I was speaking with a friend of mine recently about why it was hard to come home. There are such feelings of failure from letting others down. There are also greater feelings of personal failure; of not being the person we believe we are supposed to be. I felt a great personal failure myself because I felt my faith was too weak. I believed that if I had just a little more faith, I would have been healed and wouldn't have come home early. I failed because I lacked sufficient faith.
The night before I flew home, I was in tears believing that I was a failure, that I was a screw-up, that I was hopeless. I believed that it took all 24 months for a missionary to become the spiritual giant that we all believe all RMs are. I remember listening at homecoming talks and hearing how much so-and-so changed and how much Elder Someone really grew up on his mission. I remember hearing people say that boys needed to serve missions to really mature and become responsible husbands and fathers. I came home without any hope of being one of those grown up and mature men.
I came home and pretty much felt the exact same as when I left! I can honestly say that I have a much stronger testimony; that I now know and not just believe! However, I'm not really that different of a person. I wish I was more charitable, more humble, more patient, but I'm not. Just like any missionary, I planned on being better, but in my eyes, I again failed.
As I was studying one day, I came across Mosiah 5:2. King Benjamin was concluding his great discourse at the temple and the people spoke saying, "...Yea, we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our heart...". Once I read this verse, everything clicked.
In my mind, the mission changes people. The mission causes one to develop a stronger testimony, better faith, more charity. I didn't know how, I just thought it did. I realized my entire thought process was wrong. It isn't the mission that changes someone, it's the Spirit. It's the spirit that enters your heart and helps you develop charity and strengthen your faith. It's all about the spirit. That's why so many do change on their mission. It's a time that you are constantly and consistently trying to draw closer to God. Because of the spirit that's present on a mission, a missionary will change.
Becoming the spiritual giant that one would hope to become on their mission is possible at any stage of life as long as we involve the spirit. Whether we weren't able to serve, came home early, or served a full 18 or 24 months, we can still end up at the same place because of the merciful gift of the Holy Ghost. By drawing closer to the spirit, we will cause our hearts to be changed and we will become the sons and daughters of God. (Mosiah 5:7)
A good friend of mine from the Florida Fort Lauderdale Mission once explained how. He described us all as imperfect molds that characterize who we are. The mold of Jesus Christ is quite perfect and it just so happens that the Holy Ghost fits into that mold. As we invite the spirit into our lives, He will try to fit into the mold that we are and will shave off all the uneven bumpy edges that we have until He fits perfectly; until we are just like Christ.
We must always be trying to invite the Spirit. Through the basic truths that we were taught in Primary, He will come and change our hearts. As we attend the temple and our other church meetings, pray fervently, study the scriptures and serve others, He will come. Our hearts will change, and we will become a new person. We will become sons and daughters of God.