Imagine yourself as the leader of a people who have been at war for decades trying to avoid extinction at the hands of an overwhelming foe. Then, in addition to your military duties, you are given the task of combing through 1,000 years of history to compile a record that will never be read by anyone in your generation except for your son.
You are writing your record wholly for the generation of people who will be converted to Jesus Christ by your writings and who will prepare the earth for his Second Coming. To that end, you are allowed to see the future as if you lived in it. As you write this book, you will come to understand that future generation better than most people who would live in it, so well, in fact, that you will be able to glean parallel incidents from your present history and apply them to that future people.
Mormon Saw Our Day in Detail
It is safe to say that few prophets knew us better than Mormon. Given his extraordinary mandate and visionary gift, we might conclude that he never wrote one word of the Book of Mormon to teach history; rather, he wrote the book to convince all men “of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL GOD.”[i] He wrote the Book of Mormon to teach us the fullness of the gospel and to prepare and warn us of the coming of the Lord. Furthermore, Mormon includes clear instruction within the pages of the Book of Mormon to liken the book’s teachings unto ourselves.[ii]
So, if you were Mormon and if you were to take a long, prophetic view of latter-day parenting challenges, and if you were to see an epidemic of waywardness, what lessons would you draw from your history to instruct and give hope to those future parents?
Mormon chose powerful examples, one of which was the story of Alma and his son. To set up this story, he related an important incident of the Nephite “pioneers,” whom the Lord had delivered and brought to the land of promise, Zarahemla. These stalwart people, who had sacrificed so much to establish their Zion, were raising children who did not believe, as had their parents. Here is how Mormon described these children of the next generation:
Now it came to pass that there were many of the rising generation that could not understand the words of king Benjamin, being little children at the time he spake unto his people; and they did not believe the tradition of their fathers.
They did not believe what had been said concerning the resurrection of the dead, neither did they believe concerning the coming of Christ.
And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.
And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after, even in their carnal and sinful state; for they would not call upon the Lord their God.[iii]
This frightening account of children abandoning their parents’ beliefs and following paths of carnality and sin resonates in too many LDS families. Mormon continued by demonstrating that no set of parents, not even the king of the land or the prophet of God, is safe from the effects of the plague of wayward children: “Now the sons of Mosiah were numbered among the unbelievers; and also one of the sons of Alma was numbered among them, he being called Alma, after his father….”[iv] Clearly, Satan can reach into any family and snatch away any of our innocent children.
Parents’ Reactions to Wayward Children
Of course, when this happens to us, we parents feel grief-stricken. President James E. Faust said, “The depth of the love of parents for their children cannot be measured. It is like no other relationship. It exceeds concern for life itself…The grief of a parent over a rebellious child is almost inconsolable.”[v] We parents feel isolated, ashamed and guilty. In vain we internalize and personalize the child’s bad behavior. “What did I do wrong? Why didn’t I see this coming?”
We groan under the weight of apparent scriptural indictments: “And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents…And they shall also teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord.”[vi]
Perhaps worst, we feel helpless to change things. We could employ tough love and risk destroying the relationship, or we could silently watch and mourn and risk losing the child completely. How should we act? Where are the answers? Where is power to change things?
The scriptures give us an answer.
First, perspective. The Fall renders us significantly impotent. We ever feel sin beckoning us, and we cannot escape the realities of corruption, aging, disease and opposition. Mortality is a hard experience for our children and for us.
Second, grace. We cannot make it alone. The Fall is an impossible situation without divine intervention and help. Only Jesus Christ can give us the strength to persevere, overcome and do good works.
Third, strength. Strength to do what? When Nephi’s brothers bound him, we have been taught most recently by Elder Bednar,[vii] Nephi did not pray that the Lord would eliminate his circumstances; rather, he prayed to draw upon the power of the atonement for strength to change his circumstances. Nephi knew that he had limited power, but the Lord had infinite power. Because Nephi and the Lord were bound together by covenant, he could tap into that higher power and change his situation.
Parents as Agents of Change
For a parent to become an agent of change, capable of acting in the strength of the Lord, suggests global perspective offered by the Plan of Redemption, intense faith in Jesus Christ, and courageous implementation of the redemptive principles. The gospel teaches us this powerful truth: Every effort that we make to increase our level of sanctification has a direct redeeming effect on those for whom we are praying, as evidenced in the account of Alma the Elder. In other words, the redeemed do the redeeming; the sanctified do the sanctifying. The gospel of Jesus Christ holds the spiritual solution for spiritual waywardness.
Of course, nothing trumps agency, and no guarantee could ever been made that a child will ultimately choose to turn from a life of waywardness. Nevertheless, these principles are so powerful that the prophets have used very little qualifying language in making sweeping promises. Certainly it is possible for anyone to sin away from salvation, nevertheless, the atonement has a much greater reach than we might imagine.
Such optimism from the prophets for eventual success should kindle hope within any parent’s despairing heart. These empowering principles and promises should be good news for parents. Rather than languishing in hopelessness, while watching children die spiritually, parents can employ the sanctifying principles found in the Plan of Redemption and expect miracles to happen.
And miracles do happen!
The Plan of Redemption is a living, breathing, practical reality, and parents of the covenant have access to it to save their spiritually sick children. The mountain of evidence is astounding. Again, while nothing can interfere with a child’s freedom of choice, nevertheless, the Lord has promised that in his own due time—even if that time extends into the next life—he will tailor-make conversion opportunities for every wayward child, just as he did for Alma, the sons of Mosiah, Paul, and others, and attempt to call them back.
Because redemption is only possible through the gospel of Jesus Christ, the spiritual solution that the prophets and scriptures have set forth offer parents perspective, spiritual tools and hope. Ask yourself these questions:
- What kind of a world do our children live in?
- What is their true divine nature?
- What quality of adversity are they facing in these latter-days?
- Who are we parents of the latter-days, and what is our divine appointment?
- Is a child’s waywardness a reflection of our failing or Heavenly Father’s trust?
- What are the great benefits—gifts—that we receive by working with our wayward children? How do these benefits equip us for our eternal calling?
- How do we become partners with heavenly beings in the redemption process?
- What are the redemptive skills taught as the “heart of the gospel message”?
- How do we gain power to become saviors on Mount Zion? How can we learn to sanctify ourselves first so that we might be empowered to rescue others?
- How can we gain the power to ask for and receive blessings?
- What are the prophets’ promises to parents concerning wayward children?
- Are these promises really true: Victory is the Lord’s goal? Spiritual rescue is his work and glory?
The Individual Plans within the Plan of Salvation
The scriptures, which were written for our day, contain powerful principles that can turn each of us into a savior on Mount Zion in the similitude of the Savior of the world. We learn that the Plan of Salvation is just that: a plan to save. Said another way, within the Plan of Salvation is a personal plan of salvation for each of us and each of our children. We are no more the authors of that individual plan of salvation than we are the universal Plan of Salvation. In the beginning, we understand, God considered his children on both a global and an individual basis, and he devised a plan to rescue them—a plan that was as perfect as he is. We parents are invited and commissioned to participate in that plan, but we are not required to create it.
Imagine that you had just been called to be the Young Women’s president or a bishop, and you had several girls who were wayward. Of course, you would be concerned about them, but hopefully you would not take their choice of waywardness personally. You would face the challenge knowing that God had called you to work with these girls at this very time for this very situation. Your calling is a trust, not a failing!
Because you would have that perspective, although you might feel overwhelmed, you would know that Heavenly Father prepares and qualifies those whom he calls. To help rescue these girls, you have one of two choices: (1) You could stay up nights, wring your hands, worry, and blame yourself for your shortcomings and their decisions, or (2) Put all your energy into personal sanctification so that you could better participate in the Father’s plan of salvation for these girls.
You would be aware of the gap between your ability and the enormity of the challenge, and that realization would drive you to your knees to plead for grace, that principle of power that requires you to give your best effort with Christ’s promise that he will make up the difference. Without grace, you could never do work that is reserved for the Gods.
A Divine Trust, Not a Failing
Parents should feel this way and let go of the paralyzing feelings of failure. We are involved in a carefully orchestrated trust, which was foreseen and provided for in the atonement. We, personally, were prepared for and will be strengthened to accomplish that trust. In accomplishing our mission, we do not have to create a plan of salvation; we simply need to increase our spiritual capacity to better participate in God’s plan, as he reveals it to us. We are not alone; we are partners!
Through the sealing ordinances of the temple, special powers are given to parents to tether a child to them. Harnessing that power is the discovery of a lifetime and an important step in assuming the work of God. We are novices, and God understands that we are getting on-the-job training. Therefore, he provides for us the principle of grace. Despite our weaknesses and failings, God ultimately is in control. Our children are being worked with by the greatest powers in the universe—and these beings never consider failure as an option. They are very good at what they do—the best! They are the ones who extend the promises and affect the miracles. They understand timing, circumstances and relationships. There really is no way we can distance ourselves from the love of God.
We partner with God by means of our covenants, and he allows us to vitalize his plan of salvation for our wayward children by means of our personal sanctification. The highest level of sanctification comes through temple worship, and the temple is where we receive many of our answers. The more we learn about the covenants, priesthood and the ordinances of the priesthood, the more power is infused into our life. Then gospel becomes a tool rather than a culture. The power of the temple ordinances is greater than any of us understand. Eventually, they will reel a wayward child home.
Embracing the “Easy” Answer
Is the solution for spiritual rescue too Sunday School—another pat answers for an extremely difficult problem? Amazingly, the gospel is simple. In explaining how easy it was to harness the power of the Liahona, Alma said, “O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way; for so was it with our fathers; for so was it prepared for them, that if they would look they might live; even so it is with us. The way is prepared, and if we will look we may live forever.”[viii]
Is it really that easy? The solution, yes; the effort, not necessarily. Nevertheless, the prophets’ promises are so many and so unqualified that they give us cause to center our hope in Christ and move forward. The divine resources that are available to us are amazingly expansive, and the vast body of confirming evidence of eventual success is overwhelming. Therefore, to discount the Lord’s power to reclaim, even from incredible distances, or to minimize the power that the Lord has placed within our reach is to disparage the redeeming power of the infinite and universal atonement of Jesus Christ.
Absolutely, there is hope.
Note: This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Follow this link to learn more.
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[i] Book of Mormon title page.
[ii] 1 Nephi 19:23.
[iii] Mosiah 26:1-4.
[iv] Mosiah 27:8.
[v] James E. Faust, “Dear Are The Sheep That Have Wandered,” Ensign, May 2003.
[vi] D&C 68:25, 28.
[vii] David A. Bednar, “In the Strength of the Lord,” Ensign, Nov 2004, 76–78.
[viii] Alma 37:46.