Prior to a recent Ward Conference, a bunch of us went out in small teams, along with our Stake counterparts, to visit less-active members. The two missionaries assigned to our ward happened upon a young woman who was irritated at having been discovered yet again. Evidently her mother kept forwarding her records, and preventing her from slipping through the cracks.
A couple of years ago I knocked on the door of a young man, his girlfriend, and their baby. He chuckled and rolled his eyes, saying, “Yep, that’s my mom up in Idaho, keeping my name on the records. She never gives up.” My eyes brimmed with tears and I couldn’t speak for a second. I could picture this faithful woman praying for her son every day, and keeping his name on the temple prayer rolls. In an instant our hearts met and connected, like two droplets of water. I thought of a pioneer woman continuing to push her cart up a slope in in the pounding rain, despite its sliding down over and over. Strong LDS women are all made of the same fabric: We simply will not give up.
And it’s dads, too. It’s the parents who know the promise, and will die before we quit. We simply cannot bear to imagine an eternity without our children, so yes, we call their bishops, we forward their information, and we pray mightily for someone or something to soften their hearts and bring them back into the fold.
What promise am I talking about? Orson F. Whitney said that the Prophet Joseph Smith never taught a more comforting doctrine than the one that promises that sealings can bring our children back. Joseph said, “Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.” (Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110.)
Brigham Young reiterated the promise. He said that if parents “conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang” (quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954-56], 2:90-91).
And then Lorenzo Snow said, “…mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity” (in Collected Discourses, comp. Brian H. Stuy, 5 vols. [1987-92], 3:364).
Every generation has a Church leader who has reminded us of the promise. More recentlyElder Boyd K. Packer said, “The measure of our success as parents … will not rest solely on how our children turn out. That judgment would be just only if we could raise our families in a perfectly moral environment, and that now is not possible.
“It is not uncommon for responsible parents to lose one of their children, for a time, to influences over which they have no control. They agonize over rebellious sons or daughters. They are puzzled over why they are so helpless when they have tried so hard to do what they should.
“It is my conviction that those wicked influences one day will be overruled. …
“We cannot overemphasize the value of temple marriage, the binding ties of the sealing ordinance, and the standards of worthiness required of them. When parents keep the covenants they have made at the altar of the temple, their children will be forever bound to them.”
And so we do everything in our power to secure that promise. We attend the temple, we fast and pray, and we send our children’s records to their home wards.
Of course there are members all over the world who’d like to go undercover and be forgotten. But they have relatives-in this life and the next-who will not have it. And we, as ward members, will not just go away quietly, either. Once you have been baptized, you are on our radar and we will try to serve you and love you as long as we can find you. If you hit hard times, we’ll help you find employment and assist you with food and commodities in the meantime. If you need medical help, we’ll get you to the doctor. If you have a baby, we’ll bring in meals and babysit the other kids. As far as we’re concerned, you are our family and we will minister to you as best we can. Until you take your name off the records by a formal written request, you will have Home Teachers and Visiting Teachers assigned to help you. That’s the program, and it’s one many other faiths envy.
I know there are lonely people who actually do fall through the cracks, people whose needs get overlooked, even when their names and addresses are “on the books.” But this is not the plan; rather it is evidence of members dropping the ball. If you’re LDS, you’re supposed to be cared for and loved, even if you say, “No thanks.” There’s no such thing as a “Do Not Contact” list in this church.
During our Ward Conference I participated with 20 stake and ward leaders as we brainstormed for half an hour about how to get a particular 14 yearold boy to come to our meetings and activities. Parents all over the world would love such sincere attention to be given to their wavering children. It’s the very sort of ministering to individuals that Christ did, realizing the value of every single soul. And most parents hope and pray their children will be given similar consideration if they’re ever at risk.
Many times every month a bishop and other ward leaders review an “Action List,” trying to save sheep who have wandered away. Prayers are prayed, inspiration is sought, and assignments are made. Search and Rescue is a relentless pursuit of those in need, even those who don’t realize they’re in need. It’s a concrete example of what Jesus taught when he said, “Feed my sheep.” And we will not rest until we have fed them.
And so we have members who wish their moms would stop meddling, who’d like to pull away and live their lives without the occasional knock on the door from a ward member.
But as long as you’re loved, you can expect that knock. And another. And another. Hopefully your visitors will bring you help with life’s challenges, and even genuine friendship. We don’t want to judge or make demands, only to lovingly invite. And if the answer is no, we still want to reach out to you. We know your value, and that Heavenly Father wants all his children to come back again. So, yes, we are relentless. It’s how we roll.
Joni Hilton’s latest book, “FUNERAL POTATOES-THE NOVEL” (Covenant Communications) is in LDS bookstores everywhere.
She has written 17 books, three award-winning plays, and is a frequent public speaker and a former TV talk show host. She is also the author of the “As the Ward Turns” series, “The Ten-Cow Wives’ Club,” and “The Power of Prayer.” Hilton is a frequent writer for “Music &The Spoken Word,” many national magazines, and can be reached at her website, jonihilton.com. She is married to TV personality Bob Hilton, is the mother of four, and currently serves as Relief Society President in her ward in northern California.