree when I was 17 years old. When a young woman graduates from high school, she is asked to attend Relief Society. No longer are you in a class with your own peers, but you have graduated to The Grown Up class, which brings in women of all ages, backgrounds, walks of life. That's fine.

But as a 17 year old, I was lost. Completely and utterly lost. I lived in a very adult ward with almost nobody my own age. The next youngest to me was 24 and married with children. As a new member of the Relief Society, I was confused and felt "too young for all this." After all, I certainly didn't need to know how to be a good wife, or how to serve my husband or take care of my children. At age 17, I had no desire or plans to get married - ever. EVER.

When I was 12, I remember asking my mom why girls had to wait until they were 21 before they could go on a mission. My mom didn't know, but she tried to be positive about it. She didn't like the rule either, she said, but that's the way it was.

Maybe the church has changed now, but when I was growing up, the emphasis was always on getting married. Young women, you will grow up. You will get married. You will have children. As a youth, that was not what I wanted in the slightest. I had no prospective boyfriends and I hated children. I still hate children. I liked being alone. I was going to grow up, go to medical school and be an Emergency Room physician. Or I was going to be a veterinarian with my own farm, complete with horse I rode to work, and a dog. Or I was going to do all of the above and write novels. But it was always going to be alone.

I left the church for a while, because I felt so unneeded and unwanted. I had well meaning leaders who thought I was homosexual because I had zero interest in getting married (at age 17! come on!) I spent 3 miserable years in a dark place, cutting myself almost daily, struggling with suicidal thoughts and depression and social anxiety. My family and I weren't getting along at all. I was in debt. I was lost, still.

I met Nate. We dated and it got serious. I asked him if he would be willing to wait for me if I went on a mission. I was 19, so I still had 2 years before I could turn in my application plus an additional 2 years to serve. Nate said no way would he wait for me. And because I didn't want to lose my first love, the first person who had made me feel worthwhile, I decided I wouldn't risk it. I dropped the missionary thoughts. Nate asked me to marry him, and a month after I turned 20, I did. I still had a full year before I could have served a mission.

I remember when we lived in Arkansas and the missionaries would stop by our home. I remember thinking how weird it was that I was living in my own home, married, and yet these two boys were still older than me.

I have struggled with regrets my entire life, but I regret nothing the way I do those years between 2004-2007. Every day, even today, I think at least once a day how those choices I made back then have affected me. Sometimes I get sad because it feels like all the important decisions in my life have been made. I'm done. Now it's just little things from here on out.

But most of all, I have regretted not going on a mission. I regret not waiting, not telling Nate to suck it and still remaining friends, but making plans to be my own person before I got married. I regret dropping out of school. I regret everything about those years. I love my husband. I do. But how much different would my life have been if I had said "no, this is something I need to do"?

So much different.

But again, at the time, it was a 5 year wait between graduating and going on a mission. Five years where I felt alone and irrelevant to the church. I know that many young adults have struggled with the transition between the youth program and the adult program. I am so happy for these youth who will have the opportunity to serve missions at a younger age. I believe this will greatly help them, people around the world, and the church's ability to keep our young adults active in the gospel. I am excited for them.

I am also jealous of them.

If this call had just come 5 years ago, my life would be so different. I can't say it would be better, because I don't know that. But I wouldn't be here right now - struggling every day with a child who doesn't like me and who I don't particularly care for either. I wouldn't be looking at scars from self-inflicted wounds. I wouldn't think back on those years as a waste and a mistake. I would be more sure of myself, more firm in my foundations, and more experienced. I would be a better person. I know it.

Yes, I can serve when I am older. It's not the same and it never will be - I don't know why people use that as a consolation.

My mom always said that her biggest regret was not serving a mission before she had me. I know she wanted me, but I often felt like I'd ruined her life when I was growing up (she tried very hard to keep me from feeling this way, but I am awesome at being melodramatic.) I interrupted her plans and I broke her goals. If this call had come 26 years ago, my mom would have been able to serve earlier. I wouldn't have been born - and that's okay. Everyone might have just been a little bit happier. There's a difference, though, between missing this announcement by 26 years and missing it by just 5.

Everyone has regrets. Mine just punched me in the face this morning.

I wish I could articulate it better. But long story short: yay for the younger missionary age, I hate that it didn't come early enough for me, my life is filled with regrets and I have struggled intensely with them all month (so this wasn't a particularly timely announcement for me.)

Edited to add: I'm not leaving the church over this. I'm not mad at President Monson. I'm not going to go jump off a cliff or flush Toby down the toilet. I am sad, yes, but I'm not angry or vindictive or...irrational? I realize that I am where I am supposed to be (even if I don't always want to be here.)

I am really, really excited for the new sisters who can serve! So many lives are going to be affected by this and I am thrilled to be here to witness it. I just think, to some extent, I will always regret not having served a mission, and today it hit me even harder than normal. Just as I will always regret dropping out of college or not going to medical school. It's okay to have regrets, I just have to remind myself that it's not the end of the world that I didn't do X, Y and Z. As long as I don't allow my mistakes (or my inability to do something) to rule my life, it's okay to be sad once in a while.

It was hard to post this because I don't want to seem like "I hate my life! The missionary age requirement ruined it forever! It's the church's fault I'm married and have a weird child!" No no no. I love Nate and I am so glad I married him - that will never be a regret. I love Toby and while I would take away his mental problems in a heartbeat*, I don't regret him either. It's just one of those things, you know? I don't regret my family and I don't hate my religion. It's okay. Okay? Okay.

I've never understood parents who say "My child is autistic and even if there was a cure I wouldn't take it!" Are you kidding? I'd sign Toby up for the cure so fast your head would explode. Just as I know my mom or Nate would have signed me up for the anxiety/depression cure in a heartbeat.

13 comments to LDS Missionary age change and regrets:

Miss Foxy said...

I used to think about choices that I've made and imagine what my life would be like (and what I would be like) in some "alternate universe" if the choice I made was different. What if I'd stayed at college in Vermont? What if I'd not gone crazy in Illinois and stayed in law school there? What if I had transferred to college in Knoxville instead of staying in Murfreesboro? Married Cal (ew)? I don't really think about these "lost chances" anymore because I'm settled in my life now. I'm grateful for it. I'm happy with it. Now, these were decisions that I made - they were made about choices presented to me. You didn't have a choice. But I bring it my "decisions" and "alternate universe questioning" because I understand what you mean about the "what if?" I can only say that if you spend too much time thinking about it, dwelling on it, you'll either come to resent your current life, the one you ultimately chose (missionary work aside). You'll resent your church again. Maybe you missed an opportunity to serve. Maybe you missed your opportunity to get out there in the world and share your faith. But honestly, after following each other over the many years, I have to say I don't think you'd be happier. There's loneliness in missionary work. There's constant shift, uncertainty. I know that deep down, underneath the social anxiety, you crave human connection. So do I. Most people do. But I think overall you wouldn't have been happier in your mission work compared to what happened with Relief Society and such.

You have an amazing sounding husband. And as much as you have a child that is challenging on many levels, you chose to have him. And he is a blessing in your life. Both your husband and child are.

Look for meaning in your current and future life. Recognize that you can make choices now, choices that are not limited by what your church says you can and cannot do. Don't live in the past too much. It fosters too many tears, too much anger and jealousy.

I don't mean to sound lecture-y or anything. I hope you know that. *hug*

(Kelli)

Misty said...

I can understand a great deal of what you are saying...I had some sadness, too--I had known all my life I was going to serve a mission before I got married, and it was confirmed in my patriarchal blessing. I would have been spared a lot of heartache and trial if I had been allowed to go at 19.

Like you, I was truly, deeply happy for all those girls who know they need to go and who can do it now...and that outweighed my sorrow and regret, because there is one thing I know absolutely--if you keep your covenants anything you have lost or been denied in this life will be restored to you.

Every. single. thing.

Including the mission.

I know it. And I know Heavenly Father feels your pain, and He weeps with you. Just as I wept for you as I read your blog (only better and perfect, because He's Heavenly Father and I'm just me.)

I wonder if the 19 year old girl from BYU who married an RM who she has discovered is heavily addicted to porn felt about this change in policy? I am positive yours were not the only tears and regrets felt today...

Also, it may help to remember that your son needed to come at exactly the time he did. And, from what I've read about him, he is persistent and has amazing willpower! :) Nothing could have stopped him, and he couldn't just go to anyone--it had to be someone special, someone with a good sense of humor, someone a little spunky and sassy....someone exactly like you!

I love you!

Bethany said...

I'm sorry you're dealing with some really tough emotions with this. But now your job is to make sure that your child never feels that he ruined your life because you had him and didn't get to go on a mission-- the way you feel. You shouldn't have been made to feel that way about your own existence. You (and Toby) are a precious child of Heavenly Father, who loves you more than you can comprehend. You were and are a blessing to your mother, and Toby is a blessing to you, even if it doesn't seem like it. No one can know how a different past would change the present, it may not have even been better. Trust Him, and try to be happy now. I know, it's hard. But being happy is worth the effort.

Love you.

Marel and Tom Stock! said...

My first thought was "Nuts! I could have gone! I would have sent in my papers immediately!" but immediately after these thoughts, I felt "there's a reason it's now. There's a reason you were not of them." So maybe there's more to the story of why you didn't go. Kids can be draining. But Heavenly Father has trusted you to take care of his precious child. I am not one of those "enjoy every minute" moms. That's ridiculous. Some minutes are TERRIBLE. Some days. Some weeks. Some months. The six months there where Sabrina had colic and Celia REFUSED to poop were the hardest six months OF MY LIFE. But the Lord knows that. He knows it's hard. And He's there to help. Some days I honestly prayed "just help us make it all to bed tonight." But things have gotten better. They always do. And you are important. There is something in this world that you can do that no one can. I don't think you missed your chance to change the world. You're capable and growing ever moreso as you learn and grow. And learn to trust yourself. Look at where you've come since I met you in London. You're amazing! You can change the world. Can't wait to see you do it!

Katie Davis Henderson said...

I don't know you, but linked to your blog through a friend of a friend on Facebook. Thought I'd add my $0.02. You're allowed to feel however you want about this announcements, and the feelings you have are 100% valid and you don't have to apologize for them even if they make your friends uncomfortable. I have never understood the Wait-Til-21 if you're a woman rule and am glad it's over. Part of the reason for the change could be to help grant a bit more experience and autonomy to young women who've spent the last 6 years in YW being spoon-fed weekly "Get Married" Coolaid; and help them make better decisions (aka delay marriage? Focus on something *other* than snagging an RM?) Maybe God knows just how many women end up with regrets bc of decisions they made at terribly young ages. It's not polite or savory to talk honestly about regret in our society and church, especially regarding marriage and kids. But it's life. I feel ya.

mk said...

I read your post from a link on FB by TopHat. I shed some tears this morning too, some out of jealousy, I'll admit. I think it's exciting and wonderful though, and as much as I wanted to serve a mission, I know that if I'd been meant to that I would have, and since I didn't, it's okay. That probably isn't helping . . . it sounds like those years of your life were extremely difficult, but I know that God doesn't give us more than we can handle, so you must be VERY STRONG! And I agree with the previous commenter that everything will be restored to you. I totally believe that, it's what the atonement is for. Our sins, our weaknesses, our hurts and pains, everything. I just want to send you a big hug full of love and faith. I have been through some impossibly difficult moments/periods in my life where I thought I would never climb out of the pit I was in, but so far, I've been able to. God has been with me, and I can see evidence of that in my life, even through the hardest things.

I'm rambling. I just want you to know that I understand how you feel and I'm sorry. And I know God is sorry and he wants you to feel better about everything. Maybe that won't happen soon . . . but I know it can and will happen for you eventually.

Best of luck with everything going on in your life. I really believe that we aren't given more than we can handle, and God promises to help us through our trials, right? You can do it!! :)

TopHat said...

I just wanted to say that you are totally right in your feelings. A policy change now doesn't change that it hurt others previously. And being sad about it doesn't mean your testimony is any less or that you don't believe in God's timing or modern day prophets. You can be sad about a church policy and still love the gospel, I promise. *hugs* to you.

gleaningthefields.com said...

I am so sorry for your regret! It is a difficult and painful feeling. It' difficult to,see rejoicing and success when you feel you've experienced a little or even a lot less. It isn't fair. And,it's ok to say it and so feel it and to have a good cry about it. and get some sleep, and wake up and hug your husband and child. I would also trade in my depression and children's autism in a heartbeat. Our disabilities do not define is...who wouldn't want them healed?!

Chelsea said...

You know. I felt the same way. Life might have been easier if I could have served at 19, however, everything happens for a reason. You have to trust that.

Nancy said...

I felt . . . I don't know, kind of like crying for you and a lot of love for you -- even though I know virtually nothing about you -- as I read this. It just reminded me that life is hard that we often get struggles and that things we've done aren't at all the way we wished we had. I can't explain it. I just felt like . . . I don't know. I don't know why I am crying again, but like I just wanted to pour and pour hope and love into you. I wanted to just pour reassurance into you that even with a chain of misses and losses and things we wish had gone differently, that I am somehow still so certain that the Lord will not stop opening new windows and new paths -- maybe a far more circuitous path than we had hoped for, but one that will still get us to the top of the mountain, still teach us what we needed to learn down here, and mostly, still be filled with yet unknown gifts and joys and wonderful bits of pure happiness. Wishing all those things for you as I read this.

Mrs. Small House said...

A lot of people were saying they didn't understand why the church did this, so I wanted to comment and bring some enlightenment. My husband works at the MTC so it came as no shock to him. They have been doing many studies only recently about young men in the church. These studies show that the church loses a significant amount of these men between 18 and 19 and they are more likely to go on a mission/marry in the temple if there is less of a gap between high school and mission.
Another problem: when men returned from missions, girls their age were either married or leaving for their missions. With less dating options, many were delaying marriage and often falling away from the church. It wasn't specifically stated, but I believe the age change is to help with dating options after missions. If rms get married soon after missions, they are more likely to stay active in the church.

jen said...

I didn't read all of the other comments, so forgive me if I say the same thing... You offered me a hug over on Joanna's blog, and I wanted to see who was hugging me.

I've left the church, and I have no intention of going back... but the announcement still threw me back into "what-ifs".

There's a good chance I would still be in the church... I wouldn't have gone through all of the painful things that got me where I am today. And while I LOVE where I am today - it really sucked getting here. There is a part of me that thinks it would have been nice to go a little easier route. A mission would have been a much easier route for me.

I was like you: Never wanted marriage or children. (I told my parents I was going to be a Mormon nun. I needed to find some way to be independently wealthy, so I could just serve mission after mission after mission. I think they just rolled their eyes at me.)

Now that I've had time to process my emotions, I don't feel sad or hurt anymore. I don't really think the change effects me or anyone I am close to.

My Heart Squared said...

So I just found your blog and read this specific post . . . Which got me thinking and thinking some more. Thanks! Because I've been pondering some of the choices I've made and the regrets that have come because of those choices. I think what's particularly difficult is those choices weren't bad, they were just better (more right?) for me at the time. So regrets are REAL!! And I've had my share of quiet moments with Heavenly Father. Because I've needed to know that He still loves me despite my regrets and my limited ability to see what He can see.