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  1. I continue to received private messages from friends and young people whom I served as a Church leader with regards to their own private wrestling with faith and their own Church narratives. I used to think that the world was the “large and spacious building”….not my paradigm has flipped. Now many of the critical voices, mocking and pointing their fingers, are those housed within the rigid faith narratives of a Church that has painted itself into a corner. As I was told, recently, by a physician speaking to the issue of a family member enduring a terminal illness, “it will only get worse, before it gets better!” For my family member, and for the Church, at large, I am not sure there is a “better”!

    1. This person is not alone. I left right after my year mark, and then I returned to finish in a different mission. I did not come out as a non-believer until age 23. I lived a dysfunctional sex life still believing that it’s all about marriage, not sex. (It’s really about both.) Three years into my marriage I read real LDS history for the first time in my life… This was the beginning of the end for my marriage.

      I would tell a younger me to stay away from LDS missions. Fortunately, I attended the University of Utah and not BYU. If this person goes to BYU all relationships and friendships will be ill matched. My sympathies to this missionary.

  2. John I came home from my mission after a few months. It was the late 80’s so things were quite a bit difference as far as acceptance for mission “quitters” as they called us. We all know each family dynamic is different. I was told that if I came home, I should find someplace else to live. And I was told repeatedly by my dad, “don’t do this to us.” US. He actual said “us”. That was my wake up call. I knew that what I was doing was not for me, but to please them. My testimony was not as strong as everyone else around me and that is what was troubling me the most. I did not want to live a church life every day for 2 years. I slipped into a deep depression and felt like I had let everyone down. I did not have the knowledge of the things I do now about church history. My shelf was cracked, but not broken at that time. I came home. It was hell, but I got over it. Had I known the issues with the church it would have been much easier I am sure. There were many times in the past 30 ish years that I was convinced coming home was ten times harder than staying out there and faking it till I made it. My advice is to work with them and understand the family dynamic. I came from a home where it was my dad’s way or the highway. He didn’t speak to me for more than a week. I also failed to mention that I came home THREE TIMES. Twice from the MTC and then my mission president from where I was called phoned me and convinced me to fly out direct to the mission field from home. Crazy, but true. So, one question I have is, do they have to tell them everything? Testimony or lack thereof is a personal thing? I had a friend who told me about how his son handled his faith crisis on his mission. He simply told his mission president that he learned things about the church since going out, that had he known them, his decision would have been different and he would appreciate support in that decision. He did not elaborate on many details, but said it was enough for him to not feel comfortable asking people to be baptized when there were issues he needed to understand or have explained. Very adult way of handling it for an 18 year old. However, he had very loving parents. My heart aches for these guys. I assume it is more than one because you said “they” I wish I could help more.

  3. I have a really close friend who discovered the church wasn’t true while on his mission too! I think that what worked for him the most was to think about the mission as an opportunity to serve others and to learn about the culture. He said he really tried learn to connect with people and love them for who they were instead of trying to change them. Baptizing people wasn’t his priority instead he focus on trying to become friends and getting to know them. I totally get how some missionaries can’t just go home, so I think that making the best out of the situation will help them keep a good attitude.

  4. Here’s the only perspective I have. I did serve an 18 month mission to Canada. I struggled. And not because of my testimony. At one point I did tell my mission president I wanted to go home. I had a companion that was extremely difficult for me to deal with. My mission president talked me out of it using scriptures and testimony building. Having my faith crisis at 42 is a whole other experience! The one thing I wish more than anything is that I could go back to being 19 and live my life the way I wanted to. I would have made choices for me instead of trying to conform into the Mormon box. That has been the hardest part of my faith crisis, knowing I would have chosen a much different life for myself, but not being able to go back. . My advice would be to live authentically to yourself, so that you have no regrets. Whatever that looks like for you.

  5. As a dad I would want to talk with my son and get it all out in the open and help him figure out the best path. Maybe it’s difficult for him and his dad, but I feel like our family could deal with this together with love, acceptance and support for each other.

    If the family situation is difficult, I still recommend being open. Keeping secrets can be harmful. If you openly share your feelings you will feel less trapped and more empowered to make a decision you can own. Maybe you can decide to stay, maybe to go, but it will be YOUR decision. I think if you openly discuss this with your family your pathway will clarify, and you can figure it out.

    Personally I did not experience this (faith crisis) as a missionary….but I hope this advice helps.

  6. Dear missionary having a faith crisis,

    I just want you to know how much I sympathize with what you are going through. I served a mission in 2014-2015 that I went home from 13 months in because I was extremely depressed and lost confidence that there was a god. Upon getting back, I was shocked to learn what I believe are the truth about the church’s “truth claims” when I read the CES letter. I’m not sure what triggered your faith crisis, but I imagine that it has something to do with church history or science disproving church claims. The realization that the church is “not objectively true” is the single most devastating thing I’ve ever learned in my life. It is very hard to come to terms with this. But once you accept it and move forward with your life, pursuing your hopes and dreams, then everything gets better. Trust me, coming from someone who knows what that sense of betrayal feels like, it’s awful. But it can AND DOES get better. Time heals all wounds. At this point, you’re going to have to make a very hard choice. The way I see it, you have two options:

    Option 1: You can stick out and finish your mission, but in order to do that you will need to at least pretend to believe. If you don’t, it is likely the other missionaries and the mission president will get suspicious and wonder what your problem is. You will have to have a degree of deception in order to do that. I’m really sorry that this is happening to you but the only way you can continue to be a missionary is to live with a certain degree of deception.

    Option 2: if you are completely honest with yourself, you might think that coming home is the only way to come to terms with what you actually believe. Coming home will be very hard, you will have to face your family. I remember when I told my family that I no longer believed the church was true I felt like I was coming out as gay. That’s how big the shock factor will feel. But being honest with yourself will give you a degree of mental freedom that you cannot feel as a missionary for something you don’t believe.

    I know I have my own personal bias, but the best advice I can give you is to focus on yourself and your mental health which is so important. If you’re not in a good place mentally, everything else will seem awful and insurmountable. But the confidence you gain from being mentally healthy will give you the strength to overcome anything. And in my opinion, the best place to find yourself and be able to think freely is at school and not on a mission. Being in an environment where you aren’t pressured to think a certain way (or at least not as much as a missionary is) will probably help you in my opinion. Just know that there are people who you have never met that want you to succeed and be happy! I truly hope you can make a decision that you can feel confident in doing and that in the future you can find a place where you are happy. It may seem impossible now, but things will always get better. The night is darkest before the dawn, but the sun will always come back. Feel free to contact me anytime.

    Sincerely, Chase Gardner

  7. Mission is where I had my first real faith crisis, very uncomfortable place to have such a crisis.

    I’m going to ramble a bit about my experience which may not relate, you can skip to the end to get my advice.

    1. At the time I was convinced the Bible was true and although Mormonism may not be true I believed they were still more biblical than others.
    2. There was no way I’d go home early, I had older sibling do that and it devastated my mother, I would not do that.
    3. I sent a letter to my dad with specific instructions only he could read it, I didn’t want my mom to read about my crisis (she did anyway).
    4. My father was steeped in both Christian and Mormon apologetics. That is why I was still convinced the Bible was true, I had been fed Christian apologetics my entire life. My father may have been Mormon but a former Pentecostal and still was in many aspects of his thinking. He watched Billy Graham more than General Conference.
    5. My dad sent me a bunch of apologetic resources based on my questions.
    6. I became reconvinced Mormonism was true based on “evidence”, the spirit was never enough for me even before the crisis which inevitably led me away later.
    7. I stayed but would have regardless of what I concluded.

    8. My advice is to not make a fast decision. If you go home and later reconverts you will regret the decision forever. Time is on your side, you were planning on being on the mission for all two years anyway. Nothing to hurry home for. But if it is absolutely miserable, don’t torture yourself to please mom and dad. Just think it out carefully. On my mission there was service only missionary duties for troubled missionaries who had gotten trouble. Not sure if that is an option. Just think through the pros and cons carefully because the decision to leave is likely final.

    1. Just to add I am currently a complete non-believer but I’ve never regretted starting and completing my mission. I have no idea where my life would have gone without it.

    2. I agree with the comment made by Ryan before me. Take your time. Keep on the research and be prayerful. I lost my testimony a few years ago and the experience was shattering, but knowledge is power and when you know better, you do better.
      Do not get caught up with church bashing! First and foremost….DO NO HARM. Making family enemies is not going to make you happy. Be respectful to believers, but that doesn’t mean you have to follow their advice.

  8. Related to a financial penalty. I don’t know if the policy has changed, since it has been awhile, but when I worked in the mission offices, the church only paid the return transportation/airfare for missionaries that completed an honorable mission. Those few that did not have the “honorable” completion status (i.e., excommunication, leaving early) had to have family pay the cost of return transportation, or if the family did not have the resources, the individual ward/stake would foot the bill then work it out with the member/family later.

  9. I can see the heartache and stress in this because I went though it myself. I believed for a time that I could continue because I did not want to disappoint others by returning home early, especially if it wasn’t an honorable release. However the bad for me outweighed the good. I was constantly depressed and suicidal. I wanted nothing more than to die because I no longer believed and the thought of coming home early was horrible, especially because I was so far from home. I did end up coming home early and it was the best thing for me! Despite having the therapist I talked to on the mission telling me that the only way that my faith was going to return and the only way my depression was going to be cured was to stay on the mission. I believe that if I had stayed out that i probably would not be alive because i just couldn’t take it. I was being dishonest to the people i was teaching and most importantly myself. I reccomend that they take time and really look at themselves and what they want to do and even come home for some time to figure it out. What is staying out worth? In mine and I know many others experience it just leads to more depression and anxiety. I strongly reccomend you return home for a time, even if you do go back out, to really figure yourself out. The mission isnt really a place in my opinion that allows you to really figure out who you are especially with the tightness of the schedule and possible leadership positions you may he in that will make it even more difficult for you. Dont do it for anyone but yourself. You will find what is best for you.

  10. I served a mission in Los Angeles from 2008-2010. With about six months left I had serious doubts that the church was true. I didn’t really believe that if there was a God he would need to operate through another person on my behalf. Basically undercutting the entire premise of priesthood authority. I decided to ask subtle questions to my companions to see what they thought of these ideas. I got pushback, so I stopped asking for fear of fully exposing my non belief. I decided to ask my mission president about it once, and he merely said it was unusual for missionaries to be asking these questions so far along in their mission. He essentially recited the restoration lesson to me, which was absolutely unhelpful, since I had taught it hundreds of times and knew that information like the back of my hand. I decided to finish my mission, because I had a little less than six months, and I didn’t want people thinking I couldn’t hack it, or was unworthy. For the remainder of my six months I found it incredibly difficult to teach about Joseph Smith. I didn’t even want to carry the book of mormon. It was difficult because when it was my turn to talk about Joseph Smith, I knew I didn’t believe the words coming out of my own mouth. As for advice, it’s not a matter of the right or wrong choice, it’s mostly about the fact that peace of mind is found in being true to yourself. I ended up leaving the church a month after I got home anyways, and the family devastation was initially just as bad as it probably would have been had I left at any point on my mission. The thing is that the people who love you will never leave you. And now, ten years later, about half of my family is out of the church, including my dad, who used to try extensively to get me to stay, and now calls me his hero for having had the courage to leave. I would never have guessed that would happen based on his first reaction when I left the church. The point is, all is not lost if you leave. Yes there will be lots of turbulence at first. But it smooths out with time. There’s also no rush to leave, go at your own pace. Best of luck!

  11. To the missionary at hand,

    My name is Preston. I served in the Washington Seattle Mission from 2014-2016. Don’t let that sound cliche; I actually came home 8 months early. The reason – I had a major faith crisis.

    I was serving in the LGBT capital of the world, and coincidentally during the time when the November 2015 policy regarding LGBT folk came out. It was rough, and at a time when I was already questioning church leadership, that made it even worse. I have family members that belong to the LGBT community, and that one hurt.

    My quest to find answers for myself and others led me down a path that included the CES letter, and biographies such as Rough Stone Rolling. My view and belief in the truth claims of the church changed in the matter of weeks.

    I had a difficult decision to make at the time. The cons, leaving behind friends that I made in the mission, disappointing countless friends and family, the depression that would soon loom afterward. Ultimately my mission cumulated in me going home is early, in March of 2016. The pros, I could now live true to myself. I was relieved of having to proselyte something that I didn’t believe in.

    It’s impossible to make a mission what you want. Your purpose is to bring others to Jesus Christ, by helping them receive the so called restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. You can’t do service projects all the time. In my case, I came to the realization that I wasn’t a fit for my mission, or any mission for the church. I was wasting a whole lot of time and money that would end in me having the same beliefs and ideals anyway.

    So what am I trying to get at? Well, you can choose to stay on your mission for social recognition, and that’s fine. Do what you have to do. I understand that all families are different and react differently to certain circumstances. But if you have more than 6 months left, that is an awful long time to live in the shadows. I couldn’t do that.

    If you choose to go home, I’m not going to sugar coat it. It’s difficult. But life does move on. You can take back a little bit of time that the church took from you. Go to school, find a job, move into your own place. Get on with life. That is way more healthy than living a lie.

    I still believe in God and that we all have a purpose in life. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Whatever you decide to do, stay strong and trust that everything will work out in the end. I am walking prove of that. Good luck.

    -Preston

  12. I struggled with similar things as a missionary. I’m a terrible liar, so I confided in my companion and my mission president. They helped me a lot, but I also was very close to both of them so it may not work for this young missionary. I focused less on baptisms and more on serving others and building relationships. Essentially, my mission president said it was ok if my mission was focused on me and not on baptizing. He just told me to love the people and help them the best I could. I’m glad I stayed. And honestly, BYU needs more people like this. It’ll be hard going to school there, but they’ll likely touch others who also don’t fit the cultural mold.

  13. Coming home early is unfortunately surrounded by a giant negative stigma storm that is frankly unavoidable – even if it’s for medical reasons. There is no way to not disappoint someone in their personal circle regardless of the reason. For this reason, many missionaries suffer from what can best be categorized as PTSD because they’re not staying on their mission for them they’re staying to protect those who care for them. They will in fact be judged by some, but those who truly care will try to understand despite their tendency to feel extreme sadness / remorse / shame. If they come home early they will likely jeopardize their temple recommend and thus may impact their ability to remain in good standing with the honor code – this is a factor that cannot be avoided. There just isn’t a good age to have a crisis like this – but having one while on a mission is extremely difficult for a number of reasons most of us understand.

    I served in Brazil back in the late ‘90s and had a very difficult companion that struggled with this daily. I did the best I could to help him navigate the storm, but I was biased that he was troubled mentally and maybe shouldn’t have ever come on a mission to begin with – but I did (at the time) everything I could to help him find ways to make every day positive. Because of the ‘spirit – or the lack thereof’ it may be difficult for them and also for their companion to navigate the daily activities / purposes of a missionary. It’s akin to having a door to door salesman who vehemently disagrees with the product they’re peddling. It may come down to their ability to pretend and how far that gets them is up to the individual. The potential concern here is mental. How does that ultimately effect ones ability to find some semblance of normalcy on a daily basis? When bearing one’s testimony – how good of an actor can they be? Or do they go the other route and refrain from bearing testimony in situations like that – how does that impact the companionship or their ability to remain on the mission when the president questions their progress? Is staying with an LDS school best for them in the long run OR would it make more sense to take a step back and consider other options that won’t require shaving a 5 o’ clock shadow to take a test? My faith crisis happened long after college so it wasn’t something I struggled with – but I can certainly understand why it’s a concern. I personally believe it’s being dishonest to oneself to pretend they’re not questioning their faith and be subjected (almost daily) to religious undertones in practically every course they’re enrolled in.

    There just isn’t a good time to ‘come out’ but I can share my story. I went to Ricks College after my mission and then transferred to BYU in Provo but ended up dropping out within months because there were so many factors that I couldn’t reconcile with myself. This was the beginning of the end for me. Around that time one of my ward counselors had received a call from a young lady’s stake president who told them that I had engaged in relations (basically everything BUT intercourse) with her and he wanted my bishopric to know (essentially tattle telling) and as I was in an interview my recommend was shredded in front of me without confirming or denying anything that he had been told. I stood up and promptly said: “Brother Whatever – I’m pretty sure this isn’t how repentance works.” And I walked out for the last time after blowing the torn pieces of my recommend all over his office.

    Many years later a girl I had been dating for three years and I did finally have intercourse – and at the ripe ol’ age of 27, despite not being to church in years, I proposed to her rather than face potential excommunication / shaming my family. No doubt I loved this girl – but the thought of humiliating my family as the oldest grandchild and 1st returned missionary, I chose what I thought was the lesser evil. Ultimately that marriage did not last – but after a few years, my grandma and mom cornered me and really wanted to question why I wasn’t going to church. I looked them both in the eyes and told them I couldn’t possibly love them any more… but for THAT reason, we couldn’t debate the issue. They pressed… and I said on the spot something I’ve repeated hundreds of times. “Like I said, I love and respect you both more than you’ll ever know. But we can’t talk about this honestly – because you’re too old to be wrong about religion.”

    They were both deeply offended and they tried to understand – but my argument was, we cannot talk about this honestly because neither of you can admit you might be wrong. For many TBMs, it would cause their brain to implode because every other facet of their life is built around their allegiance to the church. IF they’re wrong about that, what else are they wrong about? For that reason, it’s so incredibly difficult to have these conversations with loved ones. Ultimately they accepted what I said and I reminded them that just because you think I’m not happy, I’ve never been more happy / clear / present / compassionate / empathetic and that means that in many ways, you raised me to be the best version of myself possible. I will never disrespect you or your beliefs – this change for me is not intended to convince anyone other than me. It is for this reason I see no harm in keeping my name on the records (for now).

    The only reason to open up to the mission president or their companion is IF they have decided that they no longer want to pretend. Opening up that can of worms unless they are POSITIVE will unravel everything and potentially cause things to move quicker than they intended. Once that conversation happens, it is unlikely that they will remain on the mission for much longer. Obviously this depends on the mission president, but my opinion is it doesn’t make sense to be honest with anyone else in the mission field until they are certain.

    The only way to mitigate perceived social damage by coming home early is to provide a medical reason…. Aside from that, everyone will assume the worst and the majority of the damage has been done. It’s possible that depression or anxiety might get a pass – but any good counselor will no doubt uncover the true reason. If they aren’t biased, maybe that’s where they should start… but most missionaries, when they request counseling, will see an LDS counselor if the president even allows it to get to that point. Keep in mind, the mission president / companions / stake president – their primary interest is to avoid shame / blemishes on their record or reputation. I mean – sure they will do it under the guise of wanting you to complete your honorable mission, but don’t forget for a second that they’re also worried about their reputation. Never underestimate one’s ability to bend the truth to protect their own self interests.

    Please remember – these opinions are from a dude who served back in the ‘90s… so I realize that some policies have changed, but the big picture things will always remain very difficult in this muddy water that is a faith crisis. I won’t tell you to pray about it, but don’t second guess your gut instincts. I think it’s incredibly difficult to have these types of feelings while on a mission – so for that my heart goes out to you and I hope you are able to find peace.

    Brian

  14. I feel like in this situation this individual may need to choose which battles to fight and which ones not to. I had a somewhat similar experience one year into my mission, though not as complicated. I ended up deciding to serve a scrappy mission so I wouldnt destroy my social circles and just appear to be a decent missionary and keep my personal crap to myself. (I slept in, said I couldn’t tract because of anxiety, which was true, and found my companions vices and played against them so they would be lazier). Not the worlds best solution but it helped keep me under the radar until my time to go was up. Then when I came home I slowly started to creep out of the church on my own terms.

  15. I felt similarly around the year mark but I stayed and finished anyway, very much at the expense of my mental health. It was very common in my European mission to see other missionaries suffering from untreated depression and what I can only describe as mental breakdowns

    It is an extremely difficult position to be in because of the considerations for family and friends. This is further complicated by going to BYU. I am fortunate enough to have open-minded and loving parents and while I knew they would be disappointed I also knew that they wouldn’t make me feel bad whatsoever about it. Even so, the thought of embarrassing them or showing what I thought was weakness was too much to bear. This coupled with the fact that one of my best friends at BYU before the mission came home early from his mission and was told by BYU admissions that he effectively lost his spot at BYU and could not return. He instead attended UVU and thankfully had a successful education, but I was scared of losing my spot so to speak at BYU, especially after having worked so much to be accepted there when I was in High School.

    Despite knowing that my family would respect my decision I still felt like going home was not an option and day after day I worked and tried to make the time go by faster. I often felt depressed to the point of suicidal ideation. We had so many rules and restrictions as to what we could do during the day that I felt like I didn’t have any outlets for any of these feelings. The only sanctioned “fun” activities were sports activities, which I found no joy in whatsoever. I wanted to play an acoustic guitar at night to unwind and exercise a little creativity so I bought a used one from a thrift store. It felt really good to make music again, something I enjoyed before the mission, but within days our mission president banned all guitars from the missionaries and sent his assistants to collect them saying that they could be picked up at the mission home at the end of our respective missions. This was heartbreaking because I no longer had this outlet and in retrospect this was just one example out of many of how I felt I was being depersonalized and reprogrammed into somebody I didn’t recognize or like. The depression got so bad towards the end of my mission that it started manifesting itself with physical symptoms. Chronic headaches, stomach pains that lasted weeks, lack of sleep and appetite. I found it extremely difficult to pretend to be happy as we were expected to be. What made it worse was having to suffer in silence and “not make a fuss.” I was in contact with the Church’s psychiatrist (over the phone) and while he was very kind I wasn’t convinced he would be very helpful after his advice to me was to eat more meat (meat, according to him, would help me produce more serotonin in my brain.) He did not prescribe me with any medication, but at that point I wished he would have so I could have some relief and just feel calm again.

    I put up with these awful symptoms, finished my mission and returned to BYU. It was during my Church History classes that I came to the conclusion that the real, unfiltered history of the church left little to no room for any plausible deniability about its origins and my Mormon worldview quickly unraveled. I made the decision that I did not want to belong to the LDS church anymore (This was the last straw, as I already had major political differences with the LDS church over their discrimination of homosexuals.) I was very fortunate to have friends at BYU who were making similar decisions. Living with them made it much easier to focus on graduating, but I often felt at odds with the school itself. I had great professors, some of which were very knowledgeable and instrumental in my intellectual development, but I also had experiences with some conservative professors (and students) that made me wonder why I insisted on staying somewhere that I obviously didn’t fit in. It was a little similar to the mission because I felt that I might as well finish after having done and sacrificed so much already.

    It has been about nine years since I’ve been back from the mission and five years since I graduated from BYU. My mental health is much better. I contemplated telling this missionary that he or she should leave the mission as soon as possible for the sake of his or her mental health, but upon further reflection I can’t say for sure I would have done anything differently. It is truly a difficult position to be in and while I can’t offer much in terms of advice one way or the other, I hope hearing about my experience makes them feel a little less alone and a little more like a normal human being for feeling the way that they do.

  16. I spent my entire mission not accepting the truth claims. I ended up getting sent home early, two months before I would have gone home anyway, because I stood up to my mission president for being abusive to me. Despite my disbelief, I was obedient. I tried the positive approach of not believing and focusing on the good for ten years. I went to BYU, graduated, and didn’t believe the entire time. Sometimes the approach to focus on the good works, and sometimes it doesn’t. It’s a mixed bag, and it depends on who you are interacting with. It’s a very difficult path, because you feel you aren’t being true to yourself, and yet you have to put on a show or else you are committing social suicide. I had to go to BYU to have the preferred career I wanted. I couldn’t just leave. I honestly felt at the time that suicide would have been a better option. I found ways to be honest, like telling the bishops who gave me ecclesiastical endorsements things like “I’m struggling with my testimony” instead of, “I don’t believe.” (Mormon leadership and culture won’t shame you as much if you frame the crisis of faith in such a way that THEY believe you are just going through the refiner’s fire. If they think you are angry or on a path to sin, that’s when the shame gets piled on. You can frame it in a way that makes them your ally, but at the end of the day, they still won’t know the whole version of your identity).

    I grew up in a progressive/liberal Mormon family, and it was still excruciatingly difficult. It is likely far worse for binary/conservative TBMs that don’t allow for progressive interpretations of the theology.

    So, I see some value in taking the approach of focusing on the good, especially now, and slowly transitioning to letting your family and friends know the real version of your identity, but not long term. Long term, it doesn’t work. The mental health anguish is too much for most of us to endure.

    The real key, in my opinion, is to let this missionary know they have a tribe. That’s us. It’s great that John Dehlin is doing this. The biggest struggle I always had was the loneliness that comes with disbelief. It would have made a HUGE difference if I had a John Dehlin 20 years ago when I was on a mission. Anything we can do to let this missionary know that they aren’t alone is probably the best thing we can do.

    As for finding a positive way to finish the mission without going home early. I’d suggest the approach of focusing on the basics of what it means to stand for Jesus’s teachings. Find people that genuinely need help and comfort. Do so by focusing on the baptismal covenants found in Mosiah 18. Bear burdens with one another, comfort those that stand in comfort, and to mourn with those that mourn. I did this on my mission, and despite not believing it was mostly positive for me. You don’t even have to believe in a literal Jesus to do this.

    The negative part of my mission was just because my mission president was overzealous and didn’t like being challenged when I told him I didn’t break the mission rule he believed I broke. He then sent me home for it. Most mission presidents aren’t this bad, at least I hope not.

    I would be happy to talk to this missionary if it would help.

  17. Here’s my thoughts…

    1) I wish I left my mission early, despite any ramifications it may have born. Stuff will Catch up later in life… Being gay serving during Prop 8, I legitimately feared from my safety. The hypermasculine culture of my mission field left me in constant fear and “performance mode” as I’ll call it, being a former concert pianist. Likely you are straight, but the concerns you have are human. Don’t feel bad at all for doubting, questioning, or even rejecting.

    2) The reason why I decided to stay was because I felt things were “too late”. I felt that the covenants I held and promised were layers of nets, holding me back from what I needed to become as a human. And despite feeling the joy of dating a wonderful man, I still could feel the weight of those covenants and the guilt pulled me back to marry my wife of 7yrs. We are now getting a divorce since coming out to my family. As I said, things have a way of catching up to you.

    3) I know the fear well. At times, is palpable in your chest and that isn’t just anxiety. It’s genuine fear and terror. Do breathing exercises to help keep your cool. You’ll need it.

    4) make the hard decision! You will feel peace when you come to terms with it. Also, the mind is overloaded with “what if’s”. that gives so much grief and anxiety! Once you decide, you can start to make solid plans. It was June when I came out to my parents. Mom screamed so loud she lost her voice. Despite the drama, I have a much better sense of what to do. It’s not as confused by if-then scenarios.

    5) about integrity and dishonesty… perhaps it was mental gymnastics on my part, but even I realized I didn’t believe in the Church anymore after my mission, that didn’t mean it could still be a force for good in others lives. If they wanted to accept Joseph Smiths interpretations, they were welcome to do so. I saw my role as merely someone who introduces, and to model my newer ideas of what it meant to be a Christian. Yes, you are an LDS missionary, but you are also a believe in Christ. If not for the Church, then for him. That’s what I told myself. And I don’t think it was dishonest at all. Honesty actually isn’t white and black! That might shock people, especially missionaries and people who could call themselves “upholders”. But how many times do we know it better to keep things to ourselves? At least, for the time being?

    6) Will you be in any danger if you returned home? Try sending a message to your family about how someone left home suddenly and you are trying to understand it. Then ask what their thoughts are on it, asking for their advice to help you understand it better! you can use this as a sense of how your family may respond to your decision, if you decide to go home.

    7) School and returning home. The money given to the Church for missionary service is non-refundable. I had a few friends leave early so they could make the semester, and heard their families gripe about that. I’m not sure if that has changed in the years since they left however.

    For school, BYU has a variety of issues. A) I never believed that you should be graded academically on your religious knowledge and progress. B) dress codes are obtuse and dated. C) they didn’t even offer programs I was interested in. Then, you have to deal with the culture and the religious college component. Consider credit transfers. Not many will translate over to other schools, should you want to do anything beyond a Bachelors. For me, I know I’m smart. I taught myself calc so I could read engineering textbooks for fun. Despite that, My trade is tuning and restoring pianos. I love it and wouldn’t want it any other way.
    Life has a way of working out. That’s not to say your issues will go away. But I am saying that whatever you decide, you will adapt to live in the world to create. And your family will either have to adapt or not.

    8) I don’t think your family will love you any less. At first, you may see some horrible and unfair knee jerk reactions. My dad told me that coming out as gay was the worst day in his life and that he would never accept me and my life, or any “friends” that I would bring by. But despite all of that, he still loved me! I simply told him that his fear and confusion was “cute” and that I’ll leave the door open for when he decides to take back that comment a couple years later.” Obviously, he does love me. And, while he isn’t yet accepting, we can hold an hour long conversation without fixating on anything. If you decide to leave early, really visualize what it would look like to the top 5 people in your life. YOU, parents, mission president, siblings, and anyone you genuinely owe an explanation to.

    Consider what they would ask. Consider how to respond in every scenario they may introduce. For me, I secretly had a friend on standby in case things got violent when I came out. My family would never do such a thing, but you never know with such shocking news. Point is, be prepared.

    I wish the best for you and hope you find your way. Not just for your sake, but for those who care for and love you as well!

  18. For me personally, I ended up on a mission because it was the ‘done thing’. My Grandfather went, my dad went, my uncles did as well. It was expected that I went. I think this is very much the case for the missionary in question. Now I was a non-believer from the get-go, religion isn’t my thing. I definitely understood the positive aspects of religion. Lots of people benefit from that sort of thing, communities are built and most societies started out with it being the central focus. For me, I never felt it was true, and a lot of the negative parts of my life, I attribute it to this, forced adherence to the church. I was living every day as it was my last before being shipped off on a mission. I lasted about 8 months before leaving. For me, it was an easy process, in that I didn’t have to fight hard for a plane ticket home. But it wasn’t easy mentally, I faced quite a bit of criticism from my parents which was hard, and the agony itself of formulating that crucial email home was something special. Really, the hardest part about it is the unknown. Not knowing what was going to happen was the biggest issue for me. I didn’t know it was going to be okay, I definitely had tons of resources and stories but everyone’s lives are different. When I did get off that plane and saw my parents for the first time, it was bittersweet. In the back of my mind I knew I hadn’t done what they wanted, but they were happy to see their son safe and sound. Obviously I can’t fit everything in a single comment, but I hope that somewhere in here you can find the strength to make your decision, whether to tough it out or leave.

  19. Dear Missionary in faith crises mode,
    I second what Ryan stated above in point #8. I am a convert who served a mission less than 2 years after my baptism and experienced a number of mini-faith crises while serving in a third world country that was in the process of breaking out of illiteracy. From the very beginning I had real issues with the “Commitment Pattern” as both an “investigator“ and a missionary and knew the Book of Mormon, though inspired was not a literal history of the Native Peoples if the Americas.
    What saved me as a sister missionary is I was able to help implement the church’s literacy program in the areas where I served. I found when I focused on finding the beauty and value in each person I worked with the time went quickly. I kept my doubts to myself and studied the scriptures like my life depended on it, even though I didn’t believe they were literally true. I am grateful I was able to finish my mission at that time, though this was pre-internet…
    I don’t know what the opportunities for other types of service outside of proselyting are for you in your mission but find out. The trauma you are experiencing is real. Making time to breath slowly and count slowly often throughout the day could be beneficial. Find some object you can hold in your hand (a shell, a smooth stone, a large seed worked for me because I love nature- maybe a baseball, or anything you love and identify with) when you are falling to sleep, or studying. This could help ground you, and help you think more clearly how to find a way forward. If you enjoy exercise find a way to make that part of your daily routine and claim you need it for spiritual strength. It must feel like you have been run over by a semi-truck spiritually. I have been in this place too. Chose carefully who to confide in, if anyone. Your privacy is a treasure , guard it. Protect yourself through sharing minimally. Journal what you can not say aloud. Plan something healthy to eat everyday, at least one meal where you can have control. Hang on as long as you can and find a confidant. You will find a path forward with time.
    I now have a child attending a BYU in faith crises so this very close to my heart. Reconstruction of belief according to your own understanding takes place after deconstruction has blown everything up. Right now you’re in the borderland where landmines surround you. It is a lonely and dangerous, but a narrow strip of land. Finding an experienced guide to get you through there will benefit you mentally and spiritually.
    Stay in the mission or don’t. Just take time to make your decisions. Self-determine when and where you will take action and do so with confidence. Cherish your safety. My prayers are with you.
    L.

  20. The question no one seems to be asking is, “If a church shuns and damns its own people for asking honest questions, why is it worth belonging to, much less defending?”

    I served a mission decades before you were born, and it cracked my perfect faith. I stuck it out so as not to disgrace my family and I finished an “honorable” mission, but in the end (and again, this was decades later) I just couldn’t keep faking it. By which I mean, I couldn’t keep attending church and teaching church-approved lessons in my ward callings. By then I wouldn’t accept any calling but teaching (because I thought I could maintain some control over what I preached to others) but when even that became impractical, I resigned my calling and simply stopped going to church. I haven’t asked to have my membership removed, nor have I made a blanket announcement that I no longer consider myself a Mormon (nor have I led apostate rebellions, so I’ve done nothing worthy of excommunication) so some of my friends and family don’t know my feelings and I don’t tell them unless they ask. (If they ask, I tell them the truth.) Note: I do not live day in and day out with people who give a fig about my personal beliefs, so that helps. Not everyone has that luxury. On a mission you certainly don’t!

    What it comes down to is whether you value your sanity (and maybe your very life) more than you value your family’s feelings. Some people literally would rather die than disappoint their family. Hence the high suicide rate in Utah. Others find ways to stay in the church and help people from the inside. Others decide they just can’t, and they leave and damn the consequences. But yes, the consequences are brutal. So very much depends on what kind of people your family are, as well as your church leaders. You’ve heard of “leadership roulette”? It’s real.

    In my own life, I keep coming back to the fact that Jesus didn’t shun sinners; the only people Jesus shunned were the hypocrites. And then I wonder if I qualify as a hypocrite because I *haven’t* officially resigned my membership, but at present I feel honest and free and mentally healthy. Whatever you decide, you need to know that living a lie WILL drive you insane over time. Therefore I cannot recommend it.

    PS: The people who will be the most furious at you will be the ones who have the most doubts themselves. Bear that in mind.

  21. My faith crisis started on my mission, over ten years ago. It was very confusing, I had always been faithful and obedient, and this was the last thing I ever expected to happen on my mission. Because I loved the church so much prior to this, and it was the foundation for my life and identity, I was very scared to admit to myself or anyone else on my mission or at home that I was doubting and losing my faith in the gospel doctrines/the “one true church.” This led to increasing anxiety that became a problem to the point that I went home 4 months early.

    It’s great that this missionary is reaching out for support. If a missionary experiencing a faith crisis has the strength of mind/emotional maturity/internal resources available to him that prevent him from having a total mental breakdown, if he wants to continue his mission and can do so with without going crazy inside from all the doubt/loss of faith and not being able to talk openly about it, then staying seems like a fine option. It might be totally doable for him to stay and allow the discomfort to be there of no longer believing all the doctrines but still find meaning and purpose for staying and serving in a way that feels honest and authentic. If he can be patient and give himself more time in the field to continue reflecting on his concerns & changed views and he can continue loving people in his missionary role, and if staying makes sense to him and feels fulfilling, then great. But if the faith crisis becomes too much to handle mentally and emotionally or if he’s not able to be honest and authentic, or if staying just doesn’t feel right any more, then I think going home early would be fine, a healthy and wise option, he will be fine, and it could be a wonderful opportunity.

    When I went home 4 months early, people/friends/family accepted my explanation that it was due to illness (it didn’t seem necessary to share all the details of my anxiety issues with everyone, but anxiety definitely began impairing my ability to function!), and people did not prod for more details. I was not yet ready to talk about it, I was so confused, and also I didn’t know WHO to talk to regarding my doubts and concerns about the church, verbalizing my thoughts to people in the church didn’t feel safe. And I didn’t know any ex-LDS people at the time. Life went on and I was not branded by anyone in the church as a failure or a disappointment for returning early. And if people did judge me, I wasn’t aware or didn’t care — I knew it was important to take care of me and figure out what was going on inside me. One of the first things I did when I got home was find a good therapist.

    There are lots of resources available now to help the missionary transition well if he returns home early due to a faith crisis, which he is already wisely taking advantage of. Returning early may be challenging, as there will be a lot for him to continue processing and for his loved ones to process as well, but it could be a wonderful opportunity. He will for sure continue to grow and find greater meaning and purpose in his life as he is honest with himself, continues to seek answers and understanding, and faces any fears, in his own way and time, as I and many have done when faced with our own crisis of faith.

    I think it’s useful to remember that “Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing,” as Helen Keller said. He can see this faith crisis as a great adventure and let the love inside him make his decisions, rather than fear. And when struggling with difficult emotions that surface when letting go of or modifying your former worldview, I think it’s helpful to remember: “You’re okay, even when you’re not.” 🙂

    1. Re: relying on Love rather than Fear — Pema Chodron’s book, “When Things Fall Apart,” has some great advice — she shows that “moving toward painful situations and becoming intimate with them can open up our hearts in ways we never before imagined.” You can transform the pain of this faith crisis, which may include a change in your life’s immediate & long-term trajectory, into something very beautiful and joyful. Of course, you probably can’t get a hold of the book until you’re home from your mission 🙂 Keep asking questions. May you be well, and may you not be separated from the joy of serving and loving others, now and in the future. Take care of you as you take care of others. The world benefits from your love, honesty, joyful effort, and wisdom. Much good will come from all of this.

  22. https://youtu.be/dBFpvHO-Do8

    Wanted to share our experience with rescuing our son from his mission in Peru. He wanted to come home but was not allowed. They held him against his will, forced him to medicate, which caused my son so much pain he cut himself every day the last week of his mission. I truly believe had I not intervened he would be dead. But, together we finally got him home. This is a tiny bit of our story. If it can help one person find foursge to stand up for themselves, it was worth it. My son is married now, and happy once again.

  23. Can this person get themselves sent home for depression/mental health issues? I feel like that might not be hard to do, since many of the symptoms are self-reported, such as a feeling of hopelessness, sadness, etc. This wouldn’t be totally dishonest as the depression that many LDS people feel is connected to and a natural consequence of a faith crisis and the cognitive dissonance that it creates.

  24. What you are going through is terrifying in so many ways. It is disorienting. It can feel huge and dire. It can feel like threat to your future and to relationships. It can feel like the end of the world. It can make you feel so very alone. The truth is, what you have seen and realized has and will change things. And it’s true, some of that is not within your control, now. Regardless of what you do next, there will be some truly difficult things to figure out and to experience. But there will also be great opportunity and things so fulfilling, beautiful and new, that you can’t even imagine them yet.

    All of the worries, details, repercussions, and risks that you are currently swimming in are very important. But there are other things that are important too, and that can make a huge difference in fostering your health, happiness, and growth ahead.

    First, love. It’s likely that you’ve experienced, and been taught, several forms of counterfeit love. Do not sacrifice your safety, health, identity, or true beliefs to another in the name of love. That is not love. You know it’s not because you would never expect a person you love to sacrifice those things for you. When you love a person, you want them to be free, to be true to the things they believe are right. You cheer for their growth. You don’t coerce them, manipulate them, or guilt them into conforming to you or another. It is good to recognize that love includes a boundary that does not let others do those things to you. That boundary is not selfish. It’s not unkind. In fact, it is necessary for real love. Love others by not letting them do to you what you would never do to them. You may not have considered that as being a part of love. I hope you will now.

    Second, take one step at a time clinging to the people who genuinely love you. Just face the questions and decisions that are immediate, and make your decisions, the best you can, based on what you truly think and believe. Nobody else gets to tell you what to choose but your own mind and your own conscience. Cherish and surround yourself with the people who love you because you do. As you face just the most immediate problems, your situation will change. Some of the things you are worried about now will no longer be relevant or important. You’ll work on it, things will change, you’ll adapt and work some more, it will change again, and soon, you’ll be in a bright place where that list of worries will seem much smaller and much more manageable. One step at a time.

    Like you, my realization that the world was not what I had been taught, and that I was not who I had been told I was, also began on my LDS mission. I returned early by means of a medical lie. But I did not do what I have recommended to you above. I put on a blind-fold, plugged my ears and hummed. I wasted 20 years needlessly whipping myself, letting others ‘love’ me and ‘loving’ them by denying my own conscience, allowing them to mistreat and control me, telling myself that, somehow, the lie was a truth, the anguish was comfort, the longing was sin, and the doubt was weakness. I demoted myself to the role of drone. I let the fear of all the possible difficulties and loss convince me that I didn’t deserve to exist, except as what outside forces demanded I be. I hope you won’t do that. You get to see what you have seen, think what you want to think, and lovingly be who you are. You get to trust yourself. The difficulty, scariness, pain, and work that you will go through to be true to yourself are so worth it! Some will treat you horribly for it. But there are just as many of us who will genuinely love and support you. May your victory in releasing the you that you want to be come swiftly!

  25. To this missionary:

    I was a missionary for 6 months in the late 1970s. I left early and came home. My family was disappointed but still loved and supported me. The church abandoned me.

    My reason for coming home was basically the same as yours. I was reading the Book of Mormon one night, when a voice in my head said very clearly, “How can you teach this stuff if you think it’s all bulls&$t?”

    Buckling down and slapping that voice back into the darkness of my mind, I went on trying to study my way out of it. But the voice kept coming back.

    Finally I resolved that I would leave. I called the mission president and told him I was going home. His response was to send the zone leaders to see me and pressure me to stay, with vague threats on how I would become a drug addict, no one would ever love me, and I would never make anything of myself as a failed missionary.

    After all that I called the president back. I told him I was still leaving, and that we could either do this my way, which would be to just walk out, or his way. He reluctantly agreed to release me.

    After all that, let me get to some of your questions.

    Yes, your parents will be required to pay your way home. I’m not sure if they will be required to keep paying your mission fees for the full tow years as that was way before my time.

    Yes, it probably will break their hearts. But in the end, my friend, you must be true to yourself. You will be judged by friends, family, church leaders. Don’t forget – you can make new friends. You can also keep friends. It all depends on the person.

    Yes, your life foundation is crumbling. But a new foundation is being built right after the crumbling part. Embrace the new. Let go of the old.

    Blowing everything up? Listen, that’s a good thing. The path you’re on can be very destructive and limiting. Coming home, marrying a girl in 2 months, and immediately having 5 kids. Talk about limiting. Instead, you say you don’t have a plan. I’d bet you really do. Something you’ve always wanted to try doing. You are in the prime of your life right now. Experiment with several life paths. But make sure they are viable and productive. Don’t start drinking heavy. Don’t fall into multiple sexual partners. Do try a career path you’ve always wanted to do. Join a club. Learn a new skill. Try a new hobby. It’s your life. It’s not your parent’s life. If they are ashamed of you, that is their problem. Not yours.

    If you’re worried that it will always be a black mark on your church records, here’s my experience. I obtained my church records right before I resigned, and right there in black and white it said that I served an honorable mission, with no mention of coming home early. Eventually, it won’t matter.

    My advice about telling your president? Don’t tell him how you feel. Just tell him you have decided to leave early. Do like I did and tell him there are two ways to do this. The right way and the wrong way. The right way is he sends you home. The wrong way is for you to get on a plane/bus without telling anyone. Ask him which he would prefer. But don’t get into a philosophical discussion with him or the zone leaders, that’s an argument you can’t win. Give him a deadline. If they try to stop you, call the police. If you’re in a foreign country, call the USA embassy and tell them that your passport was taken from you and it is being withheld. That you need help leaving the country.

    Let me tell you about myself and how I turned out. I’m in my early 60s, and living in southern Utah within the shadow of the temple. Yes, I’ve had some rough patches. But it all turned out good in the end. I’m retired, having had several careers in things I loved, including a radio and TV personality, a computer designer and programmer and a two-way radio salesman. I’m an avid amateur radio operator and absolutely love the old technology, although the new holds massive interest for me. I live with my partner, two massive dogs, and four neurotic cats. And life couldn’t be better.

    I wish you the best. And if you ever find yourself in Southern Utah, I’ll be happy to buy you a cup of coffee or a soft drink. I would enjoy meeting you.

  26. I have so many thoughts here. The problem with going to BYU is that it locks you into either lying your ass off or risking your future on the chance of consistently getting cool bishops. BYU isn’t worth it if you are starting with a faith crisis.
    As for having a faith crisis on your mission, that is where my shelf began to crack. It’s tough when you are assigned a believer who is instructed to tell on you if he sees you straying too far outside of the prescribed path.
    My advice, rip the bandage off now. There is no reason to sacrifice another year of your life being behind when you are going to deal with the fallout either way.

  27. This was me in 1995. I stayed in my mission out of desperation, I felt there were no other options available to me. The world was a much smaller place in the 90’s. I was suicidal, severely depressed, and a “bad companion”. I never passed the requirements to advance beyond a junior companion, even though I knew the scriptures and lessons better than most my companions. I still feel bad for what I put some of my companions through. They took the brunt of my depression and bad attitude. They were good kids, just trying their best with a different faith perspective than me. My mission president finally put in in the office as the fleet manager, where I stayed for the last 8 months of my mission. It might have saved my life at that point. 25 years later, and I still experience PTSD type episodes from that period of my life. (I served in the states, for reference.)

  28. I can only speak from my own personal experiences, but here are my thoughts:

    My mission caused serious hurt while I was in the midst of my faith crisis. I strongly feel that a Mormon mission creates a uniquely challenging environment where it is almost impossible to survive, let alone thrive, when undergoing such an enormous paradigm shift. It’s not worth placing yourself in that kind of mental jail/personal hell.

    Lots of these comments are telling you to take your time with this decision about coming home early. If you are in an okay mental state, sure, do that. But if you are suffering, please come home.

    I tried focusing on service, teaching about love and kindness, and learning about the culture of the area I was living in. It makes the situation bearable for a while. Depending on the attitude of your mission president, the mission culture he’s created, and your current companion, it won’t be sustainable— especially for another year. It was exhausting trying to testify of the very few things I was “certain” of. It’s not easy dodging Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, Priesthood Authority, etc… Afterall, you are a MORMON missionary serving a MORMON mission. And trying to testify of things you don’t believe in is damaging to your psyche, especially if this is a consistent practice long term.

    Your life is going to change drastically if you decide to come home from your mission early. People will treat you differently (this was way more difficult than I could have ever imagined). But it also shows you who the real ones are. I came home early with a medical release (anxiety/depression/suicidal thoughts) and didn’t disclose my faith crisis. I recommend trying to do the same because you don’t have to deal with the other garbage that comes from not being released “honorably.” And you and a therapist can figure out things without an ecclesiastical leader doing more damage.

    I tried staying in the church for another year after coming home, but it didn’t work for me.

    This is SO HARD. My heart hurts for you.

  29. I agree. Come home!

    Seriously, examine why you no longer believe. Search the internet to find why Smith, a man of sorrows, was charged with treason in Missouri, 1938. Study the 2 parts of the plan of salvation. I love Eze. 37 allowing a resurrected house of Israel on Joseph’s stick to come forth in our day! What will they do? Perhaps, fulfill the parable of the Vineyard? Know for yourself. Google phrases to help give understanding and you decide what to believe as you are now doing. Who knows what wonderful things God has planned for you with your ability to ponder ideas and concepts.

    I used to listen to Bishop Earl Erskine and how he dealt with this same problem. He may help during this period in one’s life.

  30. I came home early. Only member of the church in my family. My dad is a preacher in a different church. He clashed to often with my mission president. He came and packed my stuff and took me home. I had my exit interview in a different country, different language than I left. I lived in Vienna before my mission and in The Netherlands for a few months after my mission.
    I was treated differently by a lot of members and friends and the same by some members and friends.

    If you loose your faith: go and leave. Because living undercover at one of the church owned universities will cause more anxiety and stress and psychological problems. It’s a hard decision to make. But leave with a sharp and clean cut. It will hurt people’s feelings. You might loose friends and family, but your mental health is worth it.

    One of my investigators said I could come back after I had a testimony in my heart. I’ve never been back. You can not testify of those things you don’t have a testimony of. Unless you are prepared to lie, live the lie and than after your mission be a stumbling block for your former investigators who’s faith may be wavering for whatever reason. They may feel they have been lied to and experience feelings of being deceived. For your investigators now and in the future: just don’t lie to them. Be honest about your doubts and only teach what you do believe and can testify of.
    Answer this: are you prepared to lie and are you capable of living with your lies or are they going to crush you one day in the future?

  31. LDS Man (who started NOM years (decades? has it really been that long???) ago) said the first rule is GO SLOW. Go slo-o-o-o-o-o-w-w-w. Do not take any steps or make decisions that you can’t walk back until you are certain it is the right thing. Until he is certain that going home early is the right choice, find a holding pattern focus mission activities on service, strengthening families and knowing God.

    My son recently started his mission and is very unorthodox in his beliefs. The church very MUCH needs these kinds of missionaries. I know it comes at great cost, but he can make a mission work, he is doing a marvelous work and a wonder. These missionaries are laying the groundwork for the changes we hope to see in the church.

  32. I went by and answered each question. I know it’s long but I hope it helps. I wrote it as if I was directly speaking to your friend.

    Reasons to stay

    -They believe the church is “good” overall, even if it isn’t true……

    I remember having this mentality while I was on my mission. Looking back, it was more of an excuse I told myself to get me to stay instead of an actual reason. In reality, there’s good and bad to the church and both should be acknowledged. Just because there’s good that come from the church doesn’t mean you need to dedicate your life to it.

    -They do not want to disappoint their family and break their parents hearts.

    Yes. This was a really difficult thing for me too. I was so nervous how they would see me if I told them I dont believe in their church anymore….. and some people take it so personally. I was very fortunate to have some understanding parents. When my mission president told me he is finally sending me home only 10 days early, I immediately called my parents. They told me they are proud of me for coming home MY right way. It was such a relief. I know not all parents are going to be this understanding, but others will see that you have done your best and you are being honest with yourself and they will admire that. Maybe that realization won’t come for a while, maybe it won’t come from your parents, but true peace comes from within. Don’t sacrifice your happiness for their approval, it’s not worth it.
    Unfortunately, (and fortunately) I lost friends. I have family who have low opinions on me for leaving the church on my mission. The chances are, you would too. I found a lot of comfort in the quote from Winston Churchill ” You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.” There was a point on my mission when I decided to just be real with myself, and ignore the judgment I would receive from others….. the most important opinion of yourself is your own! If people get mad its because you project a part of themselves that they will resent you for. It’s hard, but don’t take it personally. If your parents have unconditional love for you, they will be understanding.

    -Will their parents face a financial penalty if they come home early?

    It really depends how early, in some situations the church will ask your parents to pay for the flight home. But I have never heard of some sort of fine for getting sent home. My mission president was so excited to get rid of me he paid out of his own pocket for my ticket haha! The church sent my family bills for therapy they told me to go to and they would pay for….. I called the mission up immediately and stood my ground that they need to pay for it. They finally did. 
     In a lot of situations you could be saving you and your family money because it costs what? $500 a month for you to be out there? In the end. If it’s a money thing, I know plenty of people willing to help pay for plane tickets home…. the exmo community is really tight and I had a bunch of offers at the end of my mission haha! Dont stay on a mission where it costs you and your family money every month and you work tirelessly as a volunteer because of money…. that makes no sense.

    Will they be judged/shamed by family, friends, ward, community, and future dates if they come home early?

    Most likely. It’s sad but true. 
    “May we ever choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong.” -Thomas S Monson.
    Now that I’ve been home for a year, I have made some incredible, genuine and loving friends who dont love me for my beliefs but instead for who I am. People come and go all the time, dont torture yourself because of the shallow opinion of your peers. 

    -Will I jeopardize going to BYU?

    I have the lowest opinion of BYU to be honest. That school is more like a dictatorship. I have friends who go there but aren’t sure about the church and have to miserably fake their way through it because the school is impossible to work with, and punishes anyone who doesn’t comply to their insane standards. Free thought there is hard to come by. You have to take all the church classes. Once my friends realize they can’t take it anymore and try to switch to another the school refuses to give them credits. Not to mention having to deal with all the judgmental students that would surround your whole life. Think about it, your education, your social/dating life, what you wear, what you say, what you do on and off campus is all going to be effected and if your not believing the church it’s probably going to be a pretty miserable way to spend what should be the best time of your life….. However, if your set on going I would just call the school and ask them what they think, it could be something to consider before going home. I’m sure with the amount of people that don’t serve a full mission for various reasons they would be accommodating.

    -What about my whole life foundation being crumbled and I “blow everything up” at such an early stage without a plan?

    I know it’s so scary…. this was the biggest thing that gave me the most anxiety. Its walking right into the abyss. Dont be afraid of the unknown. The heard will bring you no where, you need to make your own future. You need to be the architect of your own life. Confinments only protects you from gods power, I recommend you Embrace God’s power! You can’t live your life in a cage. You’ll make mistakes, you will get hurt, but you will learn. I know it’s scary, but it’s also exciteing! Think about it…. your free!
    When I finally came to the conclusion I didn’t believe the church it was the most liberating experience, like a weight lifted, and I can honestly say the best thing I’ve done. I finally feel like I have my own identity, and finding that has been an incredible experience. Dont be afraid of yourself. 
    I love the poem at the end of the CES letter.

    “As a child, it seemed so simple;
    Every step was clearly marked.
    P r i e s t h o o d , m i s s i o n , s w e e t h e a r t , t e m p l e ;
    Bright with hope I soon embarked.
    But now I have become a man,
    And doubt the promise of the plan.
    For the path is growing steeper,
    And a slip could mean my death.
    Plunging upward, ever deeper,
    I can barely catch my breath.
    Oh, where within this untamed wild
    Is the star that led me as a child?
    As I crest the shadowed mountain,
    I embrace the endless sky;
    The expanse of heaven’s fountain
    Now unfolds before my eye.
    A thousand stars shine on the land,
    The chart drafted by my own hand.
    – THE JOURNEY – ”

    Before I was sent home I made a list of things I was going to try and going to do for me. This list includes the jobs I wanted to seek out, the kind if person I wanted to date, I remember putting down Wine because It was something I ALWAYS wanted to try but was sad I would never sin like that. I also put down things I wasnt ever going to do, like drugs. Having that reminded me that I still had standards and goals even if I’m not in the church. YOUR STILL A GOOD PERSON! Remember that. The way I see it, I tried everything I could to figure out if the church was true. If God was going to punish me without giving me the complete reassurance  I need of the church, that isn’t a God I want to worship anyways.
    I reccomend keeping your eye out for role middles and start thinking about the kind of people you want to be like. Set goals, make plans. It’s what you’ve been doing for the last year isn’t it?

    Reasons to leave

    -Can I last another year or so as a mormon missionary if I dont believe in what I’m teaching?

    At about 6 months I started feeling this horrible feeling everytime I put on my name tag. I would choke on my words trying to bear my testimony. It only got more and more difficult. I felt like a fraud. So I slowly stopped doing the things I didn’t feel right about. Companions struggled with me because they felt threatened that I dont believe in the thing they do. They couldn’t trust or rely on me in lessons. But I felt better about what I was doing. I wouldn’t lie, because I needed to be true to myself. Meanwhile I was begging my president to send me home and he wouldn’t for whatever reason and I would bend to his wishes. He started putting me in trio’s and that was fun! I could relax and be quiet while they did their thing. It worked great but eventually I realized I was waisting my time and just counting the days. I got to read a lot and learned a lot about myself in this time. I’m actually glad i had that time to myself to collect my thoughts. I was the worst companion though! They loved and hated me. I was the fun one but I was also disobedient and didn’t help with “the work” because I didn’t care about the rules and the mission anymore. You have to be honest with yourself and I highly recommend you be honest with your companions and mission president. They might try to work with you and be understanding.

    Can you be an effective missionary without being dishonest to companions, investigators, members, and mission president? 

    No. I tried. They would all try to convince me it’s possible, but it isn’t. I hurt one of my most dearest companions because she felt alone in her beliefs. We loved each other but she bacame really uneasy about everything. She couldn’t trust me in lessons, on splits, with anything really….. why? Because she was carrying the entire point of the mission on her back and all I was doing was coasting. She questioned her testimony too and became so exhausted being the only one who could talk about the church in a way that wasnt purely objective. You will see that when you start to voice your concerns and disbelief in the church, those around you will question it too (even if they dont show it at all). I felt horrible, It was like if I didn’t fake it, it took its toll on everyone around me. That made me feel like scum.

    Can you maintain your integrity and stay on the mission by bearing your testimony of only the things you do believe in and not the the things you dont?

    I did this for the last 8 months of my mission. It’s possible…. difficult, awkward, disheartening and confusing… but possible. My integrity came before my insecurity. I would read job a lot because he maintained his integrity when everyone was telling him otherwise. It gave me strength and comfort. Everyone hated how unreliable I was and I hated it too. Its not like I would say the wrong things, but I just couldn’t say their “right” things. 

    In my last zone conference my testimony to give to my whole mission went something like “I struggle with my testimony of the church but I know about love and charity” then I quoted galatians 6:2 and walked off the stage. After an upbrupt amen. My mission president was irritated, it was awkward but I felt peace about it. When you go about your mission like this, everyone will acknowledge your authenticity and that’s worth something.

    How do you stay motivated as a non believer?

    Hahahahahhahahhaha. Yeah. I can’t tell you because I dont know. At the end of my mission my president told my companions and I that we are just going to have to do a bunch of service because otherwise it was too difficult for any of us to want to get out and find investigators. So we filled up our callander with service and hardly did any teaching. Service was the only time I felt fulfilled, and the only time my companions relaxed with what I would say/do. 

    Will BYU be a safe place for them as a non believer? 

    Like I said before, if you do decide to go it will probably be a really miserable experience. I highly suggest considering other options. You can even take some time to yourself to decide, you dont have to jump the gun and sign up for byu immediately after the mission. Take some time to figure yourself out and see if that’s something you really want, things will be very different when your home. You will be in a completely new place mentally, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Try not to lock yourself into a decision you made when you were a different person.

    Will it be emotionally damaging to hide/pretend regarding their true beliefs about the church for several more years? Is it dishonest? 

    Yes. Its lying to the most important person you should never lie to, yourself. And God if you think about it and still believe in a god. I spent a solid 6 months of my mission faking it as best I can. It was by far the worst time on my mission ever. I cried a lot, I lacked motivation. I prayed my heart out hoping for something but knowing it wouldn’t happen. I was lonely, anxious and sad. I felt like a fraud. It was pretty bad. I hated who I was and it was so lonely. The churches therapy program didn’t help. It made it worse by gaslighting me and telling me it was all in my head and due to my OCD. Really it was just because of cognitive dissonance, super normal but super hard to just ignore.

    I had this feeling of anxiety and doom constantly in my stomach and looking back I think it was my head and my physical body trying to tell me to deal with it instead of ignoring it. 

    Dont be a hypocrite. You will hate yourself. I sure did until I stopped.

    Does the church even want people like this to be missionaries/at BYU?

    Nope. They hate opposition. I dont care what they say. It’s either they are right or you are wrong haha. Honestly, I’m proud of every second of my mission and I’m glad i did it!  And you will be too no matter how long you stay out. But really…. It would have saved everyone a lot of heartache, pain, money and time if I just went home the first time I asked. I will also say that I made one of my best friends in the world at the end of mymission! We still chat regularly on ththe phone and see each other every few months. For that alone I’m glad I stayed out as long as I did. Just something to consider. 

    Other questions:

    Do they come out to their parents now even if it could break their hearts? Or is it better to keep it to themselves?

    Beautiful question. This is one thing I learned the hard way, you have to be tactful. I think the best way to tell someone this is slowly, and bit by bit. Lime planting seeds. I would start by saying that you are struggling with your testimony of the church and dont think a mission is the best place for someone who is unsure about it. Dont say more than you have to. Eventually they will see that you dont believe through your actions and they will likely respect you if you respect them. The thing to remember is your an adult and what you believe isnt their business. A lot of my family dont know for sure that I dont go to church anymore but looking at my clothing and piercings they have probably guessed. And I prefer it that way. You don’t owe them your soul. 

     I’ll humor my family by reading the book of mormon from time to time and participating in prayers, and showing up at church stuff every now and then. It’s way more relaxing to me now. I do this because it’s important to them and I love them and it makes them happy. I also make it clear when they are crossing lines and boundaries. Be gentle, because unfortunately people take it too personally. If you tell them everything your thinking and going through all at once they might feel defensive and hurt because it’s what they believe. Answer questions simply and honestly. If you need someone to talk to, the exmormon community is huge! I didn’t realize how big it was until I was home but I have so many new amazing friends/supporters and I’m always two clicks away from talking to someone about my frustrations/feelings when I need to. 

    Do you open up to your mission president about your faith crisis? Or will that introduce risk/harm or jeopardize future plans? 

    Well, the short answer is yes. But how you should fo this I think it depends on what you want and your mission president. Do you want him to convince you to stay? Do you want him to put you in a trio to make it easier? Be clear to him about exactly what you want and be stick to your guns! Dont ve difficult but dont let him bully you like I did… 

    For me, my mission president was a jerk. He didn’t care so much about us, only results. So he definitely tried to get me to stay in any way he could. He was pretty manipulating and looking back I wish I wouldn’t have caved so easy and stood my ground about wanting to go home. I wanted to leave but I ended up staying for 18 months because he kept convincing me through guilt trips, gas lighting, ignoring me, threats and eventually had be do therapy and take prozac. 

    If you definetly want to go home and you tell him this. I’m going to warn you….. there will be firewall after firewall that he will put in front of you. He likely will guilt you, gaslight you all of it. It’s just their nature. Eventually I just became so disobediant (normal human stuff but naughty missionary robot stuff) that he sent me home 10 days early (probably just to say one last screw you)

    Is there a good way to come home early but to do so in a way that minimizes the risk of disruptions? Could they claim they have anxiety/depression?

    You could. People will be judgmental no matter what. I just owned it. I told people bluntly that I lost my testimony on my mission so I went home. I think it throws people off but most people are understanding that people have faith crisis. And I even get a few who give me admiration for honoring my integrity. I was still kind and sweet to everyone and tried my best to keep a brave face knowing that their disappointed in me. So many people come home early these days they probably wont think too much of it. In a few months people wont even remember. Those months will turn into years. It’s not the end of the world to go home early, in fact I would say its only the beginning. Do what you think is best. 

    Its tough. I wont lie. But I promise you that will get easier. The mission is a unique kind of hell that you love and hate every day. The church is wonderful and its not. Your mission is still valid, and valuable no matter what you do. Think of the people who youve impacted in positive ways.
    The second I decided to be authentic and maintain my integrity, it got easier, the second I was put in a trio it got easier the moment I  got on that plane home it got wayyyyy easier. If you decide to stay or not, it really wont matter that much in the long run. Do what you need to do for yourself. Do what will make you the most happy and feels right. Trust your insticts! Dont let others tell you what to do or how to feel.
    Your family will get over it, people will forget it. There’s a whole army of supporters online who can’t wait to hear your story! Honestly your family would probably be happy to have you home, they love you after all! You’re friends too. Think optomisticly. Whenever you come home hit me up! In the meantime feel free to contact me a.shay.hug@gmail.com

  33. Find the best path and take it. Having served from 2012-2013 I lost my faith on my mission, life was very difficult. Nothing made sense, I didn’t want to be in the field. So I decided to come home a year early. Making that decision won’t be easy. Im not going to tell you to go or stay. Positives will come from both decisions. If you decide to come home it will be challenging. Nobody needs to know why you are coming home. Deciding to serve a mission is a personal choice, as is coming home. That being said, I would find someone to talk to about your mental health and about your faith crisis. It could be a family member, mission president, a friend, or even a professional therapist or counselor. On my mission I was able to seek professional help and it got me through until I made the decision to come home.
    If you come home early its possible you would disappoint your family. They should respect your decision no matter what. It isn’t an easy one. Tread lightly and tell them of your faith crisis when you think it’s time.
    When I came home I defiantly felt a lot of judgment and contempt but I was surprised how many people were just excited to see me. If you come home focus on the people that are positive and happy to see you.
    BYU is a good school. Just because you may not believe in the truth claims doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go. Be proud you got into BYU. It will be like attending any other school. You may not agree with everything but getting an education is more important.
    Everything you’ve known to be true isn’t. Of course you feel shattered I did. You are young and have plenty of time for plan B or plan C. Don’t worry so much about it, everything will be ok and work out.
    If you decide to stay, help people in other ways. Be their friend, encourage them to attend their church. If possible go with them. I did this and it was an amazing experience. I am still in contact with people from my mission. They know about my faith crisis and they just love and respect me more for it.
    Its hard to internalize a faith crisis. I don’t recommend it. As I stated earlier seek help from others who you love and trust. Professional help was important for me. Remember its a long process. The more people to talk to the better. Reaching out to John was a super awesome choice. Keep it up.
    Having had a faith crisis on my mission I somewhat understand what you are going through, your fears are real. I came home early and I don’t regret it. The decision I made to come home worked out for me. I was able to reconnect with friends who were having the same issues. I found my wife. I wouldn’t have if I decided to stay. My last advice is to trust your instincts. Do what you feel is right. In the moment it may seem dark and lonely. Look at all these responses we all have your back and support you. Focus on the positives and you’ll find there are more positives than negatives. Feel free to contact me at anytime.
    -Thomas Godfrey
    azcards_94@outlook.com

  34. I served in Los Angeles from Jan 2000 to Jan 2002, I was part of the first wave after the Y2K scare. I was always very spiritually minded and orthodox, was the president of every quorum I was in, which isn’t to brag, more just to highlight that I believed and was obedient, and deeply internalized Mormonism.
    Between my own tendencies towards guilt and a mission environment that heavily tied success to obedience, I started to experience a lot of anxiety and guilt, and I know other missionaries did as well. About 8 months in I started to really apply myself to learning the scriptures, discussions, etc. We had a certification program, where reading through the standard works, missionary library, along with memorizing the discussions allowed us to get certified as bronze, silver, gold, or second mile. Part of second mile certification meant reading the entire standard works, Genesis through POGP. At this point I had read the entire Book of Mormon 6 or 7 times , but had never really been familiar with the Bible.
    The Old Testament was terrifying, and obviously did nothing to assuage my already guilty conscience. But when I got to the New Testament, and read Paul exclaim “O wretched man that I am”, it was kind of a record scratch moment. Nephi shouldn’t be quoting Paul, nor Paul Nephi, and it was the first time I faced what felt like solid evidence that gold plates might not be the best explanation for the Book of Mormon. I continued to find more and more clear passages from the NT in the BOM, and the prospect of the church not being true when you’re a devoted missionary is terrifying. I went on to read Lectures on Faith, which gave a completely different definition of God then I was used to (God is a spirit, Jesus has a body, the Holy Ghost is just their shared mind, not really a personage), and kept finding more and more inconsistencies.
    I started getting panic attacks, at times got physically ill, lost weight, and the tools I had to process a faith crisis were terrible. Epistemologically I was taught that what made me feel good was true, what made me feel bad was of the devil, and I felt terrible all the time. I was trying to understand what I was going through with an orthodox, religious lens, and the only conclusion I could reach was that God was very unhappy with me. Without anyone or resources outside of an orthodox framework to guide me, it was easy to miscast dissonance as unworthiness and spiritual injury.
    I talked to my mission president about some of it, probably didn’t articulate it well, and was sent to church approved avenues of support. There was a senior missionary who had been a counselor, I was sent to a church approved psychologist, and after my mission went to LDS Services approved counselors. They were, to an individual, wonderful, caring people, but the idea that the church might be a major contributor to my issues, or that it might not be true, were completely off the table. At no point did I see a professional where there was any possibility of seeing the role religion was playing in my emotional distress.
    There was nothing but levels of reinforcement and insulation that assured me that there was nothing wrong with the gospel, there must be something wrong with me. This was before social media, the “bloggernacle”, podcasts, and I wasn’t allowed access to electronic devices anyway. There was no community to connect with and no real access to the “rabbit hole”. The distress was severe, enough that for years after my mission my skin would break out and I would get sick to my stomach on a Sunday morning.
    I did finish my two years, I don’t know that I would push through again, but there are a few circumstances where I could probably have made it work.
    1. I would have needed a way to serve that wasn’t tied to “testimony”, I could probably have done service, visited people, prayed, and as long as I wasn’t tied to affirming LDS doctrine, it could have worked. Teaching and testifying against belief isn’t worth it, the dissonance is draining, it’s absolutely not worth it.
    2. I firmly believe that we need to work out issues with a community of support. If I knew I was going to lose my house, or that the family dog was sick, or experienced something that affected my whole family, I would need to discuss it and work it out with the family. We would move through that together, I really believe we process trauma and distress as communities, not as individuals. This was one of the most painful aspects of a faith transition, the family and faith community that you need to join you in confronting difficult information, isn’t able to do it. It’s too painful for them, and i don’t think we are well equipped to work through trauma at such incongruence with our community.
    Of all the reasons former members can “leave the church but can’t leave it alone”, for me that is the biggest. We are naturally driven to warn others of danger or threats, and when our community slips into denial instead of validation, it is very psychologically distressing. We are probably meant to get agitated when what we feel pertinent information is being ignored. That agitation helps the survival of our species, but causes a lot of distress for former believers stuck in a believing environment.
    This is a long-winded way of saying that if a disbelieving missionary doesn’t have access to a community that can validate their concerns, with no strings, judgement, gaslighting, or mental gymnastics, it would be a terrible uphill battle to finish. If exmormon reddit, podcasts or whatever can adequately fill that void, you can probably finish. But you absolutely have to have a community that is intellectually honest and cares about you sincerely.
    3. If you need professional support, make sure you have at least one person who isn’t bound to belief. If a single professional had been willing to help me see things from a framework outside of a believing context, I would have been so much better off. Believing counselors are often good, but can have blind spots that can be harmful.
    I could go on forever about wrestling with all of this after my mission, but I won’t. The important thing is I understand acutely what it feels like to lose belief, or at least seriously question it, as a missionary. It’s the most excruciating thing I’ve ever experienced, so take care of yourself above all else, anyone who experiences it can absolutely reach out to me. Honesty is how you get out of it, complete, brutal honesty. For me Mormon Stories was an absolute life line because I finally heard people talk about these issues with complete honesty, without pulling punches, and no gymnastics. Find a space where you can be honest with honest people, and whether you do your two years or need to check out, you’ll be okay.
    Ryan Peters

  35. Kyle Thompson
    REASONS TO STAY
    -I can see where you are coming from on how you say that the church is overall good. Its kind of tough to say if people want that type of member that you are describing the liberal/non-literal believing member. I think people want you there in theory but might give you the side eye when you are there or sharing opinions. I have had that happen for awhile especially in singles wards.
    -Breaking parents’ hearts… I think I have destroyed what my parents hoped for me. I get why you would be hesitant to do that. Especially if you love them like most people do love their parents. Something i wished i knew before i served is this. Time is most valuable above all. I lost my dad on my mission in retrospect in some ways. I wish i didn’t serve just so i had that extra bit of time with him.
    -Financial penalty Honestly no clue bud sorry
    -Judgments happen it’s hard to deal with them. I have high functioning anxiety and i’m a people pleaser. Being judged is always in the back of my mind and it can haunt me from time to time. HOWEVER, i think you would be surprised to discover how many people come home and how many people come home early and leave the church or don’t come home early and still leave the church or be in the position that you are in. I would bet there is at least another missionary just like you in your own mission. I don’t know but just a guess. I just remembered during my faith crisis I thought i’m all alone. None of my friends are in this position. I came home from my mission in 2015 and had my faith crisis in 2017. I felt so alone. But after a bit of effort i found quite a few people that got where i was coming from so really you are not alone we can support you trust me on this one.
    -With byu… well i’m a ute fan soooo. No i’m just kidding but if its a good education i can’t say ya turn it down. Just know college is really hard. In fact I gave up on college and decided to become a business manager. Still a work in progress and another dream of my parents destroyed right there too.
    – Oh man, I get it. Not having a plan. I had my life planned out before my mission. I was going to go on a mission, come home, get married, have kids become an endodontist and then live the typical mormon middle class life. No joke this was my plan. I had schools in mind and times and dates too. Then during my mission my dad dying took those plans and threw them out the window. I got married and failed miserably got divorced and my foundation of what i thought i could accomplish just fell apart. Honestly I get it. It’s hard but what I did was roll with the punches. Take what life gives you.
    REASONS TO COME HOME EARLY
    -You can last an entire year doing it, but it might be a very very long year. If i had the knowledge i have now when i was on my mission i would have peaced out by now if i were you.
    – actually yes. You can. Think about it from a i guess “wordly” stand point. You are not a missionary but a salesman. You are offering a product that can help people if they let it. I work for Vivint smart home and they use the exact same tactics that we used on our missions. Is it dishonest yes, is it unhealthy that really depends on you man. For me it was when i came home early i didn’t go back out because of it.
    -in my opinion no you cant have integrity doing this. People will read right through it.Based off my experience yeah not going to happen.
    -How to stay motivated. Welp… at one point I let my fear keep me out. My dad when he died was bishop of the word and he was bishop when i went out. So imagine me deciding to come home what that would have done for him. It would have been a nightmare for him. I would NOT recommend this. It makes it lackluster i guess is the wording i would use. So if its fear keeping you frozen please i hope you make a quick decision and get to the next step man.
    -BYU is a successful school don’t get me wrong. If you arent a member thats fine i have plenty of friends that are jewish muslim or other religions that go to byu just for educations sake. I dont think it’s risky unless you make it that way man.
    -I’m not sure because im doing that right now. My wife and I recently married, well we don’t want to tell the in laws that we are NEVER planning on getting sealed in the temple for many many reasons. We don’t really want to tell them because well we just don’t want to deal with the drama right now. So on this one I’m not sure man.
    – Of course the church wants you to be missionaries. You are a walking talking advertisement for them. It’s simple as that in my opinion. I don’t mean to be blunt but that is just how I see it.
    -When i did this it was the hardest thing i did since losing my dad. It felt like I was losing a mother too. However, I would do it again. It helped create the appropriate amount of space to make it so we can still have a healthy relationship.
    – well my reason i came home was due to a really bad situation. However, I have had friends come home early for health reasons. I don’t know how the ward handled it but i would imagine there was at least one person snickering behind them. I think that mental health issues are more common now so people i would say “get it ” if you did that but i would definitely keep the faith crisis to yourself people don’t need to know especially if you don’t know where you stand.
    I think my faith crisis started as a seed on my mission when i heard about the second annointing on my mission. I actually got reprimanded by my mission president for even talking about it. I think that was my first moment of doubt. It was a scary thought but I put it in the back of my mind. My faith crisis was hard enough just at home being on a mission would be so hard. I’m so sorry man if you ever need anything if you want my email im more than willing to write you if need be.

  36. This is such a tough situations to be in. It’s scary and overwhelming. It sounds like the elder (I’m assuming it’s an elder if he’s been out a year and has a year left) is weighing all the possible scenarios. If he were at home I would say that he doesn’t have to decide anything now. However it is a little bit different when he is out serving a mission. While my shelf didn’t break totally on my mission, huge cracks appeared while I was out. My shelf finally crumbled after I returned home and while I was attending BYU.

    I’m going to try to answer some of the preliminary questions that were posed. His parents shouldn’t receive any type of financial penalty. Unless maybe they paid for everything up front? The elder might be judged. It depends on where his home is. Which sounds terrible but it’s true. Some wards are extremely understanding and loving, others are rude and pass judgment quickly. Dating, he doesn’t have to tell anyone he came home early. Especially on a first date. He can just say “I went on a mission to (wherever)” and leave it at that. I can say from experience that no one has ever asked me for how long I served. At BYU they don’t really care what you believe, as long as you are following the rules. That’s their big thing. To technically be in good ecclesiastical standing they will most likely need to go to church. And do religion classes if they are planning on graduating from BYU. However they could try bishopric roulette and talk to their bishop about it when they get home. I personally went to church maybe 10 times for the year I went to BYU when I got home. I would go home on the weekends or I would go to my older sibling’s wards sometimes. When I went to renew my ecclesiastical endorsement the bishop said that he hadn’t seen me at church and I kind of lied and said that I had been going to other wards. He said that was totally fine, he just cared that I was going period. I’m not sure what the rule is for students who are members if they go to church somewhere else if that still counts. If the missionary wants to stick with religion but just doesn’t want to go to a Mormon church that might be a good alternative.

    Staying out on the mission is a tough topic. I personally have a brother who is about a year in his mission as well. I think it is possible to be honest and still stay out. I also think there could be some unhealthy side effects to that as well. When my shelf did break I had to learn that it was okay not to have a well thought a
    out plan. It was okay to not know things and to question everything. It was okay to have plans change. What ultimately needed to happen was that I needed to be my true to myself. I needed to make decisions that I knew when I laid down to sleep at night I was okay with what I had decided. It is a scary notion because it can feel like you’re diving out of plane without a parachute. However, remember you do have a reserve parachute. You’re trying to do the right thing. If you were a bad person you wouldn’t care about hurting others or being honest. Trust your gut, intuition, heart, mind, conscious, whatever you call it. Where do you find peace? Is it teaching people about god? Amazing, do it then. If you can’t stand the idea of going into another lesson, then don’t. Being you is the best thing you can be. If being a missionary isn’t you anymore, that’s okay.

    In regards to coming home early they could definitely could say they have anxiety/depression. In my mission we were sent to a mission therapist and if you had to see him more than three times you would normally be sent home. I hesitate to say this but another way to be able to leave is by having suicidal ideation. Suicide is never something to be joked about or taken lightly. But if the missionary is having anxiety/depression they could express concern about becoming that way. Even then it could still be a few months until they were sent home. Another options is just to demand that they need to go home. The missionary really doesn’t have to say why. What I would be worried about would be that the missionary would need to sign up for BYU the very next semester. It kind of sounds like they have a scholarship. So if they came home this month I think they would have to sign up for school in spring/summer semester. Definitely something to look into. Also therapists do have quite a bit of pull at BYU. If the missionary needed a lighter class load or if they do need to postpone classes for a semester they should look into getting a letter from a therapist.

    Family is tough. Everyone’s family is so different. Maybe this is something that could be brought up in a video chat? I know if my brother came home early because of a faith crisis my parents would be sad and they wouldn’t really understand it but they would still love my brother. I’m an Ex-Mo, RM, lesbian. My parents don’t understand that very much at all but they still love me. I understand not all families or parents are like that though. There is a community for ex-mo’s or even just people having a faith crisis. Whoever is reading this, you aren’t alone. I know it feels like it, but we got your back.

    What ultimately cracked my shelf was being diagnosed with PTSD from my mission. My leaders and mission president heaped huge amounts of responsibility on us and it was unbearable. I was told many manipulative things and had so much guilt and shame subtly taught to me. I knew what they were saying wasn’t right, but it was like my brain and my heart couldn’t match up. After I got home I started having really intense symptoms (in addition to the anxiety I had been diagnosed with on my mission) and it wasn’t until I went in to a therapist I realized I wasn’t crazy. I was diagnosed with PTSD and had all the classic symptoms. My life was never threatened, I was never assaulted or abused, I had PTSD because of the mental strain that my mission president and leaders perpetuated. A few months later I went back to BYU and could barely stand being on campus, much less going to a singles ward. Luckily I found out about the free therapy offered on campus and I got an amazing and kind therapist. Technically you are only allowed to have six sessions, she got that waived and I saw her the whole year. She taught me a lot but one thing I will never forget is this: “good enough” is doing the best you can with the resources you have. After school ended that semester I moved back home. I started going to the singles ward in my home stake. I remember the last time I went to church. Something I had taught on my mission over and over was pounding in my brain. With new investigators I would appeal to their rationale side and would say something to the effect of, “You’re a smart and knowledgeable person. You’ve had a lot of life experience. It stands to reason then that you would know a bad thing if it was bad, right? You would recognize it or feel it inside you. Likewise if something was good you would be able to tell right? If what we are teaching you makes you feel bad then it isn’t right and you shouldn’t listen to us. If it is good and you feel good then you should listen to us.” After a year and a half of feeling bad in church, about talking about church topics, I realized that church was not were I wanted to be. I felt bad, in a gross, oppressed, overwhelming way. I decided to take my own advice and to never go to church unless I wanted to. After I decided that it was like a huge weight was gone. I breathed a little easier. I wasn’t so anxious. My PTSD nightmares and triggers lessened. I began to heal. Later I discovered information about church history that wasn’t true or glossed over. My gut already knew that that wasn’t where I should be. It was tough at first, not going to lie. But it does get easier. There are still things I have to deal with. The majority of my family is still in the church. But don’t give up on yourself or feel like you have to justify your feelings to everyone else. Again, you aren’t alone.

  37. The only thing I could add to this is that I survived my mission by enjoying the culture.
    I just graduated from BYU this past semester, attending all years as a non-believer.
    You can pretty easily float under the radar. I went to church less than once a month, hung out at coffee shops or went on trips on Sundays in order to hang out with like-minded people.
    Its a cheap and quality education, but if you find it to not be enjoyable, you can find somewhere else to go. I enjoyed being around other BYU students who also don’t believe because I felt I had a lot in common with them, which could be harder to find at other schools.

  38. I don’t have any advice as far as a mission goes, but do wish that I’d been more open and honest with my parents about what I was feeling. I was always afraid that it would hurt them and that they’d try to persuade me to stay. But, it hurt them even though I waited and they still tried to persuade me… so it’s always hard no matter what.

    The only thing I can think of is to be open now and maybe try it out for a month. Tell the parents and the mission president, explain you’re trying to figure it all out and that you’re torn about it, but in the meantime you’re still remaining obedient. If that month feels like hell, then at least the parents won’t be blindsided by returning home and then the BYU issue can be addressed. Right now, it seems like all of this is a lot to think about all at once, so if they can break it up into smaller pieces, maybe that would help.

    Overall, I hope they eventually join our FB groups when they can or find supportive communities so that they have a safe place to express how they feel about all of this as they navigate their way through it.

    So tough. Sending love. ❤️

  39. Canada Calgary mission 2014-2016, Mandarin.

    I’ll grant home early isn’t right for everyone. But it was right for me. My biggest regret in the world is that I did the whole mission. I shouldn’t have. That was dumb. I’m opinionated on this issue. Everyone is being supportive and doing a good job of making sure that whatever you decide is valid. So I’m gonna play devil’s advocate.

    You ate the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge. You can’t put that doubt back in the box. Well I suppose you could, but at a huge risk to your mental and emotional health. So assuming that you don’t opt for a massive psychotic break, you can’t really ever “re-believe.” Not in the way the general conference stories say, anyways. So what’s your plan here?

    “I stay for the whole mission.”
    Teaching things you don’t believe to strangers, lying to all the other missionaries around you. Keeping that up for an entire year of you life. You wanna do that for a whole year? If you live to be seventy-five, that’s over one percent of your life. You have an extra percent of your life you didn’t really want? Gee, can I have it?

    “That way no one judges me for coming home early.”
    The truth is, everyone who sees you with that name tag in that tie is judging you. They are just more polite than Mormons, so you don’t know it. But you’ll find that, when you identify as an exmormon, no one has anything good to say about the LDS church. Do you want 99% of the world to think you’re sad for testifying door-to-door for a lost cause, or do you want 0.005% of the world to judge you cause you started wearing real underwear again?

    “That way I keep my place at BYU.”
    Losing a place at BYU sucks. But there are 2,000 other four year universities. You know what sucks more than losing a spot at BYU? Not going to one of those schools instead. Going to BYU instead of USU, U of U, USC, Princeton, Salt Lake Community College. Now THAT is gonna suck. At BYU, every day you’ll wake up wondering if you should have been at another school. I highly doubt you’ll experience that at another school. Look, I know it’s complicated. But are you really going to commit to a four year university where you will have to KEEP UP the lie to save on some convenience? And have you really thought about the experiences and opportunities you are giving up to keep that lie up? College as a non-Mormon is amazing. It’s fantastic. It’s wonderful. It’s fun. It’s cool. If someone put a gun to my head and said they would either pull the trigger or I would have to go spend four years of my life at BYU, I’d beg them to pull the trigger and end the thought. I’ve been out three years, and I haven’t heard of a single exmormon, out of thousands, that was proud of their BYU diploma. Whatever opportunities you’re losing at BYU, you can make up tenfold by working hard and staying on your toes. What about the opportunity to drink whatever you want, and do whatever you want with your consenting, adult girlfriend instead? You sign off on that if you go to BYU.

    If you don’t leave now, then when? When you’re 20 years into a temple marriage with some girl from Draper that you conned into a mixed-faith marriage that she didn’t know she was signing up for? When you have your own kid on a mission? When your kids Cooper, McKay, and Mckinleigh are eight, ten, and twelve, and you have to risk putting them through a divorce? Because who knows how a believing LDS spouse is going to take it when you say: “oh actually I didn’t believe any of this since my mission so I’m just gonna stay home from church this month. This year. Forever. That ok babe?” Do you honestly think you’ll be more ready to leave after you’ve paid ten percent tithing for twenty years? That’s 2 years of your income. Two years. So you can sit in a room with a bunch of strangers with a good hat, apron, and a silly dress taking oaths, the meanings of which no one actually knows. Again, two years of income for that. Oh, and for a wedding ceremony that not everyone is invited to. To a nice girl that you’re basically conning.

    You see what I’m saying? Every day you don’t leave makes the lie harder, and it makes leaving harder. Maybe you’re waiting to leave until it gets easier to leave. It doesn’t. It only gets harder. That’s how missions are designed. That’s how BYU is designed. That’s how temple marriage, child baptism, Mia Maids, deacons quorum, Elders quorum, high priest group is all designed. Retention. And you’re the statistic that they want to retain. I just think that you’re going to want to make the decision to leave sooner or later, and all appearances to the contrary, you will never be in a better position to do that than you are right this second. The church will make you pay for waiting. This is the age when you are supposed to take the plunge and actually follow what you believe. And the Church has done everything it can to discourage you from using your agency in this way. If you stay on the straight and narrow path when you know what you know, you will always, ALWAYS, wonder what you could have had, what you could have done. You’ll always feel guilty when you go to the temple with your believing spouse. You’ll always feel lame when your friends go to the bar without you. You’ll always feel a sharp pain of regret and resentment every time you pay tithing. You’ll come to resent your spouse for trapping you in the church. You might even come to resent your kids. You’ll regret every word you preached on your mission, every door you knocked on, every hour of personal and companion study spent pouring over the same three books you don’t believe, every Friday night you went to bed at 10:30 instead of staying up late in your early twenties, every time you bore a testimony you didn’t have, every time you have a couples prayer with your wife or family scripture study with your kids. You will regret all of that.

    I’m telling you man, for all the things you’re scared you’ll regret if you leave it all behind right now, there are ten more that you’ll regret if you wait.

    But it’s up to you.

  40. I can really relate to this, while im writting this from my home and remembering that scenario almost 15 years ago i think i still remember that feeling and inner fight that took most of my thoughts at the moment. I hope my experience helps someone, back at that time we didnt have these resources and the only people i went to was my father (through email) and my MP, at this day im sure they tried to help me, my dad wrote to me every time he could and talked about the subject but it was a path i had to go alone and i think the worst times were when i had to tell people this was true because those moments were real with most of the people, also back at the house when alone and praying i had the toughest moments. I know the mission is not 24/7 all seriousness and you can have a joke and relief every now an then but theres sometimes you just want to quit knowing this, you wanna go back home and forget about it, you just cant go through like this, many of us have been there, hang on. The main reasons that stopped me from going home was my family, i didnt want people to know i bailed, we know how serious can that seem, back then and now still, and thats the problem when we let an organization or people have power over us, we dont really make a decision because it has already been made and you just struggle with it, its a real thing. You have the power to choose, if you go home its ok, its your life, your time and your energy; if you stay its ok, as long as you make that decision, as long as you wanna go trough this, you can do it, either option are good as long as you decide! just be wise enough to choose, you may not know the results but you choose. As for me, i went through this for a couple of months, around 6 months i guess before i turned off the switch, decided to enjoy the people and the experiences, youre still gonna have real experiences with real people and as long you identify the real part of the experience, thats what matters. Sometimes i think if i decided to quit and go home it would take me less years to accept that i no longer believed and maybe i would saved some of those years, and thats still comes to mind time to time. Hang on in there, we know its hard and sometimes you just want to get out of it, search for a companion maybe that you could talk to, dont keep it to yourself , if you can talk to someone, youre not alone and you should not be!

  41. I did not have my faith crisis on the mission. I was 30 years old. I served in the Yekaterinburg Russia mission. I was a true believer and facing constant rejection everyday, and blaming myself that no one wanted to talk to us.(“I must not be worthy enough”, that kind of thing) It was hard and I cannot imagine how hard it would have been to add a faith crisis on top of that.

    Ultimately, this missionary is going to have to make their own choice. I don’t care about the college education at BYU. He would be far better off getting an education somewhere else. If he is having a struggle with inauthenticity now, it won’t be any different at BYU. I understand that he may lose credits that he already earned, but you can’t put a price on happiness and you can go to college somewhere else, although it may not be as easy financially.

    I don’t know what his family will do. I was worried about what my family would do. They didn’t reject me, they don’t like my decision, they talk about me behind my back, but they didn’t disown me. He needs to really weigh how he thinks his family will react, he is going to need a place land when he gets back. At some point he is going to have to be authentic with his family whether they accept him or not.

    When I went through my crisis, my reasons for life were shattered. I figured that if I had no reason to live and there was no truth to run to, then maybe I could just fake the Mormon thing for my family(wife and 4 kids). I tried, but every Sunday school and priesthood lesson would eat at me when I heard things that I knew weren’t true. Eventually, I figured out that I couldn’t live that way. I’m still trying to figure out my life and how to navigate marriage with a believer, who has a superficial knowledge of the gospel, but a firm testimony. At least he can avoid that confusion if he figures out what he wants now.

    I’m no longer comfortable at giving advice, but if it were me, I’d rip off the bandaid and be authentic. Figure out who you really are. If you can stay and stomach it, that’s great too. I couldn’t put everything back in Pandora’s box. Good Luck my friend.

  42. I didn’t go on a mission, so can’t speak to that. But, that said, I was at BYU as a non-believer. (My faith crisis has been happening for 45 years or so). Granted, it’s been awhile since I was there. This individual needs to be careful how they navigate BYU. When I was there, someone, in their infinite wisdom, decided I needed to be in the Relief Society Presidency. Dating is a minefield. Be careful who you take up with and manage their expectations. I was able to bury myself in organic chemistry and some other difficult science classes, but otherwise felt no relief from the relentless cultural Mormonism, if you know what I mean. This individual needs someone to talk with, especially if they decide not to clue their family in. Maybe someone they can go visit on weekends to get away. I wish them the best.

  43. So, I never had a testimony of the restored gospel. As a kid I remember that I used to get up every month, and bear my testimony, and it was the basic one we’ve all heard. “I’d like to bear my testimony, I know the church is true, I love my mom and dad and I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet and that Gordon B. Hinkley is a prophet today, and I say these things inthenameofJesusChristamen.” And that’s how it was. When I turned 12, my mother whispered to me that now that I was a priesthood holder, she thinks that people would probably be wanting to hear a more unique testimony from me. And that got me thinking, what do I really believe? I didn’t bear my testimony the next month, and not for years after that. Through becoming a Teacher and a Priest and finally an Elder, I never felt that I had a real testimony, or had an experience that I could base one off of. When I’d give priesthood blessings, they were a combination of parts of other prayers that I liked, and stuff that I thought would sound cool in a prayer. When I turned 19, I went into the woods to read the Book of Mormon, and to pray. I left very early in the morning, and found a secluded spot and read. I read the entire Book of Mormon that day, and then I fell to my knees and prayed to know it was true. I didn’t feel that I got an answer, no burning in my bosom, no still small voice, no serendipitous event. But I didn’t feel that it was wrong either. I recall laying awake at night, knowing that to all outward appearances, I was a spiritually healthy young man, and that no one knew that I had no feeling inside. It was a shock to my parents when I decided that I wasn’t going to serve a mission. They and several other people asked me why, to which I responded that I just didn’t feel ready yet. It was utterly true, of course, but I wasn’t going to announce that to everyone, and expose myself as not only a heathen, but a liar as well. Instead I kept my feelings to myself, and continued to live my life. Finally, when I was 25, I was thinking about it, and it occurred to me that nearly everyone had or at least had claimed that their mission changed their life and strengthened their testimony, and since I had tried literally everything else I could think of, I decided to take the plunge.

    It was strange, being in the MTC as the oldest and baldest missionary there. In a way, I felt like an anthropologist, blending in with the natives to study their strange ways and learn what I can. Eventually, they shipped me off to the exotic locale of Columbia, South Carolina. I can honestly say that being on my mission changed my life and opened my eyes. Of course I had studied other religions, I had spent a large percentage of my life studying the gospel form all aspects, even non-LDS ones, and was a student of faith itself, that puzzle box that had yet to open for me. I dove straight in, contacting people, following leads, teaching lessons, and generally becoming quite good at it. After my trainer went home at the end of our second transfer together, I became the senior companion to a totally awesome missionary. I tried to be a good senior companion to him, but to be honest, I was making it all up as I went along, and I had no idea what I was doing. I think they knew, because at the end of our six week transfer, I got moved to another area, and assigned as junior companion again. But the fact that I hadn’t received a testimony still ate at me. Eventually, at a zone conference, I met with my mission president privately, and confessed to him that I felt that my testimony was nonexistent, a hollow shell that I used as a disguise to blend in with people who had real testimonies. That my suit and tie were my ghillie suit, blending me in with others. I felt that perhaps I had unrepentant sins, so I confessed everything to him, everything from that time I shoplifted in middle school to the minor pornography habit I had before my mission. I confessed to him that I bought a book about hominids from a library sale, and read it in the bathroom when I was with my trainer. I confessed to him everything and anything I could think of to unblock that connection to the spirit, I confessed to him until I had nothing left to say. And still, I felt nothing. No spirit, no small voice, no feeling. No godly sorrow, either, or even a great deal of embarrassment. He told me that he’d inquire of the lord, and let me know. Two days later, I got a call from my mission president saying that everything was okay, I was worthy to continue serving.

    It was frustrating. I taught good lessons, powerful lessons. My knowledge of the gospel was sound, my recall of scriptures was precise. A number of times, I’d be teaching an investigator, and I’d see it, I’d see the moment where they understood, where they knew this was for them, where they knew that this was what they wanted in their lives. The first couple times it was my companion teaching, but from then on, I’d see it when I taught. At first I was confused, but quickly it became envy, and even jealousy. What were they sensing, that I couldn’t sense? What were they feeling? How come it hit them but bypassed me? Once I asked my junior companion about it, I asked him if he felt the spirit in that lesson. “Oh yeah, man, I felt the Spirit strong. It was awesome!” I asked him what it felt like, and he thought about it for a while, and he responded that it was just a good feeling, but like, deeper. He felt it. My investigator felt it. The member who gave us a ride to the appointment felt it. The freaking dog sensed the emotion in the room and felt it. I felt nothing. Eventually, my stress turned to madness, and I began hallucinating. My companion called the APs, and they came over to see what was up, but I was reciting song lyrics in Russian and was not available for comment. Within a week, my mission president had me on a plane home. I was out for eight months. I helped baptize nine people. I had not become converted.

    Two memories have endured from my mission ten years ago. Firstly, I recall meeting with a wonderful family, the Johnsons. They were eternal investigators. They’d been meeting with missionaries as long as anyone could recall. They liked missionaries, they liked having us over for dinner, they liked talking about the gospel, but they weren’t interested in being baptized. I remember seeing the way they treated each other, the way they treated us. They were very pleasant, very gracious, to us and each other. They were as near as I could tell, a happy, healthy family. I remember thinking to myself, what can the gospel do to make this family stronger, and I could identify nothing. Second, I remember Elder Yoshihiko Kikuchi of the Seventy come to one of our zone conferences. He taught us a technique, a specific way to teach the first vision. He taught us to speak it very quietly, just barely above a whisper, and very slowly, letting silence and anticipation fill the space between the words. I remembered reading about this sort of thing as a guided meditation exercise. It puts the psyche in a sort of trance, and renders it susceptible to suggestion. These memories stick out to me because the Johnsons taught me that you don’t need the gospel to be happy, and Elder Kikuchi taught us mind control techniques.

    These two things shook my faith more than anything I had endured to this point. After I got home and met with a church appointed psychologist, that’s when the other shoe dropped. As a prematurely returned missionary, I was defective, an aberration, suspect. I was met with suspicion. Clearly, something must be wrong about me. I described having a mental breakdown, but that doesn’t really happen, right, I must have done some terrible sin. I was undatable, my comments in gospel discussions were ignored, my bishop wouldn’t give me a calling for nearly eight months, and then my calling was as a greeter. This was a difficult transition, but it taught me more things about the church. It taught me that the church can only affect me as much as I wanted to be affected. Before long, I was questioning everything, at first in private, and as time went on, more openly. I learned the consequences of non-conformity. I learned what happens when you ask questions that the teacher didn’t prepare for, or when you say things that just aren’t said. (fun fact: if you thank god for satan, for giving us opposition so we can become stronger, you won’t have to pray in sacrament meeting ever again) This was utterly eye-opening, because there is really no way to see the other side of the church except firsthand.

    Eventually, I became a disappointment to my family, I began to question all truths, for I honestly believe in my heart that if a truth is true, it will stand up to any scrutiny, and eventually became an atheist, empowered by myself, my quest for truth, and my love for mankind. I’ve had my brother tell me that I’m the nicest anti-Christ he’s met, my best friend has told me that I’m one of the most Christlike people he knows, and of course have had my father tell me how he knows I have a true testimony, if only I’ll listen to my heart again. Ten years after I left the church, my closest family members get along with me fine again, we don’t talk about god anymore, I’ve transitioned through many of my old church friends, but found a lot of new ones, and I haven’t received missionaries since the last pair, in which I helped one of them through his own faith crisis, and I understand he went home and stopped going to church.

    The people who love you are going to keep loving you. The people who don’t love you, I understand as well as anyone in my position how painful it is, but the truth is that you didn’t actually need them. Use the church for your means, not the other way around. Go to BYU, follow their honor code. If they ask you what your testimony is, give them something true but vague, like that you’re searching for your testimony, or that church is not for the healthy, but for the sick and hungry. I know people in that exact situation, who don’t believe, but need to blend in anyhow. There are many worthwhile things about church, even if it’s objective truth isn’t one of them.

    Be strong, believe in yourself. If you can’t do that, believe in me, who believes in you.

  44. I felt this way, stayed, and began to love my mission… (which may be different than the other stories shared here)

    My situation may be slightly different because I was a sister missionary whose faith crisis began about 4 months before my mission when I went through the temple. I brushed it off. Like this missionary I believed that the Mormon church was still good overall despite not being true. I fully intended to continue to be part of the church. But I later fell in love with a woman so I was no longer welcome. (Which is another chapter of the same story but for another day)…

    About Coming Home Early:
    My wife actually returned home early from her mission and I remember hearing that they didn’t get the money back. I think the stigma attached with coming home early is diminishing, but I think if people knew it was due to disbelief then yes they would be judged. I really thought about going home early during the first half of my mission but I just couldn’t do it. It may have been fear or embarrassment. My mom was so proud that I went. I couldn’t let her down.

    My Choice to Stay:
    So I stayed and I actually extended my mission too. I served in Lima, Peru. What helped me stay on the mission is I started ignoring the pressure of district leaders, zone leaders, etc. My goal was no longer to make new members. My goal was to help people. I would often schedule service projects outside of the designated service hours. It took a lot of confidence but anyone who challenged my decision had to argue with Jesus who preached service. I taught lessons about how all people have inherent worth and are loved. I let my companions do the rest if they wanted. And I never pressured people to make commitments like baptism. I figured if they wanted to be baptized, they would show interest. I also decided that for some people in my mission (Peru), the church could actually make their life better. So I wasn’t anti but I wasn’t out preaching Mormon baptism. My mission President once said “preach what you have a testimony of”. I did not believe in the one true church. But I did believe that we are all family and that we should help one another. So that’s what I preached honestly. I tried not to preach stuff that I didn’t believe. My wife was preaching stuff that she didn’t believe and it was unhealthy and she hated it. So I think you just need to pay attention to your own health. If it harms, don’t do it. If being on a mission is harming you, go home. You deserve peace.

    Returning to a Church School:
    I attended BYUI after my mission but still during my faith transition and even served as RS president. I decided early on that I wouldn’t be anti but I also wouldn’t preach anything that I didn’t believe. So no lessons about the truthfulness of the church or prophets. I still believed in Jesus so that’s all I focused on. But it was tough. I got some nasty comments from members of my presidency but not from any leaders. I totally relate with the sentiment of everything blowing up at an early age. I think slowly transitioning helped me a lot. Like how I still had a calling during my transition but I had a new goal with my calling: “be a good person”. It wasn’t about doing what I was supposed to. It was about doing what I wanted. Perhaps you could go to your BYU bishop and say “I am not interested in certain callings but I would love to help by choosing the hymns each week. Or planning ward activities.” Take bits and pieces of control over aspects of your religion. I had to take a religion course so I chose world religions and christian history. And when BOM was required, I chose to take it online. That way I could opt out of discussions at anytime. It’s hard to anticipate what will happen in a faith transition and therefore it is hard to come up with a viable plan. So that’s what worked for me. Slow transition.

    Coming Out as an Unbeliever:
    I was so afraid to tell my family because I knew it would break their hearts. I kept thinking of that New Era MormonAd that said “Don’t be the missing link in your eternal family.” So I get the struggle but luckily I had a successful transition with my family, meaning no hard feelings and not much has changed relationshipwise. I got lucky. Aside from us having a good relationship to begin with, I credit that to the fact that we took it slow. It wasn’t a bombshell. I told my mom the very first moment I had doubts in the temple. Then I had doubts about eternal families. Then I had doubts about prophets. And little by little we worked through our differences. Despite expressing my doubts, I never labeled myself as non-believing to my family while attending BYUI. I never said “I don’t believe in the Church”. Because I knew that the mormons are a gossipy group and my credits wouldn’t transfer if somehow any ecclesiastical leader found out and refused to renew my endorsement. I would not open up to a church leader on the mission or at school. It is a game of leadership roulette and they have so much power over your future. I would tell church leaders as little as possible. But once I got my degree and after sharing all of my doubts, I told my mom that I didn’t subscribe to the Mormon faith and would find spirituality elsewhere. And the time was good for us. She didn’t seem shocked and she still sees me as a moral and good human being.

    Overall:
    The Church (top level) does not care about you. They don’t care if you are a part or not. If you stay as a non believer, they will just be happy to count you. If you leave, they will just say that you are weak. They don’t care. So make the best decision for you. Your family will make the choice to care about you or care about the Church. You need to make the choice to care about you or the Church. Please choose you whether you stay mormon or not. Keep yourself healthy. Find supportive friends. Sometimes it is hard to find friends when you are a closeted unbeliever. I recommend finding the “liberal” missionaries or “liberal” BYU students. They tend to have more nuanced views and even if they still believe, they won’t pressure you. And that space to just breathe freely can really make a difference.

  45. Although I entered the MTC believing that the church was true, it was still clear to me that that I had never received a spiritual witness of the truth from the Holy Spirit, nor was I convinced that anyone else I knew had received a spiritual witness either. I was a rare kind of church member in my willingness to frankly admit that I had never received a spiritual witness of the Restoration in culture where such an admission earns you the label of being spiritually inferior. I was pretty sure that other member’s convictions of the church and the gospel was essentially the same as the conviction that people of non-LDS faiths feel about their non-LDS churches and beliefs. Nevertheless, it was still my non-Holy-Spirit-validated belief that the church was true that motivated me to go out into the mission field with the full expectation that by immersing myself in the Lord’s work, I would achieve that “critical mass” of spiritual experiences required to finally become the recipient of that long-sought-after pouring-out of light and knowledge from the Holy Spirit that would finally allow me to declare with genuine honesty that “I know the church is true!”

    Regrettably, no such experience ever occurred. For months, I would go out every day and repeatedly bear false witness that I knew the church was true when in fact I didn’t really know that my beliefs were true anymore than the people who we were trying to convert knew that their beliefs were true. My conscience was relentless in condemning my deceitfulness while my intellect fruitlessly grappled with the question of why God wouldn’t just grant me the spiritual confirmation that was required for me be able to fulfill my calling as a missionary.

    A year into my mission, I was consumed with depression. To make things worse, I’d made the mistake of asking subtle questions of my companions to gauge just how much they really ‘knew’ that the church was true as opposed to merely believing that the church was true. My questions weren’t subtle enough though, and in time, my secret was known throughout the entire mission and the reaction from other missionaries was anything but Christ-like.

    Naïve fool than I am, I went into the mission field believing that as representatives of Christ, missionaries would exemplify Christ-like attributes—you know, genuine empathy, genuine compassion, genuine kindness—how surprised I was when I found myself surrounded by a bunch of cocky 19 and 20 year old guys who exhibited as many Christ-like attributes as you’d expect to find in a college frat house. To them, kindness and empathy were nothing more than the qualities that you fake to investigators in order to lure them into the waters of baptism.

    The mission president quickly ran out of patience with me as he couldn’t understand why I just simply couldn’t “get with program”, and I wasn’t yet ready to tell him straight up that “the program” is about being phony and lying to people about having had a revelation from God that neither I, nor anyone else in that mission, had ever had!

    A year and a half into that disaster, I was sent home. My mission president granted me my “one phone call” to make arrangements for someone to pick me up at the airport. I didn’t have parents still living in a home that I’d grown up in with a phone number I knew by heart, nor did I know the phone numbers of either of my siblings who were living in other homes. No sooner had I begun contemplating who I could call than I was handed a letter that had just come in that day from my sister in which she included her phone number “just in case I ever need it” and an invitation for me to live with her family after my mission as we didn’t have a family home that we grow up in to return to.

    When I walked off the airplane the next morning, my sister walked up and immediately gave me a warm hug to welcome me home and my brother I spent the afternoon just hanging like the good old times without the slightest hint of judgement. Later that evening, my brother drove me to the church to meet with the stake president who had insisted on seeing me in his office the very day I arrived. The meeting was very brief and his words went something like this: “I don’t know what happened out there and I don’t even want to know. I just have this to say to you—you’re a disappointment to the church, you’re a disappointment to yourself, and most importantly, you’re both a disappointment and an embarrassment to your family.”

    I spent many years struggling with depression after my mission but I have since come to find peace with the experience and, to a lesser degree, with the many individuals who worked so hard to help me understand that being a really devout member of the church has nothing to do with being Christ-like.

    Although I’m no longer an active member of the church, many of its teachings still form the basis of my understanding of the spiritual purpose of my life.

  46. Dear Missionary in Faith Crisis,

    So many wonderful responses above to delve into I am a woman, widow in my sixties who left the church after over 40 years a member. I have not served a mission but did have a brother that came home early, To me, I just want to hug you….and have you know that the bottom line is that…YOU MATTER, YOU MATTER. Make goals and let life begin to fall into place for you. It will give you room to love ..and to love unconditionally. It will allow you space to become. Whatever you decide, know that in your future, YOU MATTER.

    Much love and compassion..
    Vickie

  47. Everyone has been so wise and thoughtful about this, so I’ll just say this: If you decide to stay on your mission, it may make it easier if you imagine a group of 100,000 people surrounding you and supporting you, who are also non-believers and who are waiting to welcome you home. You can’t see them, but this community is thriving and so will you.

  48. I did not serve a mission but I did attend BYU. I had a VERY hard time there because I was a more liberal Mormon. Still believing, but more liberal in some of my ideas. I was mocked for not wanting to do some “cultural” things such as singing hymns in the tunnel on Sunday. Sometimes I would go to Wendy’s on sundays and my roommates wouldn’t talk to me for the remainder of the day. If I dated a non returned missionary or (heaven forbid!) a non LDS member, I heard about it non stop from everyone around me including my professors. It was EXTREMELY difficult for me and ultimately led me to making some very poor choices because I felt alone and depressed, not good enough, wasting my money for an education I wasn’t really getting because my depression kept making my grades lower and lower. I know everyone has free agency, but this really is what triggered my deep depression that led to many poor choices. Until I was in therapy and had a non LDS counselor ask me multiple times, “what do YOU believe. not what have you been told, what do YOU personally believe?” And I was able to rectify my own belief system. I didn’t fully leave the church for many more years but have never felt more authentic and HAPPY in my life since accepting I have not been a believe for a long time. BYU was probably the hardest 4 years of my life because I could not align my personal beliefs with everyone around me. I truly hope the culture has changed, but I don’t know. If you do choose to continue, promise you will have a counselor that you can regularly talk to! I think I would have had a much more positive experience if I had. I didn’t have ANYONE to talk to, this making me feel like my thoughts, feelings, and ideas were worthless. No one should ever feel that way. Please remember these decisions can affect your health and well-being mentally for YEARS to come! Do not jeopardize your own well being in pursuit of others’ happiness.

  49. I can see you already have enough input from other worthy parties, you don’t need my two bits, but I’ll jump on the dog-pile anyway.

    I served in the Italy Padova Mission (since collapsed) from 1978 to 1980 and I had my faith crisis seven months out on my mission. I was a TBM when I decided to serve, I couldn’t wait to get out there and preach. I was a seminary star and I’d read all the scriptures cover-to-cover multiple times before I’d left. Trouble was, I’d also already done fairly deep dives into Church History and the arcane paths of our theology before I’d left. I’d read Nibley, Brodie and Schindler BEFORE my mission. I remember seeing some Egyptian mummies and their associated papyrus scrolls in a museum in Albany, NY in the summer of ’78 and thinking, “Wait a minute… that’s just like our Book of Abraham, what gives?” I soon found out what gave, but I shelved the issue, just like every other inconvenient fact I encountered before my mission.

    Believe it or not, every inconvenient fact highlighted by the CES letter was available to the public in the 70’s and 80’s… they were just harder to find. I already knew about most of them before I left. When I went to the Temple, I knew to expect a semblance of a medieval mystery play, but I was unprepared for just how silly it all was. I did not know it was all lifted and shifted from the masonic rites… that revelation came up on my mission when I was teaching the discussions to an American Master Sergeant/Mason and he gave me a temple handshake just to rile me. Rile me it did.

    Thanks to my intense dogmatic nature, my facility with languages, and my hard charging work ethic, I was marked as a rising star and given plumb assignments and companions when I arrived in the field. There was just one problem… I didn’t have a spiritual witness. Oh sure, I SAID I knew the Church was true, we all did. And I prayed and studied and asked as much as anyone… but I never got that witness, and I don’t think anyone around me ever got such a witness either. If they did, they never convinced me they had received something special with any language I couldn’t see through.

    The lack of genuine testimony just caused me to study and pray harder. I was in Florence, Italy at the time and my orthodoxy would have put Savonarola to shame, let alone McConkie. In Florence, we had a missionary study group that was bored with the usual doctrinal topics, so we amused ourselves by doing deeper dives. We called it the “Space Doctrine Class” and each missionary would give well-researched presentations on various arcane subjects. It was in the SDC that I first heard about Joseph Smith’s alleged belief that there were men on the moon who dressed in Quaker clothing, or that the Lost Tribes lived in a hole in the earth at the North Pole. We studied everything we could get our hands on or could beg our friends and family to send us from the States via snail mail. Any topic was fair game, the wilder and crazier the better.

    I met with initial success in the mission field because it turns out that the Church doesn’t have to be true in order for a zealous preacher to convince a few desperate, weak souls to move into his proffered light. It also turns out that a salesman doesn’t have to believe in his product in order to sell it. A really good salesman can sell anything and sometimes belief just gets in the way. But that said, I still wanted to believe and I kept trying to believe.

    Then one day, our hated, hair-shirt zone leader came to do splits with our district. Being the most junior elder, I drew the short straw and got to work with him all day. He was the most knuckle-headed zealot I’ve ever met. Basically, we harassed people on the street non-stop for about 8 hours. I saw him wade into city traffic and command a city bus to stop or run him over, then climb on the bus and ask “Does anyone here want to know about the Mormons?”, before being thrown off. I saw him sneak into an unguarded office building at lunch, search unlocked doors upstairs until he found one catnapping lawyer on his office couch, shake him awake with the command, “Pay attention, we’re here to teach you the gospel!”, before the police were called. We angered and alienated more Italians in that one day than I did in the whole rest of my two years.

    At the end of the day, this inspired leader, chosen by God, sat me down and told me what a recalcitrant, lazy, and disobedient elder I was and that if I’d only shut-up, stop asking questions, and obey, I could be as good a missionary as he was. And in that one lightning flash instant, I knew I was done. Shelf items wouldn’t be shelved any more. I knew I would never stop asking questions, I would always pull back the curtain to reveal the little old man pulling levers in secrecy.

    I’ve been done ever since. But I did NOT leave my mission and I shared my true feelings with no one. I knew that to return from a mission early was social suicide. Plus I had a full ride at BYU and I knew I would lose it if I came home early, so I was determined to stick it out for the 15 months that remained to me.

    The next eight months were the hardest. I still had success and was promoted, eventually landing in the office. But I wasn’t quite able to suppress my true feelings which manifested themselves as satirical cartoons that I drew for my journal commenting on the absurd aspects of mission life. These cartoons proved to be quite popular with my fellow elders, who offered to buy photocopied books of them if I’d run them off on the mission photocopier. Which I did. Even the Mission President liked some of my cartoons, but that didn’t stop him from busting me to the worst city in the mission with the worst companion in the mission when he saw one he didn’t like.

    Busted to missionary purgatory with a year to go was my wake-up call. In order to extricate myself, I knew I’d have to work harder and suppress my feelings more. In short, I had to become that hair-shirted zone leader who I so despised. And I did. I faked it until I made it. I worked extremely hard, spinning my wheels until the tires came off. I baptized, I was promoted to dl, zl, and eventually traveling assistant. I became one of those rare elders who got to dedicate an entire country (San Marino) the preaching of the Gospel! And all while faking it in order to protect my social standing, save face, and keep my BYU scholarship.

    Ironically, my family would not have disowned me had I come home early. My father was a rich Jack Mormon who used to tease me as a kid with the question, “How did Noah get all those animals on one boat?” I knew my mother would love me no matter what. So my decision to stay and gut it out was mine alone. I continued to stay and fake it at BYU until I graduated, a decision I regret as the psychic toll of my continued hiding and fakery eventually took an immense toll on me. By the end it was touch and go whether I would get the sheepskin or be thrown out. I got the sheepskin, but like Jim McMahon my favorite memory of BYU was leaving it.

    Which brings me to my advice for missionaries currently struggling with a faith crisis. I can’t unequivocally say they should either stay or come home. I think it depends on each missionary’s personal circumstances. Each elder or sister must decided for themselves when it’s best, or easiest, or safest to abandon ship. No one need jump overboard the minute they think the ship’s going down, it’s okay to wait until you are a little closer to shore.

    I can’t fault anyone for “faking it until they make it”. Since the Church is not true, you owe no loyalty to anyone who sold you their false bill of goods. If extricating yourself from a tricky predicament that you signed on board to in your ignorant naivete requires that you keep your yap shut and go with the flow for a bit until you can find a graceful exit, more power to you. I never once felt the slightest bit of shame or remorse for breaking my covenants or faking it until I could get out. I promised to do such and such, to be sure, but they promised me that their house of cards was TRUE! Since it isn’t true, who broke the contract first?

    I still hold to Polonius’ sage counsel, “This above all: to thine own self be true.” But be true on your own terms, in your own timeline. If you’re caught in an unexpected prison that you foolishly agreed to be incarcerated in, it’s okay if you pick your own time when to either escape or gut it out quietly till parole.

  50. I lost my faith along with my sister while we were attending BYU around 2012-2014. Because we lived together I had an unusual amount of support. It was very helpful to have someone I could be open with while I went through my faith crisis. If your missionary decides to attend, I would highly recommend looking for a group similarly minded folk to room with. You can find these people by attending local exmormon, atheist, lgbt, and skeptic meetups. Make a few friends and ask around.

    Another thing to keep in mind. Where he is now, mentally and spiritually, is probably not where he will be in a year. Unfortunately, you can’t really plan for how you’ll feel about something a year from now. You don’t know where your journey will take you. It’s a scary thing but it’s a good thing too. If something doesn’t work out, that’s not the end of everything. The possibilities are greater than you can account for, so stay optimistic.

    I wish him the best as he sorts through this mess of new feelings and ideas.

  51. I reached a point in my mission where it became very difficult to proselyte and bear my testimony because I doubted Mormonism’s assertion to be the one true church. I spoke with my mission president about my concerns and while he wasn’t equipped to help me navigate a faith crisis he did allow my request to be sent to an area where I could focus primarily on supporting the members and less on proselyting. I was in Japan and there were areas with just a few members where the missionaries did much of the administrative work of the church. This worked for me. I felt that there was goodness in the church that could benefit the members and I could support that. I still did some proselyting with an extremely low-pressure approach and surprisingly even baptized an older couple. John, I wish I could give your missionary a hug and help him find some peace. The mission field is a painful place to experience a faith crisis.

  52. I left my mission after three months. My testimony of the church was gone months before hand, but I still had a testimony of God. I didn’t want to go on a mission, but I felt like God wanted me to, so I did. After three months, I was told by God that it was time to go home. It was only three months, but three months of living the missionary life when you don’t believe in the church is hell. I’m glad that I went, even for such a short time, because I learned so much!
    As for others in the same situation, I would suggest to carefully consider all of your options and meditate/pray over what would be best for you and your life. I knew that going home would be difficult for my family and friends, but I had no idea. My mom almost disowned me and I was almost homeless. And my family isn’t even super active in the church, which is why their reaction was such a surprise for me. And on top of that, other friends and family either wouldn’t talk to me or I became their “project”. My reputation was completely ruined. The only thing that saved me was that I had some friends who believed the same as I did.
    As hard as it was, I’m glad that it happened the way that it did. But that was for my life and situation. I would just suggest to really pray and meditate over what is best for you, stay or going home.
    As for staying on the mission and teaching what you don’t believe, I never taught a lesson on something that I didn’t believe. I never said the sentence “the church is true”, because I didn’t believe it. I was super clear to myself what I believed and I only taught that and taught it in a way that wasn’t suspicious. If you believe that the church is good, then teaching people the good of the church will improve many lives.
    Just do whatever is best for you! Either way it’s a sucky situation, and for being someone who has been there, I empathize! But you can do this! And things will work out. 🙂

  53. I lost my faith when I was 20 months into my mission in 2016. Before that, I had a pretty standard mission and could feel my testimony growing as time went on. I always loved to talk with people who strong believers in other religions and have uplifting conversations about our faiths. One day, I realized that some of these people had much greater faith than what I had. I wondered how this was possible, considering that all of their faiths, although good, weren’t the one true church. I decided to look at the church from a more objective point of view and compare it to other religions, in an effort to strengthen my faith. After about 3 months of prayerful studying and sincere asking, I realized that I probably only believed because I was born in this church.

    Shortly after, I just couldn’t believe anymore, and I lost all faith. I had only deferred to BYU, and I was afraid of the shame of coming home early and disappointing my family due to my non-belief. I elected to finish the mission and attend BYU for a year until I could transfer, and pretend like I was a regular believer. After returning from BYU, I revealed my feelings to my family and friends. They were shocked and it was hard for them to understand, but due to some time and a lot of love, they have learned to accept it and things have gone back to normal. In the last few years, some family, friends, and companions have left the church as well.

    I’m sorry to hear that this missionary is going through this sort of situation. Being a week removed from having the foundations your life is based on would be a lot for anyone to handle. Ultimately, there’s no right answer for whether this missionary should go home early or finish out the mission.

    First, they will need to decide whether they are certain that they don’t believe anymore. Fortunately, they have time to reflect about the reasons causing their doubt and if they are legitimate. If they truly don’t believe, I think it would be pretty difficult and taxing to fake belief for the rest of their life. Next, they need to decide what they’re expectations for the rest of their mission will be. Will they be able to get enough satisfaction from the missionary lifestyle, or will they feel like they’re just biding their time until the mission ends? I personally feel some regret for the lying I had to do and a good amount of wasted time in the last 4 months of my mission. However, it’s easy for me to feel this way now since I’m so far removed from the consequences that would come with coming home early.

    If they complete their mission and head to BYU, hiding their unbelief is going to be a cakewalk compared to the mission. Attend church most weeks and no one will ask any questions. Graduating from BYU would mean 5 more years of faking it. Transferring to another school after initially attending BYU is a viable option, but there are some downsides. It’s can be harder to make friends when you don’t live in dorms and develop your groups as a freshman. Also, there’s far fewer scholarships available for transfer students. I had a full-tuition scholarship to both of my in-state schools when I graduated high school, but I got very little when I applied as a transfer student.

    If they decide they will leave the church at some point, the day where they will have to face their family will come. I would argue they should to be as honest as they can in their reasoning for going home early/losing faith so that the family could come to a genuine understanding of the missionary. Their family might be disappointed, but there’s a lot of great parents out there who would accept them.

    This missionary is going through one of the hardest times of their life right now, but ultimately, everything is going to work out. The day will come when they don’t even think about the church much anymore. Trust yourself, trust your thoughts, and do what you know you need to do.

    My email is rigbyhrichard@gmail.com. Feel free to reach out if you’d like to talk 🙂

  54. I left for my mission roughly 5 years ago. I think before I even left I knew I had major doubts. There were already major cracks on the shelf for me. I tried to have these questions answered before I left and people seemed to just brush everything under the rug. I think what really hit home for me was the endowment session, which was perhaps the worst experience I could ever imagine. I didn’t enjoy the session whatsoever. In fact, I would’ve left had there not been so much pressure. This was tough for me. I went on the mission. I got sick and started not sleeping. The insomnia was real. I was teaching people something I definitely didn’t believe in. One of the hardest things was to admit that I wouldn’t lie to other people. I started wasting the days and refusing to talk about Jesus. I was extremely sick during this point. I volunteered to go there and asked to go home, which then I was denied. Finally, I was beginning to feel pretty helpless. When I finally did go home, this was rough. The pressure was unbearable and I remember the drive home. It was quiet and everyone was disappointed. I finally gathered the strength to tell my parents the truth that I just didn’t believe. Ultimately they respected my decision but it took time. I was able to find out who I really wanted to be. I left shortly after to attend BYU-Idaho, where once again, I lost all faith. I had to fake it till I made it for 4 years, I was kicked out twice in the process. But then I met my wife. We no longer attend church.

  55. Dear struggling missionary,
    You’ve been given tons of information and good advice from many who feel your pain. I won’t burden you with more, just wanted you to know that you are being heard and understood. You are a good person if you stay or leave. You have value and worth regardless of your testimony or the length of your mission. Do what you need to do so as to not suffocate yourself by hiding who you are or what you believe for too long. The original shock of letting family and friends know you’re no longer believing (eventually) will be extremely hard. So hard. Make sure you’re ready. But the sooner you do that, the sooner you will be able to start living your new life and being true to yourself. I wish you the best.

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    Author

    Hey Dr. Dehlin, I just saw your post about the missionary you’ve been contacting. I would post this publicly, but am currently a BYU student, and many of my friends and extended family are unaware I don’t believe. I experienced a faith crisis with four months left on my mission, and it was terrifying. Simultaneously, I had just received an acceptance letter from BYU, so like this missionary, I really had a bleak future to look forward too when I came home. But can you let this missionary know I’m here at BYU? It’s been very hard for me here, but nowhere near as hard as being a non believing missionary. I absolutely loved my mission… when I believed in what I was doing. It is amazing how quickly it all happened for me, and how alone I felt. Looking back here’s what I wished I had done to get through the situation and prepare for the future:

    1) Talk to my parents.
    When I came home, my parents had no idea I had lost my faith. There was quite a bit of drama that surrounded me coming out to them, and I’m fortunate that they have turned out to be very understanding. They felt betrayed, and took my choice to be secretive as a sign that I didn’t trust them, which really hurt them and me.

    2) Waited to start school.
    BYU is survivable now. But if I had talked with my parents earlier and established an understanding, I might have been able to go back to UVU (where I was previously). I don’t know if that would have happened, or if it would have made a difference, but it’s pretty stinking hard to find friends here at BYU. You have to do a lot of work to get out there and meet the people you want to meet, and that’s pretty hard for me.

    Some things I did that worked for me:

    1) didn’t mention a word to my mission President.
    It really helped that I didn’t have him try to convince me to believe again. That would just have been ugly.

    2) I haven’t tried to change anyone’s mind.
    This is huge. When I explain my reasoning, there was no way I could work around saying “I think it’s all false.” Naturally that’s an uncomfortable thing to hear if your a member. I’ve been saved from a lot of broken bridges by showing recognition of what is good about the church.

    3) Unlocked my tablet as a missionary.
    What really catalyzed all of this for me was being able to do my own research and use my device how I wanted. At first I learned how to factory reset my device. Then I collected information on free proxy servers. If he’s interested, I can show him how to do it on his Samsung phone.

    I hope some of this helps. Again, if he’s interested, let him know I’m a new student at BYU as well. I’d be happy to give him my contact info if he’s interested.

  57. Post
    Author

    Hi John! I’m responding to your post about the missionary on here because if family members saw this as a comment it would cause problems, but feel free to pass it on if it helps!

    My brother in law left the church halfway through his mission in XXXXXXX. Throughout the first year of his mission he expressed concerns and things he noticed didn’t add up. It was hard but my husband and I (who had left the church) didn’t say anything about his doubts. A year into his mission he asked point blank why we left and said he wanted to know everything. He wanted all the information to make a decision for himself about what to do. SO we sent him the CES letter, he printed it, stayed up all night reading it and knew the next day he was outa there. Everyone’s different but my opinion is that everyone should have the facts and then make their choices accordingly. The church indocrinates us so much that we can’t even make a real choice without having the info.

    Several other missionaries asked my brother in law why he was leaving and wanted to read what he read…he never told them, but it sucks to think of those kids so miserable on their missions who probably wanted to know the truth too.

    Best of luck to the missionary friend!

  58. I did not serve a mission but decisions like these are not limited to the mission field. I disappointed my parents when I decided not to take a full scholarship to medical school. I went into the Army instead at the age of 17- talk about serving but learning some unpleasant truths! I’ve been back to college twice and had three different major careers with so many interesting detours. I have a family of diverse religious faiths (or agnosticism/atheism)- yes, it can be done respectfully.

    It’s really a matter of deciding who we live our lives for- ourselves or meeting the expectations of others. I have no regrets- my life has taken such interesting turns and has fed my soul. I was raised in three different faith traditions simultaneously, and so, faith transitions felt completely natural. Nothing ever fits 100% and part of life is learning to sit with uncertainty, embrace it, and see what unfolds.

    It all feels like a “crisis” at the time because these things that upheave us are precisely what offers us the most opportunities to define ourselves. These moments are crucial determinants in how we go forward, either with courage or trepidation. Declaring ourselves or hiding. Finding out who really loves us and supports our efforts on our paths and who merely wants our choices to validate their own. This very moment you are deciding to choose your own path or have it laid out for you, at your own expense- this you must bear in mind. Latter Day Saints are expected to subsume themselves and martyr themselves to the Will of the Church™- but a broader spirituality can be an adventure and the path to becoming the hero of our own story instead of playing an assigned bit part.

    My parents got over my detours and finally understood I was carving my own path. Each difficult decision to go against others’ expectations in order to follow our own compass builds character and the increasing confidence to continue doing so. Mistakes will be made, but they will be your own and you will course adjust accordingly, but at least those mistakes would be made honestly and in harmony with your own goals. Learning to listen to our own intuition is a real skill and when it is strengthened through repeated practice, it is of incalculable value. I trust myself and my parents came to trust me too- I overcame formidable challenges by listening to that voice that insisted I could do all the hard things. And I have. Safety is an illusion and the price is often too high.

    It’s up to you to decide to do this now, or wake to the realization later that you live a life circumscribed by other’s expectations and you have no idea who you really are outside of those limitations. It’s a pay me now or pay me later proposition.
    A mission has value beyond lockstep methods. You learn how to communicate with others, put yourself out there, sustain repeated rejections. You don’t have to mouth the profanity of beliefs you do not hold. There is so much to share beyond a scripted spirituality. Serving and bringing the comfort of spiritual succor is valuable in and of itself. What a companion reports is out of your control, but if you are a loving, kind companion who serves his fellows with compassion, an open mind and bolster other people’s versions of their own sustaining beliefs, I don’t see what they could actually say that is worth getting upset over. You can develop your own answer to queries from Nosey Parkers. “I’m here on this mission pondering and praying over these very things- thank you for your care and concern.” I realize LDS culture isn’t good at supporting this kind of quest when they are working so hard to solidify conversion into fundamental certainty. But you really don’t have to buy that Trojan Horse. Not in any religion, not in any context- ever.
    Maybe you’ll stay, maybe you’ll go. This is your life, your energy investment, your developing mytholgy, your path. Let it be interesting. Let it inspire you.

  59. I am a return missionary I am also gay. And when I was a missionary I was Convinced that the church was true when I was on a mission. How I wish I knew that it wasn’t it would’ve made my life so much better. So think of that as you have one more your to go that this will not destroy your life it gives you a lot of good traits to build upon even If it’s not living in a true and only true church. I’m convinced it’s not necessarily if the church is completely true or not it’s all about individuals of life living a good life and being a good person no matter what religion you’re in I think that’s the most important thing. So my recommendation to you is do not let this ruin who you are. The core of who you are is not if the church is worth it. It just about destroyed me but I decided years ago I was going to be a good person if they thought I was or not and it gave me a pretty darn good life thinking that way. Hang in there good luck this will all be good for you I promise. Do not let the church destroy who you really are. Because that’s all that really matters to God. Not all the other crap the church tries to feed you. And yes if you are open minded and research out everything about the history of the church there’s no way that you can believe it is the one and only true church on this earth

  60. First of all, this is not my favorite method of communication. I wish I could hear more about this missionary’s story. I hope that, among everything we’ve posted here, they can find something that resonates and brings some measure of peace. Secondly, this is such a difficult situation to advise on! It is such a personal, complicated decision, with so much conflicting information. Dear Missionary, you must sparse through everything we’ve written very carefully, and listen to your own thoughts and feelings. You are the only one who knows what’s best in this situation. Trust yourself – your body and mind are incredibly wise.
    With that said, here’s my story.
    In July of 2013, I left for Peru. I was a bundle of nerves and excitement. I knew that my mission would be hard. I was prepared for setbacks, the language barrier, and trials. I completed the full eighteen months and even remained active in the church for two years following my return. However, I am still working through and overcoming the ramifications of the trauma I suffered in Peru.
    The first time I met my mission president, he drove us to the beach. He had prepared little paper boats, and we lit them on fire in the sandy ocean waves. He told us a story about conquistadors who burned their ships upon their arrival to a new continent. It was a physical and literal manifestation of their purpose – they could not return, so they must continue with their mission. He related this story to us, and instructed us to watch those boats burn and think about our commitment to the mission. There was no going back.
    As he delivered this message in Spanish, I was too busy concentrating to notice the problematic implications of comparing us to ancient conquistadors. In any case, this echoed the desires of my heart. I wanted to commit myself to God, I wanted to serve Him, and I wanted to feel blessed and happy in my service.
    This was my first encounter with my mission president’s careful, calculated manipulations. I hesitate to use the word “brainwash,” because there’s something cultish and extraterrestrial in its connotation. However, there’s no other word for what I experienced at the hands of my president. Every time President had an opportunity to teach a group of missionaries – zone conferences, district meetings, newsletters – he always began his talk with discussions of the prophets. He quoted many scriptures and general conference talks, but D&C 1:38 was his favorite. “… whether by my own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” He frequently delineated the direct Priesthood chain that allowed him to preside over us: Christ anointed the Prophet, the Prophet anointed the Apostles, and the Apostles anointed President. He taught that because he could trace his calling straight to Jesus, he was our prophet. I’m going to repeat that. He was our prophet. He had been called to speak for the Lord directly to the missionaries serving in Lima West.
    While at first glance this may appear to be a comforting doctrine, it set us up to believe every word that came from President’s mouth. He groomed us to literally worship him. My fellow missionaries – and myself – spoke of him with awe and reverence. We hung onto his every word, because he was actually speaking for God. It was a very powerful and motivating tactic, and many missionaries I served with still revere him. However, President was not an empathetic man. It was his way or the highway, and since he represented God, there was little anyone could do to argue.
    I want to share one story that I think illustrates his lack of empathy. In a series of zone conferences, he taught the entire mission that Mary was “carried away in the Spirit” (1 Nephi 11:19). According to President – and remember, he is the prophet – Mary was carried to God’s presence, where she had sex with Him. Understandably, many sisters in my mission were troubled by this. I can see now how this could be triggering for people with sexual assault trauma, or even troubling for anyone who valued the Virgin Mary and everything she represents.
    President responded to these concerns by saying, “It’s just milk before meat. If you’re struggling with this doctrine, you need to study the basics. Pray, study, and repent, and when you’re ready, this doctrine will be beautiful and the Spirit will testify the truth of it to you.” I mean, talk about gaslighting and victim blaming, am I right?
    I could tell you a million stories of President that would illustrate the kind of man that he is. He was viciously cruel to other religions, particularly Catholics and Jehovas Witnessess. He often taught one of their beliefs, “proved” it wrong with the Book of Mormon, and then told an extremely derogatory and offensive joke. He had no respect for people who left the Church, and thought of them as weak or sinful. He was very controlling of what we could write home to our families, often saying things like, “Good missionaries don’t write home about the hard times. You are representatives of Christ, and your families need to know the blessings that your service is bringing.” He taught that birth control was contrary to God’s plan. He belittled mental illness at every opportunity, teaching that if people fasted properly, depression wouldn’t exist. One of my companions was extremely depressed and suicidal. While President allowed her to see the mission psychiatrist, he talked her out of taking her medications and wouldn’t let her go home. Those are her words – I don’t know what he did to make her think she couldn’t go home. I can imagine, though – he is very persuasive and manipulative. I kept my own depression closeted close, terrified that he would blame me or judge me for struggling.
    For time’s sake, I’ll share one final example. About halfway through my mission, my companion and I taught and baptized a beautiful lady named Denise. She was a single mother raising three or four small children. The father of her children had recently left her for another woman, but she was strong and resilient and determined. She accepted the baptismal challenge, and a few weeks later joined the Church. Things were going really well, until she showed up. It turns out that the woman for whom her husband abandoned her was a less active member. One Sunday shortly after Denise’s baptism, her husband’s mistress came to church. Denise never came back after that.
    Not long after, President taught at a zone conference. He taught that our job as missionaries extends far beyond baptism and into retention and lifelong activity. He taught that if our converts fell away from the Church, we would go to hell with them.
    It makes perfect sense that Denise wouldn’t want to continue going to church. Seeing that woman probably brought so many complicated emotions to the surface. I know that now. I know that it had nothing to do with me at all. But when President taught that, I had a severe anxiety attack. My counselor says that my brain interpreted that as a threat on my life, and I am working hard to overcome the effects of that trauma today.
    Laying it out like that, it’s easy to see that President is at fault. He is misguided, manipulative, and unsympathetic. However, he had groomed me so carefully that I still believed he was speaking for God. I was in a state of severe dissonance. There was a voice deep inside me that whispered, “This isn’t true. I don’t believe this. This is not from God.” But I couldn’t bear to heed that voice. I was on the verge of a faith crisis, but didn’t realize it. I believed so firmly in the Restoration of the gospel, the importance of missionary work, and revelation from God’s servants that, had I allowed myself to doubt President’s words, I would have shattered.
    So I tucked it all away. I threw myself into missionary work. I beat myself up for every imperfection, blamed myself for every lost member, and struggled silently with my depression and anxiety. I was miserable, I hated myself, and I felt guilty for longing for home.
    And I paid the price! After returning home, I continued to suffer from anxiety and depression, especially on Sundays. In 2018, I finally listened to my body and stopped attending church. It was hard, agonizing, and isolating. However, my life is transformed now, much better than it ever was before serving. To sum up, here’s what I’ve learned from my crisis:
    1. Listen to your body. Are you feeling an unusual amount of depression or anxiety? Are you losing or gaining weight? Are you irritable and grumpy? If so, dig a little deeper. It’s my experience that if our minds and bodies are not united, our body rebels. Figure out what it’s trying to tell you, and LISTEN! Our physical bodies are so incredibly wise.
    2. Find your tribe. So many people going through faith transitions lose friends and family, and that breaks my heart. FIGHT to find like-minded people, and surround yourself with them. The internet offers so many possibilities today. You are not alone, so go out and find those who will love and support you. (PS, I’m one of them!)
    3. IT WILL GET BETTER!! Experiencing a faith crisis is one of the best things to have happened to me. My mind is expanded, my compassion is greater, and my self-love is enormous compared to what it was before. YOU WILL NOT FEEL LIKE THIS FOREVER!!
    Much love and thoughts! Remember to breathe. You can do this!

  61. I came home from my mission after about 6 months. I realized during a conversation with someone on their doorstep that I couldn’t keep teaching something I no longer believed in. I asked them if they had ever researched or prayed about Mormonism and they asked if I ever researched or prayed about Judaism. I realized I had spent my entire life surrounded by people who taught me that Mormonism was true. How could I go out and teach something that I was raised to believe was true to people that had been taught something different.

    I was so worried about coming home early that my mental health started to decline. I started to think it would be easier to die than make the decision to come home. After some self harm I reached out to my mission president and asked to be sent home. He decided that I should be sent home “honorably” because of my mental health issues. My parents were not disappointed, they were honestly just concerned about my health.

    I was asked to teach the gospel essentials class in my family ward. I became a cafeteria Mormon, taking what I liked and leaving what I didn’t. I taught in my class that the church worked better when it was made about ourselves rather than trying to apply it to others. I soon realized that my perspective was not that of the church and I stopped attending.

    Everything worked out fine. After leaving the church I found that my mental health issues were greatly improved.

  62. I was in a very similar situation on my mission, and my heart aches for this missionary. My faith crisis began very soon after leaving (I don’t think I ever believed the Church was true, but the mission was me giving it a shot to find out once and for all). At 2 weeks I felt I had my answer, so I spent the next 8 months struggling. My concerns about leaving and reasons to stay were essentially the same (except being truly locked in at BYU). My parents were converts and I was the only child left in the Church, so I was extremely concerned about what they would think, and the myriad of effects it would have on them personally, socially, and otherwise. The stress of staying on a mission while not believing was enormous – to the point where I was having panic attacks, anxiety, depression, as well as a variety of physical health effects that made me think I actually had a serious health condition. I was sent to run blood tests, CT scans, etc., which ended with the mission doctor telling me that it was all stress (she even said: “trust me, I see this happen to so many missionaries”). After that, the MP’s wife told me I should speak to the mission psychologist, as well as LDS counselling services. They did nothing but tell me to stay on the mission and continue the work.
    At one point, I fully confided in a sister training leader who I felt I could trust. She told me: “Stop faking health issues so that you can get medical release to go home.” My mission president was very busy and hard to get a hold of, and despite the fact that I asked to be sent home in nearly every single weekly email, I only met with him 3 times over the 9 months I was out. These meetings included gas-lighting, guilt-tripping, emotional abuse, and, in the last one, screaming in my face asking what my problem was and why I couldn’t do what God wanted me to do. He finally said (or I should say threatened): “if you ask one more time I’m sending you home.” So I asked. He drove me to the airport himself (us two alone), where he say me down before security and told me how amazing I was, how I was always welcome back, and so on. This was the exact opposite of anything else he had said, and it was his last effort to convince me to stay. I walked away and never looked back.
    I don’t mean to ramble about myself (although I do tend to get fired up when telling this story), but I wanted to explain what I went through. It was enormously stressful trying to balance being true to myself with my missionary obligations. I would try to stick to teaching parts of lessons that I still believed, to the point that I would even flat out stay silent in the middle of a lesson if my companion tried to make me do otherwise. Then the treatment from my MP, his wife, and others made it much worse, and I legitimately felt trapped for several months (although I hope this MP is not the same). What I’m trying to say is: if you do not believe in the church, it is not worth staying. I say from experience that being true to yourself is paramount, no matter what you may see as negative repercussions as a result of making that decision. A mission is so all-encompassing and demanding, where (as a non-believer) you will constantly be pushed to do things you don’t want to do or that don’t align with your beliefs and values.
    If you do decide to stay, I would suggest doing as much as you can to feel comfortable and supported despite the situation. I was very lucky to have a companion for one transfer who was truly an angel. I could share everything with her and she was a large part of the reason I was able to still function on a daily basis. I also did my best to maximize the amount of time I spent at activities that I enjoyed. Sometimes this was playing soccer during exercise time, sometimes it was booking as many dinners with families/individuals that I enjoyed being around. Although I did not want to stay for as long as I did, I can now (years later) look back and see the good that did come of it. If nothing else, I was able to get better at handling stress and difficult situations, which I can honestly say is something that benefits me now.
    One last thing – know that you are not alone!! I promise you there are other missionaries who understand where you are at, and this forum of responses should be a testament to the fact that there are so many of people world wide who stand with you! You are strong and you are amazing and you are loved!

  63. STAY With less than a year to go DON’T start your leaving the church on your mission. Define your mission as Proclaiming Christ and Christianity, and the God of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses etc. If you feel guilty about bringing investigators into the church without making a full disclosure of your doubts make sure they are be-friended by a honest and nuanced member who will tackle the tough questions and commitments made. A missionary had his crisis when I was out. He told me Joseph Smith practiced polygamy and had young girls for his wife’s I knew of that being a polygamous descendant but I was told they were spiritual wife’s and not sex was involved so I was OK with it, Now I know better But his going home and talks with the mission president were UGLY in the mission field and I’m sure when he got home. He had been a convert for 2-3 years. He was upset that so much of church history and theology was never presented to him when he joined.
    Missions are at least a year too long and way under prepared for. I was state-side 1969-1970 Several of us missionaries carefully confessed to each other that we did not know for sure if the claims of the church were true but we had hope that they were and in Christ and God and that was enough to go preach. Don’t burn any bridges behind you Keep your options open
    ,’

  64. I experienced a faith crisis before my mission after receiving my mission call after seeing a documentary on the Book of Abraham. That led me down the rabbit hole but I still decided to go. I had been begging and pleading with God for answers and my mission was my last offering. If I still didn’t receive a witness by the time my mission was finished, I was leaving the church. The MTC was miserable. Having to testify of things I wasn’t sure I believed anymore was tough. Having to tell people they would receive answers, when i hadn’t, felt disingenuous. But slowly, it got easier. Consistently testifying of things I didn’t believe made me start to actually believe them. By the end of the mission, I had a strong testimony, although I never did receive the “witness” I was hoping for. I got married six months after getting home to a TBM and got pregnant on my honeymoon.

    A year into my marriage, my faith crisis came back with a vengeance. I lost all belief in LDS truth claims and have hurt my husband deeply. Having a child made divorce an unfavorable option. We are now making our mixed faith marriage work, but how I wished I had figured out all of my issues with the church before I married, rather than indoctrinating myself even more by going on a mission. I feel for this kid. If he wants to stay out, I think it’s possible, but really really tough. But my advice would be to be open about where he’s at to friends and family once he gets home (whether that’s now or after completing his mission).

  65. Staying on a mission may sound like the ‘best’ thing to do and I wish it was – simply teach of Christ. Of course each mission president will be different – I read of one set of parents that were told if they didn’t ring and tell their son that Russell M Nelson was a prophet he would be sent home. He was on a plane home that day. When I get up and share my testimony of Christ on fast Sundays without mentioning Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon I’ve (predictably) noticed that some people will not look me in the eye or I get different looks, or avoidance. I’m in Utah.

    Tough situation for this young man.

  66. My own experience concluding the church could not be true happened during this last semester at BYU. Just a few months after coming home from my mission. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had gone through that in the mission field. I feel for this guy!

    My professors have been great. Almost all of them are VERY empathetic because most have come to similar conclusions about the church and are now experts on remaining in the church as loyal, faithful even, but non-believing members.

    One professor experienced this very situation with his daughter while she was in her mission. He sent her a detailed summary with his own commentary of Fowler’s “stages of faith,” in several installments over a few weeks. She called it his “Berlin Airlift” of support. He said it was just enough to help her work through the last few months of her mission.

    He shared those same installments with me and it helped me tremendously, framing this in terms of transition, rather than calamity. Just getting a sense that this sort of thing is natural, and that it doesn’t have to mean the death of faith or spirituality was the balm I needed.

  67. Get a hold of former BYU professor, Lynn Wilder’s book, Unveiling Grace. She deals with this very subject in a thoughtful, intelligent and loving way. In the last weeks of his mission, her youngest son came home. The entire family dealt with pain, hurt, confusion, church leaders and this son who was on a new path. It’s an easy and engaging read.

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