Making the Burden Light

Has your missionary told you they hate the daily grind of missionary work?  That they find little success or joy in their daily activities?  Perhaps they feel they have little control over the difficult circumstances of their current situation.

(photo credit: ichi nichi drawings)

Many people believe we have little choice in our lives.  The normal person, for example, will argue that our context defines us.  If a person works in a routine job in a hostile environment, they say they have no power to change things.  The normal missionary will argue that having a bad companion, leader, area or mission keeps them from having success.  They are constrained and helpless.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a Hungarian author and researcher who dares to argue otherwise and provides some striking examples.  He says we can add value to the most routine tasks by considering the larger context, focusing attention, and seeking to add value.  We can also seek to exceed normal expectations.  Here is one of my favorite examples.

...I did research in a factory where audiovisual equipment was being assembled on a production line.  Most of the workers on the line were bored and looked down on their job as something beneath them.  Then I met Rico, who had a completely different take on what he was doing.  He actually thought his job was difficult, and that it took great skill to do it.  It turned out he was right.  Although he had to do the same sort of boring task as everyone else, he had trained himself to do it with the economy and the elegance of a virtuoso. About four hundred times each day a movie camera would stop at his station, and Rico had forty-three seconds to check out whether the sound system met specifications. Over a period of years, experimenting with tools and patterns of motion, he had been able to reduce the average time it took him to check each camera to twenty-eight seconds.  He was as proud of this accomplishment as an Olympic athlete would be if, after the same number of years spent preparing, he could break the forty-four second mark in the 400-meter sprint.  Rico did not get a medal for his record, and reducing the time to do his job did not improve production because the line still kept moving at the old speed.  But he loved the exhilaration of using his skills fully: "It's better than anything else - a whole lot better than watching TV."  And because he sensed that he was getting close to his limit in the present job, he was taking evening courses for a diploma that would open up new options for him in electronics engineering.” (Csikszentmihalyi, 1997: 105-106.).

The above story suggests that we can accept accountability for our actions and reinvent our tasks and make them more desirable.  We may hate to cut the lawn, but we can redefine the task into a desirable challenge by setting the goal to do it in half the normal time.  As missionaries, we may have to contact people for the first time, but we can reinvent that task around some personal challenge:

  •  Today I will talk to twenty people and in every case I will say something unique and different.
  • Today I will talk to twenty people and seek the Spirit to guide every conversation.  I will then write down what the Spirit taught me.
  • Today I will contact more people than I have ever before contacted.
  • Today I will challenge myself to see if there is a way to have a meaningful discussion with 100 people.
  •  Today I will go to the mall and ask twenty people when it is that they experience God.
  • Today I will…  The possibilities are endless. 

We can all better learn to control attention by developing personal disciplines.  These might include meditation, prayer, scripture study, and exercise, but they also extend to any specialization or expertise that is enjoyable and that allows potential improvement.  The critical variable is attitude.  We must engage tasks, but not to obtain a selfish result; we must engage them for their own sake, for the joy doing them, for the love of God.  In other words, we need to understand Mormon’s sermon on charity (Moroni 7). 

By learning to be internally motivated and filled with charity, we can lift ourselves and those around us.  We can change the mundane or even the despised task into a labor of love.



1.     Identify an area of your life that seems particularly challenging and out of your control to change.  Write about it.

2.     Pray and consider one way in which you can do something different to change the dynamics of that situation.

3.     Implement that change this week and then write about it in your journal.