by Shawn Tucker:
A recently returned missionary attended my Institute class last week, and my heart went out to him. He looked so poorly adjusted and dejected. We had the same conversation that I seem to have with many recently returned missionaries. And, of course, that conversation was about macaroni and cheese.
My 11-year-old loves macaroni and cheese from the box. Thin noodles, often poorly cooked, sauce that is usually too thin, and that orange color that looks like it is made from pulverized Martian soil—my son just eats bowl after bowl of it. In contrast I love a nice homemade macaroni and cheese. Something with a good, full macaroni noodle and with a well-balanced sauce made from white, extra sharp Vermont cheddar. Others like theirs with a nice crust on top or maybe the three cheese sauce, but you get the picture.
I talk about macaroni and cheese from a box and the homemade variety with recently returned missionaries because this describes my coming home experience. I had spent two years with a steady diet of that rich, flavorful, spiritual homemade macaroni and cheese, and all I could seem to get when I got home was the stuff from the box. The spiritual letdown that came with coming home left me feeling hungry for mission life. The post-mission life was thin, starchy noodles in bland, thin, and weirdly colored sauce. After I got home, I took a job delivering pizza, and the irony of going from bringing families the blessings of eternity to showing up with a pepperoni and extra cheese was often painful.
Part of the problem with coming home is how hard it is to feel disappointed around the people you love. I was so glad to see my family and to finally sit with them and enjoy their company. Arriving at the airport back in the United States and seeing them again is something I’ll always cherish. But after being home for some time, I began to feel disappointed in how unsatisfying post-mission life was, and it was hard to feel disappointed around those who are glad that you are home. (I attempted to write humorously about this conflict here.)
Just helping that rather disoriented recently returned missionary understand his experience as a contrast between different forms of macaroni and cheese seemed helpful. At least he didn’t feel so alone in dealing with the challenges of returning home. He and I talked about how it is really impossible to enjoy the fullness of mission-life blessings outside of its required discipline and particular discipleship. It also seemed helpful to remind him that there are times when he can re-taste some of what he felt as a missionary, but it was equally important to help him develop the expectation that such moments are meant to be temporary. He has to go to school or work, and he has to date and watch movies and read books beyond those approved for missionaries. He has to return to the world. If his experience is like mine, he might learn to appreciate the macaroni and cheese from a box for what it is without losing his taste for the wonderful, homemade stuff.
Shawn Tucker grew up with amazing parents and five younger, wonderful siblings. He served as a missionary in Chile during the Plebiscite and the first post-dictatorship election. After his mission, he attended BYU, where he married ... you guessed it ... his wife. They both graduated, with Shawn earning a BA in Humanities. Fearing that his BA in Humanities, which is essentially a degree in Jeopardy, would not be sufficient, Shawn completed graduate work in the same ... stuff ... at Florida State University. He currently teaches at Elon University in North Carolina. He and ... you guessed it ... his wife have four great children. Twitter: @MoTabEnquirer. Website: motabenquirer.blogspot.com.
Image credit: Emran Kassim (modified by Scott Heffernan, used with permission).