"Really? No mission? Oh."
I cannot tell you how many times I've gotten that reaction from people at church or up here at BYU-Idaho when they meet my husband and I. My husband served a mission and I didn't. Apparently, that makes me a bad person because I didn't spend 18 months away from home preaching the gospel. And now that I'm married, it's "too late."
There's a lot of pressure within the church right now for women to serve a mission before marriage. It used to be that serving a mission was something girls did if they weren't married by the time they hit 21, or a rare few who decided to serve before that point and made sure not to seriously date anyone so they wouldn't get "tied down" before they could hit the field. If a girl hits 19 and isn't engaged, people start to wonder why she isn't turning in her papers and heading out into the world to preach the gospel.
This is one of those things that can cause people to become inactive, because the line between the culture of the church and the gospel is blurred. But newsflash, people: a mission is not a requirement, or even highly recommended, for sisters. And I don't mean that to sound sexist, since boys are "required" to serve if they can. But women don't have that same obligation.
The gospel is perfect, the people aren't. I cannot say that phrase enough.
To quote this article on LDS Living entitled "Do Sisters Feel Pressure to Serve Missions?":
"Occasionally I would see these girls pressured by other Relief Society sisters or even brethren in the ward, but no matter where the pressure came from, the pressure was never productive. Little phrases like, 'Have you thought about serving?' were well intentioned, but they actually made some sisters feel as if they were required to go-which wasn't true."
If you're about to judge a girl for choosing not to serve a mission, or even for deciding not to go after she's received her call (and maybe she's getting married instead), think about this: do you really want a missionary in the field that isn't 100% dedicated to serving and sharing the gospel?
I've heard countless stories of elders going into the field and not really wanting to be there, but serving because they felt outside pressure to do so. My husband had several experiences like this in his mission of trying to interact with fellow missionaries who were unenthusiastically out in the field. And it drove him CRAZY! Can you imagine what that would be like for investigators or inactive members meeting with the missionaries, and unable to see the love for the gospel in the eyes of the elders (or sisters) they're speaking with?
Unwilling missionaries can, in my opinion, hinder the progress of the gospel more than help it.
Don't serve unless you want to. If you want to, GREAT! Amazing! Wonderful! Thank you for doing so. And I truly mean that; my dad is a convert so if it wasn't for the missionaries I would not be who I am today.
To all those sisters out there who are choosing to serve missions, I applaud you. And to all those who are choosing not to serve, I applaud you as well, and send you a fist bump of compassion and understanding for all those who look at you out of the corner of their eyes, who ask you why you aren't filling out your papers with mock concern for your well-being; who are judging and believing that you have a weaker testimony than those who have chosen to serve.