Being a missionary means living continuously with another human being. Even when you are married, you will not be required to spend 24 hours a day with your spouse. Living with another person is a skill of immense importance. The world is devastated by the inability of people to live effectively with others. This fact is illustrated by the high divorce rate, corporate conflict, and even the constant wars. People do not know how to live with each other. One of the greatest opportunities your child will have on their mission is to learn how to transform a problem relationship in to a relationship of love. People who learn to do this lead successful lives because they can do something few other people can.
I remember meeting my first companion and feeling a positive first impression. He was very friendly. As the days went by and the rigor of the work increased, points of tension emerged and I started to identify his faults. IT wasn’t an overtly contentious relationship, but it was strained. I didn’t know much as a new missionary, but I knew I had a bad companion and what his flaws were.
After two months I received a new companion. He was wonderful. For the first two weeks. Once again tensions began to arise and I was suddenly confronted with the unthinkable: perhaps the problems were not just with my two companions. Perhaps I played a role. I had had other interpersonal conflicts in my life, but for the first time I suspected I might be the carrier of the disease I was condemning.
As your missionary goes through relationship challenges, hopefully they will begin to see their role in the conflict as well. There are a few things you can do to help them work through companionship challenges, but before you do I would leave you with your own challenge. Look for a difficult relationship in your own life. Follow the same steps that we suggest for your missionary, and then share your own story with your missionary to bring the seal of living reality to these steps. To both set the example that you are willing to do hard things, and to illustrate how it is possible. This will strengthen and unify your relationship as you make yourself vulnerable and walk the talk.
1. Pray and ask the Lord for His help and guidance. You will likely, with a softened heart, see more clearly what you can do.
2. Take a hard look at yourself and identify what you might be doing and what you can change.
3. Repent of any negative feelings you have toward that person and ask to see as God sees.
4. Find ways to serve them.
5. Identify the positive in that person and turn your focus to the good in them. Not only can changing your focus change your feelings, it can also invite them to live up to the good you see.
This may sound hard, but it is possible. When my son Shawn was serving a mission he was assigned a companion who had a history of being hard to work with. One particularly annoying habit of this missionary was that it took him an hour and a half to get ready in the morning and then it took him another half hour before he was able to leave the apartment. This meant that Shawn could not have any companionship scripture time with this young man. It bothered Shawn because he wanted to have a good relationship with his companion.
Rather than criticize his companion, or ask him to change, Shawn started to get up at 5:30. When the companion asked why, Shawn explained that he wanted to get done in the bathroom before this missionary was awake so that there would be an extra half hour for study time together. Note that he didn’t do it out of frustration, and he didn’t tell his companion what he was doing until he was asked. A few days later, Shawn’s companion approached him and said, “If you can get up at 5:30, then I can get up at 5:30 and that will give us an hour to study.” This single act was the beginning of a much larger growth process for Shawn’s companion. Instead of using force, Shawn modeled change and attracted this young man in to a new life pattern.
If we are in a problem relationship, the way to change it is to refresh ourselves through repentance. If we move closer to Jesus Christ we will see in a new way, we will engage in new patterns, and the relationship will be more likely to turn positive.