When I served as a Bishop, I had a young man in the ward who was 20 years old and needed to go on a mission. But, he was not inclined to hurry or even to put in his papers. He was too busy goofing off with his friends, especially at night. He was not a bad kid but was worldly and adolescent. He came in my office one Sunday afternoon and announced he was ready to apply to serve a full time mission. I asked him what had changed his mind. He stated that he was riding his motor cycle late the night before out in the Sink, an area in Flowell. He lost control of his motor bike and crashed on the gravel road. He told me that he was laying there on the gravel in pain and thinking, “I should be on my mission right now.” So, he made the decision right then to begin his application to receive a mission call. At that time in his life, he had many distractions and could have decided to do other things, but that small decision has been a blessing to him his whole life.
When I was preparing to go on my first mission, the Viet Nam War was raging. The Selective Service was drafting young men into the army to go fight in the war. Many worthy young men who would have served missions did not get the opportunity but had to go to war. Because of the draft, 2 young men each year in each LDS ward could receive an ecclesiastical deferment from the draft while they served full time missions. Two of my friends who were my age lived in our ward. I had plenty of things in my life that were going on and I actually considered in that situation not to serve a mission. It turned out that one of my friends waited a year before going on his mission and the other friend decided not to serve. That opened the opportunity and I eventually decided to submit my papers for a mission call. I am convinced the Lord’s hand was involved as things worked out for me, but at the time I made the decision, it felt more as a decision of duty than a big revelation from heaven. It seemed to me like a small decision.
(As a side note, the draft changed when the Selective Service held a lottery drawing on 1 December 1969, while I was serving my mission, to determine the order via birth date in which men were called to report for induction in the military. I drew 361 out of 365. The highest lottery group called during that era was 195 and all men assigned that lottery number or any lower number were called to report for induction.) It appears I was not meant to serve in the military.
I look back from my vantage point now 44 years later and see the many blessings in my life that came as a direct result of my mission. I sometimes shudder to think how easy it would have been to simply have passed by that decision. Hardly a day goes by that I do not think of something I learned while on my mission that helps me. The blessings are still rolling in. For example, serving now as Mission President in the Belgium Netherlands Mission is bringing enormous blessings to me and my family. This would never have happened without the first mission.
I know many people who regret making that small decision to not serve a mission. Consequently, they have lived a life without the experiences, relationships and lessons learned that a mission would have provided. Truth seen too late is sure to almost always bring regret and remorse. Small decisions make a difference.
So, you are here now serving. But, each of you still make small decisions every day which likewise have far reaching effects on you. These decisions I refer to involve distractions. It is OK to have fun and enjoy yourself but when the fun becomes a distraction from the work, it is inappropriate and becomes a small decision that has a large negative effect on you. Recognizing where the line is between harmless fun and a distraction is not easy to define plus there are too many circumstances to describe them all, but you know where that line is.
Distractions naturally come in many forms and present themselves all the time just by living life, i.e. problems at home, death in the family, home sickness, etc. You must see them for what they are and avoid or deal with them. But the real shame comes if you choose distractions that you created; distractions of your own making.
For example, missionaries for many years had kept a manikin in the Arnhem apartment with decorations from each missionary who served there, decorations that may not have been uplifting. Or an unauthorized sleep-over justified by a P-day or something which then becomes a dorm party and cuts into the work schedule of missionaries. I do not know where this tradition came from, but some missionaries burn something every 6 months. This “shirt burning” has brought complaints from neighbors and in some cases have resulted in damaged furnishings in apartments. We have had missionaries find unexploded fireworks on 1 January, then light them off at night on 2 January which is not only stupid but clearly is a distraction for any level of spirituality. Rough-housing in apartments result in breaking of things. Flirting between missionaries or with members has been known to occur. Doing transfer brackets and making a time consuming game out of transfers, not getting up on time, listening to 'not approved' music, and non-compliance with the daily morning study schedule by beginning study at 8:00 am with scheduled personal, companionship and language study. And the list goes on.
For the most part, I believe all our missionaries are diligent and faithful and do the work as intended. But if this applies from time to time, it is time to stop making those small decisions that bring distractions. You must always do your job as a missionary because the time here is sacred and short. Avoiding distractions are small decisions, but just as your decision to come on a mission, it has a great effect on your experience as a missionary. Most missionaries are young and come here right out of high school or after just one year of college. It may be a chore, but now is the time to behave in a more mature and professional manner. The apostle Paul wrote:
11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. (1 Cor 13: 11)