I recently met with a young missionary who told me an incredible story. I can’t stop thinking about the experience he shared with me. As we visited during our interviews, he told me he had looked forward his entire life to being a missionary. His call came to serve in our Washington Yakima Mission. He was assigned to learn to teach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Spanish language.
He was so excited when at last the day arrived and he flew to the Mexico Missionary Training Center, where he was introduced to his companion, who would be with him 24/7 for the next 6 weeks. He told me, “as we met, we pretty quickly realized that we had nothing in common, in fact, as the first couple of days passed, we discovered that we didn’t really like each other at all.” When this missionary was asked to take the lead, and then to be the District Leader, his companion got angry and upset because he was not the one asked to be in charge.
“The first few days were pretty hard, ” this Elder told me. “We struggled to find common ground. By the second week, it was horrible. We didn’t study together, we didn’t pray together, we didn’t even speak to each other.”
This young Elder told me that all his life-long dreams of being a happy missionary were being dashed. He was having trouble sleeping, he was irritated and he hated his companion. “And,” he told me, “he hated me.”
“I started praying for help,” he said. “I prayed that someone would notice that a mistake had been made. We were not supposed to be companions. They got it wrong. Someone needed to make a change and fix things. This was not working.”
Nothing changed. It only got worse. “My friends suggested that I pray to know how to serve my companion–maybe that would help me love him.”
“I tried to serve him, but he was so annoying, that didn’t really help either. I just didn’t like him and he didn’t like me. Nothing was working.”
“Then,” he said, “something miraculous happened.” He told me that every week a visiting authority came to give an evening devotional. The speaker on that Tuesday evening used Matthew 22 as his text, talking about the first and great commandment.
This good missionary said, “I was all ears. I needed to know what to do. I was so unhappy and miserable. I was listening and taking notes and trying to learn. Then the speaker started talking about loving our neighbor (or our companion) as ourselves. He had my full attention.”
“What happened next changed my life,” he told me. “The speaker said one sentence that turned my whole world and perspective upside down.” He told me, “when these words came from his mouth, I felt like someone picked up a dagger and plunged it into my chest. My whole chest felt like it was on fire, going to explode.”
I picked up my pen, ready to write down the words that changed everything for him. I tried to imagine what they would be. I wrote the sentence as he told it to me:
“If it’s not a choice, it wouldn’t be a commandment.”
“In an instant,” he told me, “my whole world turned upside down and the Spirit taught me. I saw things clearly from a completely new perspective. I saw that the problem was not my companion, as I had thought. He wasn’t even part of the equation.” “The problem,” he said, “was with me. I was choosing not to love. I was breaking the commandment. It had nothing at all to do with my companion. I was the problem.”
This good missionary went on to tell me that from that evening on, everything changed. It was a miracle. He said, “I realized that love is a choice and I could choose to love or choose not to love. I chose to love.”
“After that evening, we started talking to each other,” he told me. “We got to know each other. We learned from each other. We started studying together and praying together. We started to teach together and feel the Spirit as we taught.”
Then he smiled real big and told me that by the end of their 6 weeks together, they were a united companionship. He said, “I wouldn’t trade that MTC experience for anything in the world. If they had sent me home after that first 6 weeks, my mission would have been a success! I learned the greatest lesson of my life!”
I have reflected on this experience again and again. “If it’s not a choice, it wouldn’t be a commandment.” Love is the greatest of all great commandments. Therefore, love is a choice. The best choice we will ever make.
Thank you, good Elder, for helping me see things a little more clearly.