Sunday, June 15, 2014

What it Means to Repent in the Face of Excommunication

I have never been called before a disciplinary council. But on my mission, I experienced something similar. Near the end of my mission, my mission president was released and a new one was called. My first mission president had incredible perception by the Spirit. He allowed me to be the kind of missionary I was drawn to be, even though it caused considerable upheaval and confusion among the ranks of the elders called to lead me in my work.

I remember going to interviews with him, which happened once every six weeks, nervous that I was going to be called on the carpet for the disagreements about how to conduct missionary work I had been having with my leaders. Every new set of leaders in every place I was moved (and it was frequent, at the beginning of my mission) was a new battle. They were called to report numbers of baptisms and lessons taught. I was inclined more to concentrating on the people I came in contact with, feeling strongly that counting numbers was not going to be effective in the area I served.

I had not been a senior missionary for long when my mission president was released and replaced with a new president. At the same time, my mission was combined with another. This new president had served in the area covered by the other mission. For the first several weeks, he tightened the already-stricter-than-usual mission rules and praised the other (much smaller) mission profusely. The litany of constant critique among missionaries who had been inspired through loving attention to work with their whole hearts and souls coupled with the praise of missionaries who were newcomers, and who seemed rather lazy by comparison, caused a great deal of muttering among the missionaries of my previous mission.

Perhaps because I was the most senior sister left, and perhaps because I was known to be a fighter with passionate views about how mission work should be accomplished, many of the discontented whisperings came to me. We chafed under doubled number expectations when we had previously struggled to even meet the expectations we had. We ached under the frequent criticism and put-downs. And we murmured. Profusely.

Being who I am, I felt the need to communicate this discontent up the chain. I voiced my problems to my district leaders, who escalated to my zone leaders, who escalated to the Assistants to the President. Each escalation meant another long phone call while I expressed my concerns. Eventually, I took a call from the President himself.

I still don't have the least idea why, but for some reason he and his wife had taken a particular liking to me. I expressed my concern to him, and by the end of the phone call felt I had been heard.

It wasn't long after that I received a phone call from my Zone leader that I was to take the train to mission central. Alone. My companion was to be part of another companionship for the duration. Nervous and confused, I traveled the several hours. Nervous, I waited outside the door to talk with the President. With increasing alarm, I listened to him explain to me that he was concerned about my ability to continue on my mission for the extra month, as I had planned, and told me he was sending me home two weeks before my 18-month mark.

For the first time in nearly a year since I had been assigned there, I had been feeling I was making headway with the members of my ward who disliked missionaries. We were actually teaching an investigator who was German, a young single mom named Sabine with a little son. She needed the gospel. I had grown to love her deeply. She was about to set a baptismal date. I felt as though I had actually, FINALLY, been seeing some results of all my hard work to share the gospel. I was helping to change someone's life.

And he wanted to send me home early.

I begged, pleaded with him to let me stay. After hours of discussion, pleading, promising I would be silent about the increasing problems in the mission, he agreed with the stipulation that I would be sent home immediately if he felt I needed it.

I finished my mission with all the energy I could. But inside, I was injured. I felt as though my instincts about missionary work were wrong, as if my attempts to let the president know how people were feeling under his leadership merely got me targeted as unstable and incapable of being a good missionary. Things that happened as I was released only corroborated my feelings of failure. Despite winning his agreement that I should stay, the wind had been completely taken out of my sails. I was devastated.

I still believe that the emotional state I took home with me from my mission made me susceptible to a relationship with an abusive man in a way I would not have been at any other time. And I still carry the scars. All that has happened since has kept me from completely healing. It wasn't the FAULT of my president. He was only trying to look out for me. But I had been called before a disciplinary council of one, and I have never been the same since. My confidence before the Lord has been forever changed.

But because of this experience, I have learned to rely more deeply on my Savior than ever. I have learned caution. I have learned that imperfect leaders can still be great men and earnest disciples of Christ, even as they make mistakes that hurt me deeply. Forgiveness isn't something you can only do once you are healed. It is harder, but forgiveness can come even as you spiritually bleed from deep wounds.

This is probably one of the most personal stories I've ever shared publicly. If understood in a way I could never clearly communicate, it lays bare the secret of why I love the Church so deeply despite never quite fitting into it. It hurt me to my very core, being brought up before someone who loved me but couldn't understand me, knowing that my reputation and standing in the Church depended on his good will. But it taught me things about the priesthood, about the power of God.

God, Jesus Christ, is mighty to save! Have you ever wondered what that means? It means that nothing in this life has to be permanent. It means that no matter how hurt we are, how misunderstood we are, how little we feel as if we could ever accomplish anything good, we can choose to be His. His grace, His infinite, loving, atoning, suffering, powerful self is enough to cover all our sins and insecurities.

My mission president, I hope, learned a little something more about God as he dealt with me. If he came closer to Him, I would experience it all over again. If I can learn something that will help me understand my Savior and my brothers and sisters, I would stand in front of any disciplinary council.

We all have something to learn from each other. I know it's messy, but this mortal life with all its imperfections, injustices, pain, and confusion is the way God has ordained that we can become perfect, just, whole, and wise.

I know it works. Trust the process.


  1. I had a very, VERY similar thing happen to me on my mission. Mine involved being used as a poster boy for bad missionaries in a round of zone conferences by the mission president and one of the Seventy for something that I had not in fact done (my friend in a different mission had wrote to me about what he had done and when the AP's opened my mail and read it, they assumed I had done it too).

  2. "God, Jesus Christ, is mighty to save! Have you ever wondered what that means? It means that nothing in this life has to be permanent. It means that no matter how hurt we are, how misunderstood we are, how little we feel as if we could ever accomplish anything good, we can choose to be His. His grace, His infinite, loving, atoning, suffering, powerful self is enough to cover all our sins and insecurities." This. This is so beautiful.


Unfortunately, I've found it necessary to screen comments. Unless your comment violates the commenting policy, it will show up as soon as I can approve it.

Popular Posts