How I Learned to Put My Heart in the Right Place as a Missionary

 As I've written about before on the She Traveled blog, I wanted to be a sister missionary my whole life. My mother, many aunts, and even grandmother all served missions. I saw the faithful, strong, confident women they had become because of their missionary service. They were better prepared to be wives and mothers, and they had gained lifelong friends and other precious blessings because they gave 18 months of missionary work to the Lord.

It was with this mindset that I became a missionary. I knew it wouldn't be easy, but I felt confident that the time I spent in the Lord's service would result in fabulous blessings, like a stronger testimony and a husband. I was determined to serve faithfully so that I could earn those blessings I wanted.

Shortly after entering the Missionary Training Center, I started reading James E. Talmage's "Jesus the Christ," which is part of the approved missionary library. The book goes into detail about every aspect of the Savior's life and teachings. As I read, I was struck by Jesus' parable of the laborers. It goes something like this:

The lord of the vineyard (Jesus) calls many laborers early in the morning to work in his field for a specific wage. Many times throughout the day, he hires more workers, even when there is only one hour left in the day; he doesn't tell them what they will be paid, just that it will be fair. When the labor is finished, the lord of the vineyard pays each of them the same wage. The laborers who had been there all day complained, but the lord of the vineyard reminded them that they received the agreed-upon wage for doing good work, and he was being kind to every laborer. James E. Talmage had this to say about the story: "One truth this parable illustrates is that whether people become disciples of Christ in their youth, in their young adulthood, in the later stages of life, or in some instances in the spirit world, eternal life is the reward for all people who make and keep sacred covenants with the Lord."

As I read, this thought clearly impressed upon my mind: "Labor for the work, not the wage." When I entered the MTC, I was so busy thinking about all the blessings I would receive as my "wage," like a great job when I got back or a husband. I should have been thinking about the work, which was so that every soul could have eternal life. From then on, I strived to put myself aside and work for the sake of other people. I wanted to dedicate my service to the Lord with love for the people and with hope in what they could gain, not what I could.

While I was still in the MTC, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke about this same parable during General Conference in "The Laborers in the Vineyard." He said, "These last and most discouraged of laborers, hearing only that they will be treated fairly, accept work without even knowing the wage, knowing that anything will be better than nothing, which is what they have had so far. Then as they gather for their payment, they are stunned to receive the same as all the others! How awestruck they must have been and how very, very grateful! Surely never had such compassion been seen in all their working days…This is a story about God’s goodness, His patience and forgiveness, and the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a story about generosity and compassion. It is a story about grace. It underscores the thought I heard many years ago that surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it."

By the time I returned from my full-time missionary service, I was not focused on the wage. I was grateful to have had the work and lost myself in the Lord's vineyard. However, I did receive a merciful wage. All those blessings I had selfishly wanted—a good job, lifelong friends, a stronger testimony, even a husband—I received. [link to marriage or mission] I feel so blessed that although it took time to get my heart in the right place as a missionary, the Lord still rewarded me for my work. I feel deeply blessed knowing that not everyone will receive the reward they expect or want in this life; several of my aunts who served missions did not get married, for example. But we are promised that when the Lord rewards His laborers in heaven, everything will be made right. We, along with the people we helped on our missions, can receive the great reward of eternal life with our loved ones.

Have you thought about why you want to serve a mission? Write your thoughts down in your journal this week. Throughout your mission, reflect on those goals. You may find that they change over time, so keep writing in your journal and let the Lord focus your heart on the labor, not the wage.