Before people race to the comment section to give me a piece of their minds, I invite everyone to take a deep breath, calm down, and read on.
I grew up as most LDS young women do: being taught by my church leaders that I should marry a worthy priesthood holder and, more specifically, a returned missionary.
While I had other things on my list, those two were the most important.
It wasn't until after I served a mission that I took "Returned Missionary" off my list of top qualifiers in an eternal companion.
Don't misunderstand me. A young man who has given two years of his life in the mission field to follow the prophet and show his love for the Lord is an admirable person. My husband served a mission and I believe that it not only had a positive impact on his spirituality, but greatly influenced my decision to marry him.
He went because he had a desire to serve the Lord.
In addition, I saw many wonderful things happen where I served. I worked with amazing elders who radiated His light and followed the Spirit. I saw miracles happen because of their obedience. I also saw their confidence shine during the hard times as they knew that their trials had not come due to any fault of their own.
They went because they had a desire to serve the Lord.
However, I also worked with many elders who were in the field not because they had a desire to serve the Lord, but because:
"If I didn't go when I turned 21 (now 18), everyone would think I was sinning and my parents would start freaking out."
"I wasn't ready, but all my friends went. I couldn't be the one left behind."
"If I didn't serve, I wouldn't get married when I got home. All girls want is an RM."
I've heard many people say that it doesn't matter why you go; just do it and things will work themselves out. I would like you to know that the bar for missionary work was not raised because the general authorities had nothing better to do. Your purpose for being in the field will affect not only your mission, but your companions, investigators, and the members in the areas that you serve.
I took "Returned Missionary" off my list because the current LDS culture (not the Church--the culture among the members) puts missionary service on such a high pedestal that many young men feel like they have to go regardless of their desire or readiness.
There are many missionaries who (1) were lazy, (2) lost the trust of the members (thus causing them to not trust future missionaries for many months and even years to come) and (3) gave investigators a terrible impression of the church...
...who came home heralded as heroes.
While all this is happening, the young women are being taught that the status of "RM" makes him the cream of the crop and most desirable above all other fruit.
Will I teach my daughter that having served a mission is a good thing to look for in a potential suitor? Yes, I will. But I will not stress it any more than I will stress the importance of him being in church on Sunday or fulfilling the callings he is given. I find it interesting that we teach the young women to focus more on the two years he spent in the spotlight as a missionary than on his willingness to do decades of thankless home teaching for the rest of his life.
To the young men planning on serving, remember that there's a lot of adrenaline surrounding a mission, especially now that the age has been changed and the missionary force has grown by tens of thousands in a very short time. Submitting papers, waiting for that big white envelope, opening your call with family and friends, announcing your news to the world, packing, getting that plane ticket...
...it's a very exciting time.
And it should be!
But don't let that excitement and adrenaline be your main push to go.
There will come a time in the field (much sooner than most expect) when the excitement and adrenaline will wear off. When that happens, your desire to serve the Lord will be what keeps you going. If that wasn't your main reason for serving, then it's going to be a long two years...
… and you'll end up being the reason that another sister takes "Returned Missionary" off the top of her list.