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I was once talking with someone who suggested that members of the Church should be allowed to sign up for their callings. That seems reasonable, but what if the person who signs up to be ward choir director can’t sing or a deacon volunteers to be bishop?
Ironically, to suggest that members of the Church should choose their callings ignores what it means to be “called.” Every Kool-Aid-stained face in Primary learns the fifth article of faith: “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands” (Articles of Faith 1:5). In a world that emphasizes freedom, choice, and personal preference, it can be difficult to remember that we do not pick our callings; the Lord chooses them for us. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus said to His Apostles, “You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).
This is extremely comforting. If the Lord selects our callings, we know that he will help us be successful. Lehi needed to know that God was behind packing up the family and walking into the desert. When the new convert is called as Gospel Doctrine teacher, she has to believe that God wants her to teach. The missionary called to a place that he has to look up on a map needs to know that God thinks he can stomach the food, learn the language, and love the culture.
But this raises a question—a question that some may be too afraid to ask: what if you don’t like your calling?
And it came to pass that there was a family who moved into a new ward. The father, who loved trees, hiking, fresh air, and fishing, was involved with the Young Men program for most of the twenty-three years they lived in their previous home. Although he was slow to admit it, he had even shed a tear or two each time one of his boys gave a farewell talk to leave on a mission. When the bishopric came over to the house to meet the family, he kept dropping hints about how much he loved the outdoors, leading young people, and the wonderful experiences he had with youth in his last ward. Two weeks later, he was called as ward financial clerk.
One may be tempted to say it doesn’t matter how we feel about our callings; what matters is how we serve. On some level, I think that is true, but on another level, how we feel matters—a lot. Even if work in the kingdom is difficult, I think we can still feel meaning and purpose as we fulfill our callings. Of course, there will be moments when we would rather watch Netflix or take a nap, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have an agency-based desire to bless lives through church service. Work in our callings shouldn’t feel like data entry, cleaning the garage, or vacuuming.
Perhaps callings associated with missionary work are the ones that help us the most to get our motives correct.
Once, after having the opportunity to teach some youth, a young man approached me and said, “My friend has a question. He wants to know if he has to serve a mission.”
That’s a tricky question. If I were to say no, the young man might not take seriously the priesthood responsibility (and prophetic injunction) “that every worthy, able young man should prepare to serve a mission.”37
In that sense, the question is like asking, “Do I have to obey the commandment to not steal?”
On the other hand, if I answered yes, then the young man has to serve a mission. He might look at his mission as some sort of rite of passage that leads to the start of his real life.
To this day, I can’t remember how I responded to the question. However, I think the young man’s main problem was that he didn’t want to serve a mission, but he believed that he should. If I were to go back, I would say, “Yes, it’s a commandment, but you might want to work on gaining a desire to serve a mission.” Rather than pressure him, I would hope that his heart would somehow change and he would want to teach the restored gospel.
In fact, let’s say that I had a chance to talk to this young man for a few minutes again to try to help him gain a desire to go. What could I say? Maybe I should remind him that on a mission, he could learn German, Japanese, or K’ekchi. Maybe I could convince him that missionary work would teach him hard work, how to set goals, and social skills. I might try telling him about the beauty of learning a new culture, tasting foods like Pinakbet, or visiting the Eiffel Tower. Maybe I could guilt-trip him and say, “Don’t you love the people of the world?”
It seems like there is something off about trying to convince someone to go preach the gospel in this way. In Mosiah 28, a certain group of young men didn’t need to be persuaded to go on a mission. Originally, they were havoc-making teenagers who literally tried to destroy the Church. After an angel appeared and knocked them down, they repented, became Christians, and asked “their father, the king . . . that he would grant unto them that they might . . . impart the word of God to their brethren, the Lamanites” (Mosiah 28:1). They didn’t need to be lured into going on a mission, because “They were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble” (Mosiah 28:3).
In other words, they saw what was at stake.
It’s hard to say what I’m about to say. I don’t want to pound pulpits and toss brimstone around the room. But some people commit serious sins, and they don’t know how to make it right. As a result, they haul around guilty memories that cut into moments intended be filled with peace and joy. Other people fear death. They think the joy they feel when they are with their families will end, the lights will go out, and that will be the end of existence. I know it sounds extreme, but when some people die, instead of ceasing to exist, they will go to spirit prison and experience “weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth.” That’s actually real; that’s what sin does to a soul. In the next life, these people will be resurrected to a lower kingdom of glory. I’m not trying to be negative. They could have been resurrected into the celestial kingdom and enjoyed a fulness of love, freedom, purity, creativity, and union. But God will not force anyone to live a Christian life. He will not eventually compel everyone into His presence. I’m not speaking with hyperbole or using some rhetorical trick.
When it comes to missionary work—whether we wear a black name tag or not—the stakes could not be higher.