Sunday, August 24, 2014

The best two years were my four worst months

A huge piece of my mission conflict lay in the realization that I was raised to be somewhat unitarian, with a very liberal interpretation of heaven. Respecting and coexisting with others' beliefs was ingrained in me from a very young age. So when I got to the South, I had so much awe and respect for their God-fearing culture that I felt secretly horrible about bothering people with our "unique message". In more cases than not that I could see, teaching someone to change denominations had potentially harmful ramifications as they would likely suffer massive strain to family and community relationships. I got the feeling that the 19 year old boys I served alongside with didn't think that out.

The rhetoric that we were made to use felt divisive to me, and I never felt comfortable with highlighting so many differences as a proselytizing and teaching tactic. I've always thought that in order to have a civil discussion, common ground needs to be established, and it's not a waste of time to do so!

I obeyed every rule -ok, there were a couple times when we took a minute or two longer at mealtime. Or that one time when we were at the library and the moment before I hit send on my one weekly email, the computer shut down. Completely discouraged, I showed my companion and we stayed probably an extra 7 minutes longer than our given hour so I could compose messages to my family and the mission president. My companion was visibly seething with every second ticking by. It was killing her rule-loving spirit to break a rule! I apologized profusely but she just gave me a disapproving look and didn't really talk to me the rest of the day, per usual. Which reminds me of another thing about letters home- there is a rule that you should only talk of good things in your letters home so as not to worry your parents. Seriously. Needless to say, I look at mission letters now with a lot of suspicion and angst. In particular, I question the authenticity of any optimistic tone. For me, it was my only lifeline to tell people that cared about me how miserable I was. So I guess I broke that rule, too. However, it's hard to reconcile that I broke a rule when I shudder to think what would have happened had I kept everything inside.

I thought surely, that transcendent moment would come when it would all make sense. I would see the light of why we were made to obey (so many) rules, plan primary-level lessons for hours upon hours, or judge people constantly and carry forward with unabashed zeal and conviction.

Instead, my critical thinking went into overdrive, since I had no technological or personal distractions. I would realize later that thinking critically is an enemy to missionary service. You are allowed no additional material to study but the scriptures. Questioning anything is discouraged. My whole line of thinking was that if it's true, it can withstand questioning and investigation. But there was no time for it, and it "wasn't important". As much as Preach My Gospel tries to get away from the memorized discussion format, you still have to study them and be able to rehash them in such a way. Or maybe that was my companion who basically reformatted PMG into discussions. Either way, I did my absolute best to try and make her happy but she only grew more and more frustrated with me.

I feel very conflicted about the prospect of sending future kids on missions. My own current level of orthodoxy to the church is very imperfect and unresolved. I question whether I'm part of something where insularity is ideal. Whether Zion is a literal utopia, or resides in everyone, everywhere to an extent. I was so tired of putting on a happy, smiling face to proclaim a purported gospel of happiness when inside I was the most miserable I've ever been. Did I mention that I was praying approximately 50 times a day and wasn't feeling any kind of spirit?

That transcendent moment never came. I became a zombie, horribly depressed, and felt more alone than I ever thought was possible. I would stare at razors in the shower and contemplate slitting my wrists. It would be so easy, and I wouldn't have to live this hell anymore, I reasoned. I would hope I'd get in a fatal car accident or I'd fall off a cliff or suffer some freak accident so I didn't have to keep pressing on. The mission was a crucible. I honestly can't fathom how anyone has a good experience with it. It's an experience I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.


Austin Smith said...

This is really good/sad. Thank you for writing it.

Alexandra said...

@Biggins, thank you for reading it and letting it be what it is.

Jg. for FatScribe said...

gawd i love that word, crucible. feel like i'm living my own the past decade. you speak of two years and several months, Alex, but looking back at my life the last decade (well 8 years since divorce) has been exactly that, a fantastic journey, test, crucible (Daniel type lion's den and fire).

though, not an ubermensche nitzcheian with the whole "that which does not kill me only makes me stronger" bit, i am a uber believer who trusts scripture, especially when it says, in effect, God uses all things to the good for those who love him. and i can tell from your blog that you love your faith and your family and YOUR fantastic journey.

anyway, that's what i believe, my humble little worldview, and it keeps me going and inspired each day. can't imagine the stories you'll be able to tell your grandkids someday and inspire them to greater and grander deeds.