So if you were listening to General Conference this morning you heard a most amazing announcement. *Spoiler alert! If you haven’t listened to this morning’s session you might want to hear this from the prophet before you hear it from me :) * They changed the eligible missionary ages for young men from 19 to 18 and for young women from 21 to 19.
I was stunned when I heard this news. At first the focus for me was for those young men, what a difference that age change makes for them. They can now go on their missions straight out of high school instead of having that awkward year between graduating high school and going on a mission where their lives are somewhat on hold while waiting for the next thing. It made me think of my little brother who just received his mission call, but if this change had been made sooner he likely would have left sometime this summer instead. I also thought of a young man that got lost in that year between 18 and 19 and has now made some life choices that have changed his life forever. I wondered if his life might have been different if he’d had the option to leave a year sooner.
Then when they announced the age change for the sisters I didn’t really know what to think. A large part of me was elated for the sisters that will be able to go on a mission. But I couldn’t help but think, “why couldn’t this change have happened 10 years ago?”
Let me give you some background on me. When I was a little girl I lived in a ward that had sister missionaries. I *loved* those sister missionaries. They were the coolest people ever in my opinion and I wanted to be just like them. As I was growing up whenever primary teachers or Sunday school teachers or whoever would ask “Who’s going to serve a mission” my hand would shoot up as one of the first. I always wanted to serve a full-time mission.
As I graduated high school all of my guy friends were preparing for missions and I was completely jealous of them. I’d heard that daughters of mission presidents got an exception that they could serve missions early and I started hoping that my dad would get called as a mission president. I took mission prep classes in my ward and at BYU, I read books and studied as best I could so I could one day serve a mission. Everyone told me that I would never make it that far, that I’d be one of those girls who got married my freshman year, but I wanted to serve SO badly.
At the end of my junior year of college I had the decision to make, in November I would finally be turning 21 and I could finally actually put in my mission papers. I got my mission papers and filled them all out so that I could be ready. As I was getting prepared to turn them in I stopped and prayed about my decision. I can remember what the place looked like where I prayed about this decision, I was looking at a huge grassy field and praying about what I should be doing in the next couple years. I had a year left of schooling, and after three years of schooling I’d finally found my niche at BYU, so of course the decision was a bit harder. But I still wanted to serve a mission. The answer I received then was that it wasn’t the right time for me to serve a mission and that I needed to wait another year.
During that next year I met, dated, got engaged to and married my wonderful husband. I’m glad that I was able to be in the right place at the right time to make the most important and best decision of my life. I truly think that one of the major reasons, if not the reason, I wasn’t supposed to serve a mission at that time was so that I could be at the right place at the right time to marry the amazing man that I did and so that we could start our family.
However, had the opportunity to go been available to me at age 19, as I so desperately wished it could have been at the time, there isn’t a question in my mind that I would have gone. When I heard today’s change in policy I was stunned for a little while. Then, as I took my baby upstairs to nurse him, I laid down in my bed and cried. I feel like my hopes and prayers for that opportunity for mission service were answered… but too late for it to do me any good. It would be a lie to say that, while I’m ecstatic for the young women who can take advantage of this opportunity, there’s a part of me that cries out, “why couldn’t it have been me?” I don’t at all regret my decision to forgo a mission in favor of marrying my husband. Not even a little bit. Starting a family is the most important thing I believe I will ever do in my life and I am grateful for the opportunity.
But at 19 my life looked totally different than it did at 21. At 19, I wasn’t at all ready to settle down and start a family. I still had things that I wanted to do with my life and experiences to have. I wanted to explore the world and do lots of things. A mission was exactly what I wanted to be doing and I would have gone in a heartbeat. There isn’t a single doubt in my mind that had that option been available to me then that I would have gone and served a mission.
At 21 though, things start looking different. At 21 I had to look and realize that most of my guy friends were home from missions, and starting to look at getting married and starting the next part of their lives. If I left for a year and a half at 21, then I wouldn’t be returning home until I was nearly 23. Within Mormon culture those are fairly prime marrying years, they’re the years where a young woman is still approximately the same age as the young men who have recently returned from their missions. At 23 the main pool of eligible young men has dwindled significantly and it’s much more difficult to find the kind of person I would want to be marrying.
Also, at 19 I was nowhere near finding my niche. Actually my 19th year was one of the hardest of my entire life and had I been on a mission then that would have changed everything. I only had a single year of schooling under my belt, no declared major, and nothing that would hold me back from serving the Lord.
There is a huge pang of jealousy going through me right now. But at the same time I think it’s important for me to stop and realize that the options that were available for me were good options. I don’t regret not having served a mission, I got in the experiences that I wanted to before settling down with my family. I traveled the world with the Young Ambassadors and completed my college degree. I had lots of time as a single young woman to go and serve in the temple and make good friends and do many good things. It doesn’t really do me any good to consider how my life would have been different had these options been available to me – because they weren’t available to me. I believe that I was put where I was and when I was for very good reasons and I am very happy with where the path of my life has led me. It’s hard to do, and I’d be lying if I were to say that knowing these things intellectually is making the feelings of jealousy and sadness go away completely, but I still think it’s important to remember and I’ll get over it by and by. Also, I always in the back of my head knew I wouldn’t get to serve a mission as a young woman. I fought against that feeling HARD. I was definitely “kicking against the pricks” just like Paul. The truth is I didn’t need to pray about whether or not I ought to serve a mission just before I turned 21, I had known for certain the day I received my patriarchal blessing that it wasn’t meant to be for me. The way some things are worded let me know that it wasn’t what I was needed for. I would be a different person today if that option had been available to me, but I wouldn’t be the person Heavenly Father needed me to be.
It’s been interesting to think today on the ramifications these changes will have on the youth of the church. I think that this is going to make a HUGE difference in the way that our young people see a mission. It makes a mission so much more feasible for young women without asking them to sacrifice opportunities dating and marriage if they want to serve. But if they’re coming home by the time they’re 21 that gets them back still in that prime age for marrying. I think we are going to find that having younger sister RMs is going to change the dating scene amongst our young adults. These young women will likely come home much more serious about dating and marriage and will expect the young men to step up. I think before there were young men who would come back from missions serious minded, but find that the young women they had left behind hadn’t changed their mindset in quite the same way and the result was a lot more non-serious dating for both groups. I think this change will result in marriage rates increasing among our young adults at an earlier age.
I think it’s going to make a difference in how the young men prepare when the young women are preparing alongside them. I can’t help but think that having cute girls at mission prep will help entice more young men to come to the classes ;) I also think that the young women might be more drawn to those same classes knowing it will be where the eligible, righteous young men are. I think that having young men and women coming home from missions at quite similar ages and being at the same point in their lives is going to affect how they date and get married. In the past it seemed like many of the young women were given this big blank slate after high school. Education, marriage, mission, all of these things were on the table, but not in the same sort of laid out mandated order as they were for the young men. Now there’s a much more feasible, structured order that the young women have that coincides with the young men.
Anyways, I’m SO excited for these changes. Even if they’re too late for me, I think they’re going to make a huge difference in the missionary force for the church and the church membership as a whole. Now I need to go back and make some adjustments to the FHE lesson I prepared about missionaries a couple weeks back…