Six things LDS Returned Missionaries (RM's) and retirees have in common:
Opinions: They have lots of opinions about how others should live their lives and others have opinions of what they should do.
Women: They have extra time on their hands, and they're excited and nervous about spending it with a spouse or a spouse to be (the women are equally excited and nervous).
Digestion: They may find their bowels aren’t working like they used to (especially if they served in South America, like me).
Routine: The daily routine that they had lived for the last two/forty years is no longer the same, and there's a major change to their way of life.
No Respect: (aka Rodney Dangerfield Syndrome, "I don't get no respect.") People don't listen to or respect them the way they used to.
Identity: They have lost a major part of who they are based on what they do and how others perceive them.
In this post we are most concerned about number six. For that returned missionary, he (or she, for our female readers) has spent the last two years wearing his identity on his shirt. He knew exactly who he was and what his purpose was. When he is released and removes the name tag, he no longer goes by Elder __________. He goes back to being John, or Josh, or Jake, but he’s not the same John or Josh or Jake that he was two years prior, so who is he now?
For the retiree, his career has shaped and defined the last forty-ish years of his life. His career showed him where he was valued, and even how much he was valued (by the world). While he may still experience constancy in other life roles, like Ministering Brother or Grandpa, on the first day he doesn’t wake up and go into work, he has lost a big part of what defined him. If how we spend our time shapes our identity, then he’s lost about 25% of his identity overnight, maybe more!
So what do the RM and the retiree do? They could sit around feeling sorry for themselves, or stare blankly into space. We however recommend that they embark on a path to forge a new identity – a new sense of self. And they have a starting place! Both of these men were handed a new label to help shape their identity, "I'm a returned missionary," or "I'm retired." But what does it mean to be a returned missionary or a retiree? They can look to other men in their lives - like an older brother or father - who may provide a model, but even then, each man has to discover for himself what it means to be me, and own that life experience, create his own unique brand of RM or retiree.
So, the two men begin exploring.
The RM may shape his identity by jumping into school, a career, or marriage, so he can have an identity like, "I'm a student," "I'm a husband," or "I'm an engineer." The retiree can find a hobby or opportunities to serve, which are things that not only fill his time, but also help him explore what he values and find added purpose, which helps the retiree understand who he is and who can become, even at this “late” stage of his life.
The leadership of the LDS church has recently given us another option to explore identity, by combining the Elders Quorums and High Priest Groups into a single quorum. These two men, though 40-50 years apart in age, can also form a brotherhood with each other. They can commiserate through their shared experience and support each other in finding their whole identity, an identity that transcends titles like Elder or District Manager, an identity that God gave each of them when they were created, and an identity that Christ will lead them to as they seek Him out together.