Ashley Sargeant returned nine months early from her LDS mission to Brazil due to an illness. She shared with us what this experience taught her about patience.
“Patience is the capacity to endure delay, trouble, opposition, or suffering without becoming angry, frustrated, or anxious. It is the ability to do God’s will and accept His timing. When you are patient, you hold up under pressure and are able to face adversity calmly and hopefully. Patience is related to hope and faith—you must wait for the Lord's promised blessings to be fulfilled” (“Patience,” from chapter 6 of Preach My Gospel).
This was hands down the last thing I wanted to hear two and a half years ago, when I returned home nine months early from my mission to Brasilia due to a total mental and emotional breakdown. I was anything but patient with the Lord's timing at that point in my life. I was angry. I was frustrated. And, boy, was I anxious. Coming home early from my mission triggered the deepest, darkest depression I have ever experienced. It was like a tarring of my soul. All the light went out inside of me. The heaviness of it was unbearable. All I could do most days was just lie there in my bed, stare at the ceiling, cry, and wish for death.
My old room in my parents’ basement became like a secret hideout for me for the first couple of weeks because of the shame I felt. I didn't even tell my siblings I was home—no one knew except my parents. I didn't want others to know because I didn't know how to answer their questions. I lost almost all hope, and I found it hard to believe in God or that He even cared or that my life was worth living anymore. I didn't understand why He let this happen to me. Wasn't I just doing His work, out there in the field, day in and day out? Shouldn't He have spared my mind and my body from succumbing to my illness? Was I not worthy or good enough to be His servant? Was He punishing me for something I did wrong? Why did He call me to serve in Brazil to do His work only to abandon me there? I had lots of questions and no answers. I thought I had failed God by not finishing the full 18 months of service, and I firmly believed that I was going to hell because of it.
I wish I knew then what I know now.
Coming home early from my mission was the best thing to ever happen to me because of how it has changed my relationship with God and how I have learned to trust in His timing. C. S. Lewis said, “God allows us to experience the low points of life in order to teach us lessons that we could learn no other way.”
This was one of those low points, followed by lots of lessons I could learn no other way. God knew when He called me to Brazil that I wouldn't finish “on time,” but He needed me to have that experience so I could know how to help and empathize with other early-returned missionaries. I have felt a lot like Ammon, who says in the Book of Mormon, “Now when our hearts were depressed, and we were about to turn back, behold, the Lord comforted us, and said: Go amongst thy brethren, the Lamanites, and bear with patience thine afflictions, and I will give unto you success” (Alma 26:27).
To the early-returned missionaries reading this right now, I wish to say to you: “Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).
Run with patience the race that is set before you. Don’t give up! You are not alone! God has not abandoned you, nor will He ever. He will, however, allow you to suffer hard things to help you come closer to His Son, Jesus Christ. As is so eloquently written in Romans: “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). And above all else, remember this: “For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it” (Romans 8:24–25).