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Cover image via LDS.org.
I am an expert at missionary methods that don’t work. Believe me, I’ve tried them all. I don’t lack for enthusiasm. But sometimes I’ve lacked a few other traits necessary for success: Faith, genuine caring, the ability to invite the Holy Ghost, an understanding of those you teach, listening skills, a great attitude, humility, obedience, boldness.
But the one that most often trips me up is patience. I think Christ’s atonement and the restoration of his gospel is the greatest thing in the world. Waaay better than sliced bread. In fact, the bread of life. It’s the most logical, exciting, spine-tingling, powerful, awesome, and joy-inducing news in the universe. I love it more than air itself.
And that’s kind of a problem, because I expect everyone else to see it exactly like that, slap their forehead, and say, “Where has this been all my life? Sign me up!” And, while there are probably a handful of people who have responded precisely this way, that is not how most folks react. They need time. They have questions. They’re not sure how their friends and families would feel about them joining. They wonder if they’re worthy. They wonder if it’s even true. They have no idea how to pray, or how to get answers. What will it cost? How will they have to change their lifestyle? What if they have doubts? What if they expect God to solve all their problems?
“Come on! Jump in!” just isn’t a good missionary technique. And when I get impatient for someone to embrace these new truths and they don’t, I am astounded. Soon I’m discouraged. Sometimes I’m irritated. Recently when this happened my husband, Bob, said, “So you’re basically an instant oatmeal kind of missionary.”
And that sounds, well, childish. And cheap. And shallow. But, Bob is right. I need to take a breath, listen for answers to my prayers, and allow people the time they need. Give them space. Respect agency.
Have you noticed how much better oatmeal is when you take the time to cook it slowly? I think the best oatmeal is steel cut, topped with cinnamon, fresh peaches, and a drizzle of pure maple syrup. It takes about half an hour to cook, so this is not a breakfast on the fly that you can prepare in two minutes. But the result is much richer, with a depth of flavor that doesn’t compare to quickie oats.
And these are the kinds of members who last: Ones who have honestly experienced the Holy Ghost, who have depth of commitment. Not ones who just jumped in quickly on an impulsive whim.
Think of the many ways we take shortcuts and end up shortchanging ourselves. Dashing in to see the Mona Lisa and missing the whole rest of the Louvre. Trying to burn green wood because we’re too impatient to let it dry out first. Prying open the egg of a chick instead of letting it hatch by itself and thus develop life-saving strength. I once sprinkled Miracle Gro directly on the soil of my flower beds, figuring the rain would dilute it enough, and everything died. There are hundreds of examples of ways we hurry too fast—or we expect others to—and we experience epic failures.
Of all things not to set to an egg timer, conversion probably tops the list. You cannot hurry the Holy Ghost, nor someone’s receptiveness to his testifying witness. You cannot force someone into the font and expect it to be meaningful to them.
Let’s ignore the increasingly impatient world we live in. Let’s not allow the need for instant gratification to permeate our missionary work. Fast technology, fast travel, fast food, fast shopping, even speed dating, have become so commonplace that we are losing the trait of patience. We want to pry open the bud instead of letting it bloom. We’ve forgotten what a slow-cooked sauce actually tastes like. We expect our relationships to blaze into glory without giving them time to grow. We hurry our children, we honk at slower drivers, we dash this way and that without savoring nature or the world around us. And don’t even get me started on how impatient we become when our phones and computers are a bit slower than usual.
Missionary work is, like I say, one of the most exciting adventures we can experience in this life. But in our eagerness to share what we love, we must allow time for seeds to sprout. Patience doesn’t come naturally for me, but I need to remember all the ways in which I am slow to learn, slow to get on board. Even gaining my own testimony originally took years. Thank goodness someone wasn’t shoving me along faster than I was ready to go.
Not only that, but we need to remember that the conversion process is a very long farming analogy. Where we contribute is not often at the end, at the harvest. Maybe we’re preparing the soil, planting the seed, watering, or weeding. But each of those steps is indispensable and important. As long as we respond in whatever way we are able, we must thank God for the opportunity to matter, to be part of the process.
Bringing sheep back to the fold is another huge, yet often neglected aspect of missionary work. Too many of us only count efforts to bring in newbies, but this is not the only place where God counts us as Saviors on Mount Zion. Reactivating someone who has fallen away is every bit as important. Even fortifying one another to prevent a member from letting go of the rod can avert disaster and positively impact families for generations. Missionary work is wide and vast, deep and high. And it always, always requires patience.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.