In an article in LDS Living, therapist Kristine Doty-Yells gives tips for helping missionaries who return early. Below is a quick summary.
The reasons missionaries return early are varied, and the returns are often a complex issue that have more questions than answers.
To Early Returning Missionaries
Do not avoid attending church.
Don’t dwell on thoughts of what people might think. You may be surprised how many advocates and supporters you have. Consider in advance how you will respond to people who are surprised to see you. Practice answering ward members’ questions or responding to their comments with someone you trust. Talk with your bishop about whether it is appropriate for you to give a talk, share your testimony, or for him to make an announcement on your behalf.
Reject shame and embarrassment.
Accept that some interactions may be uncomfortable at first because people may not know what to say and may say something unintentionally hurtful. In an attempt to avoid hurting feelings or saying something awkward, some ward members may say nothing at all. Choose not to be offended but to go forward with confidence and faith in the Lord that all will be well.
Be direct and assertive.
Let your parents, bishop, and others know what you need, such as counseling or a calling. They will welcome input and value your openness, which will give them guidance as they support you.
Focus on your healing.
Use the spiritual tools you learned and practiced on your mission, such as scripture study, fasting, and prayer, to work through what brought you home. Seek understanding from the Lord and learn from this experience.
Engage in meaningful service.
Continue the pattern you established on your mission of focusing on others as you take a break from your own concerns. Serving others will be healing and will help you grow.
Attend the temple often.
You will find great strength and peace there. In my experience, the early returned missionaries who regularly attended the temple following their release found greater peace and were able to stay active and adjust to the early return better. You may wish to discuss with your bishop the possibility of serving as a temple worker.
Access Christ’s Atonement for peace and comfort.
Know the Savior loves you deeply, completely, and intimately (Alma 7:11–13). He knows the pain you are feeling and wants you to “come unto Him” and leave your burdens at His feet (Matthew 11:28–30).
To Families, Friends, and Ward Members
Acknowledge your feelings.
Although early returned missionaries struggle the most, family members may experience deep emotions as well. It is important to address your feelings with a trusted family member, friend, or counselor.
Listen with compassion.
Many missionaries have planned and prepared their whole lives to serve full-time missions. An early return can be a traumatic experience. Missionaries need the opportunity to share the story of their return in a loving, nonjudgmental environment. In some cases, early returned missionaries may require professional counseling to work through the transition of coming home as well as other mental health concerns that may be present. LDS Family Services and some private mental health providers and organizations offer services designed especially for early returned missionaries.
Welcome early returned missionaries home regardless of the circumstances.
Express gratitude for their service and let them share positive stories and spiritual experiences gained. When appropriate, they should be invited to bear testimony or report on their mission in sacrament meeting. It is healthier for their transition if they focus on the positive events of their mission.
Be sensitive to the missionary’s situation.
Many early returned missionaries are uncomfortable returning to church because they are embarrassed and do not know what to say to ward members. Members of the ward council can set the example by expressing love and encouraging involvement in the ward.
Avoid speculation regarding the early return.
Parents should let the missionary guide them when it comes to knowing how and what to tell others about his or her return. Ward members and others can best help by avoiding speculation about why a missionary has returned early.
Avoid talking about returning to the mission field.
Some missionaries may be able to return, but others may not. Allow the missionary to broach the subject of a return when and if he or she is ready.
Read the whole article “13 Tips for Helping Early Returned Missionaries Adjust to Post-Mission Life.”