I am 16 years old (almost 17). I know everyone says, “every man should go on a mission.” Yet in the past six months I have been diagnosed with intermittent explosive disorder and major depressive disorder, along with chronic anxiety, after a series of depressive and anger episodes where I almost took my life. Gramps, I don’t feel like I am fit to serve a full-time mission, though I feel there is shame in this. I want to serve, though I feel I’m not able to. Do you think this is okay?
The Lord loves you and He is aware of your desire to serve and the limitations that you face that are not your fault. There should be no shame in this. If you had cancer you would not feel shame. Mental and emotional health issues are not your fault any more than cancer. While you are correct that we have been told that every worthy young man should serve a mission, notice what Pres. Monson said:
“First, to young men of the Aaronic Priesthood and to you young men who are becoming elders: I repeat what prophets have long taught—that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission.” As We Meet Together Again
Pres. Monson said every ABLE young man should serve. Sometimes due to health or mental health challenges, a mission may not be possible. In a recent “Face to Face,” Elder Holland addressed a question that was very similar to yours. A young man had written to him and explained that he had to come home from his mission after only four months because of mental health issues. You can listen to Elder Holland’s very loving and encouraging response here:
With this message in mind, especially the reassurance from an apostle that the Lord loves you and understands your situation, I encourage you to counsel with your Bishop. He is the best one to give you advice about your unique situation. You obviously have a desire to serve. There may be a way you can serve in a different way. For example:
1. Work and go out with the local missionaries
2. Perform a service mission locally
3. If there is a Bishop’s storehouse in your area you could volunteer there and provide service
4. Service at the Family History Center
Your Bishop may have other suggestions. I would further counsel you to remember that the future is not written yet. Only the Lord knows what lies ahead. Elder Holland spoke of this too.
“In any case we have all taken courage from those who, in the words of the Prophet Joseph, “search[ed] … and contemplate[d] the darkest abyss” and persevered through it—not the least of whom were Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Elder George Albert Smith, the latter being one of the most gentle and Christlike men of our dispensation, who battled recurring depression for some years before later becoming the universally beloved eighth prophet and President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
I would guess that when Pres. George Albert Smith was in the darkest days of his depression, he never would have imagined that someday he would be the President of the church, but the Lord knew. Living with the mental and emotional challenges that you have is not easy, but the Lord will help you. He can make even the darkest trials be to our benefit. Trust in His loving guidance. As Elder Holland testified:
“Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. As President Monson said to the Relief Society sisters so movingly last Saturday evening: “That love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.” Never, ever doubt that, and never harden your heart. Faithfully pursue the time-tested devotional practices that bring the Spirit of the Lord into your life. Seek the counsel of those who hold keys for your spiritual well-being. Ask for and cherish priesthood blessings. Take the sacrament every week, and hold fast to the perfecting promises of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Believe in miracles. I have seen so many of them come when every other indication would say that hope was lost. Hope is never lost. If those miracles do not come soon or fully or seemingly at all, remember the Savior’s own anguished example: if the bitter cup does not pass, drink it and be strong, trusting in happier days ahead.” Like a Broken Vessel
Best wishes Josh.