(This article was adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Click here to learn more.)
Over the years, I’ve listened to many parents who suffer because their children have departed from the plan of happiness. Some parents have wondered if they are at fault; others wonder if they are being punished: “What did I do to deserve this child?” I’ve answered “Probably a lot. But you weren’t given the child as a punishment. Likely, you chose the assignment.”
When we are faced with an overwhelming challenge, we can become myopic. We tend to see the event narrowly, as if it were confined to a brief season in mortality. While we acknowledge that we lived for an extended period of time in the premortal existence and are very old beings with long histories, we sometimes discount the fact that that existence matters when it comes to eternal judgment. If the Lord only took into account our behavior in this world, most of us would be in serious trouble.
So how does premortality factor into our present environment of mortality?
Imagine the following scenario. (In High Priests Quorum, we throw our tie over a shoulder when we state personal doctrine, so be forewarned). In the distant past, you formed relationships with people whom you loved. You desired that those relationships continue in mortality and throughout eternity, so you and they made your wishes known. Heavenly Father agreed to grant your request; then, because He has perfect foreknowledge, He took you aside and explained that one of your dear companions was going to experience a difficult season in mortality.
That revelation troubled you because you loved the person so much. You desired to help. You could not bear the thought that your precious brother or sister would remain in darkness without the very best saving solution.
You wanted to help for another reason. You had spent eons championing Heavenly Father’s Plan of Salvation, which is comprised of myriad individual plans of salvation for each of us. The Plan and the plans call for a Savior to anticipate every individual’s sins, failures, weaknesses, illnesses, mishaps, difficulties and the totality of the mortal experience. Then the Savior was to provide a saving solution, which, upon obedience to the provisions of the Plan of Salvation, would remove every obstacle that would stand between the person and exaltation.
This saving solution would allow each individual to experience mortality without being destroyed by it. The saving solution would allow personal moral agency to reign supreme: the perfect saving solution would be provided and an offer to accept it would be made in full light and knowledge, but it would remain for the individual to accept or reject the saving solution.
You understood and rejoiced in the Plan of Salvation. You comprehended how it would impact on you and on those whom you loved. You realized that one of those people would choose badly for a season and need to be nurtured and held close while the Lord did His saving work. The Lord would need a partner to help Him save that person.
One of two things happened: 1) Heavenly Father asked if you would take the assignment to bring your beloved friend into your earthly family or 2) you volunteered. In either case, you chose this child, knowing full well the pain that he or she would cause you. But because your love was stronger than your fear and because you had implicit faith in the Savior, you said, “Give me the child.”
Why do I feel certain that this was the case? Because Heavenly Father never imposes anything on us. He always works according to agency and He works along lines of redemption. “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”[i]
Once we factor in the foreknowledge of God, the Savior’s individual plans of salvation, perfect love, and individual agency, we must admit the principle of divine positioning. To provide us the best opportunity for redemption, the Father strategically places us in saving relationships, which can occur in any combination, including family, friend or acquaintance relationships.
There is more. I believe that Heavenly Father assigns us to no task unless He first prepares and qualifies us. Our choice in the premortal world to accept the assignment for the child resulted in our preparation there. We were going to take on one of the most difficult challenges we would face in mortality and the stakes for everyone were high. Of course Heavenly Father provided in-depth and detailed training that we could draw upon at a future date. Lying within us is that memory, but it can only be accessed by personal sanctification and the gift of the Holy Ghost.
If Heavenly Father’s house is a house of order, if God organizes all the stars in heaven to follow precise orbits so that they might stand “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years,”[ii] if He forms every creation to exist delicately in a balanced ecosystem, if by design He places all truth and intelligence into specified spheres so that they might act for themselves[iii] -why would God leave the placement of his children to chance?
Of course, He does not. Countless ages of premortal obedience and righteous living determine our children’s mortal placement, which, beyond every other consideration, is meant to reward them and to magnify their opportunity to advance toward exaltation. Even the difficulties they experience can serve to save and exalt them.[iv]
Elder Neal A. Maxwell declared that the youth of Zion are living here and now by assignment. “These are your days!” he said. “You are in this time and circumstance by Divine appointment. God knows you and he knows what you have the capacity to achieve.”[v] When our children slip into seasons of waywardness, we might better endure the challenges by remembering who they really are and why God has strategically placed them in our family.
Now I’m going to adjust my tie and allow the scriptures, prophets and inspired writers to teach us the truth.
Divine Appointment and Positioning
God, being all-knowing and anticipating every eventuality that would befall our children’s mortal experience, carefully positioned our children into selected families to provide them the best chance of nurture, repentance and exaltation.
This is a critical piece of information for parents. Despite their feelings to the contrary, a child’s rebellion is not a parent’s failing but rather a parent’s calling.
When the child does turn back-and many of them will-they will begin to remember who they really are and resume their premortal work-the work of redemption–by gathering the living and the dead to Christ and disseminating the gospel blessings to them, much in the same way “the faithful…of this dispensation, when they depart from mortal life, continue their labors…in the great world of the spirits of the dead.”[vi] The scriptural stories of the Apostle Paul, Alma and the Sons of Mosiah are given to us as universal models.
We must keep in mind that because our children were assigned to come forth in the last days, they are targets for the Adversary. We are clearly taught that children born in the Covenant in the last days have come to earth with the singular assignment to prepare the world for the Savior’s Second Coming. Therefore, our children, who are born or adopted into the lineage of Israel are “marked” for greatness because of their former greatness. President Ezra Taft Benson said,
In all ages prophets have looked down through the corridors of time to our day. Billions of the deceased and those yet to be born have their eyes on us. Make no mistake about it-this is a marked generation. There has never been more expected of the faithful in such a short period of time than there is of us. Never before on the face of this earth have the forces of evil and the forces of good been so well organized. Now is the great day of the devil’s power. But now is also the great day of the Lord’s power…. While our generation will be comparable in wickedness to the days of Noah, when the Lord cleansed the earth by flood, there is a major difference this time: God has saved for the final inning some of His stronger and most valiant children, who will help bear off the kingdom triumphantly…. You are the generation that must be prepared to meet your God….The final outcome is certain-the forces of righteousness will win.[vii]
An Amazing Promise Waiting for Fulfillment
Clearly, to be purposely and divinely placed at this crucial time and place, each of our children had to have proven exceedingly righteous. Joseph Smith revealed, “There is a time appointed for every man, according as his works shall be.”[viii]
Paul explained that this “time appointed” would be especially true of the latter-day children of Israel; they would be specifically singled out and strategically placed because premortally they had “conformed to the image of [God’s] Son.”[ix]
Therefore, God took careful note of their potential to do good and deigned to position them in an era and circumstance that was best suited to their strengths and weaknesses. Elder Erastus Snow, explained that the premortal ministry of God’s “peculiar people,” destined them to assume important mortal callings in the Melchizedek and Aaronic Priesthoods:
For he has had his eye upon the chosen spirits that have come upon the earth in the various ages from the beginning of the world up to this time…The Lord has sent those noble spirits into the world to perform a special work, and appointed their times…and their future glory and exaltation is secured unto them; and that is what I understand by the doctrine of election spoken of by the Apostle Paul and other sacred writers: For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren.’ Such were called and chosen and elected of God to perform a certain work at a certain time of the world’s history and in due time he fitted them for that work.[x]
This is an amazing promise that should give parents of “elect” albeit wayward children cause to patiently persevere and hope that their children will yet remember who they are and rise to the stature of their premortal greatness.
The Noble and Great Ones
Pursuant to the perfect foreknowledge of God, our children were likely assigned family placement, birth time, location, and mortal opportunities according to their strengths and weaknesses. According to many sources, they were among the noble and great ones, who were shown to their forefather, Abraham.
Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good.[xi]
Speaking of our children’s premortal nobleness and greatness, President Spencer W.Kimball said to the youth, “The prophets in this dispensation have taught us that special spirits were reserved to come forth at this time in this last dispensation. You are among those very special spirits!“[xii]
If you have a wayward child, this may be hard to believe. You might ask, “Was my troubled child included in the prophet’s declaration?” Yes! Speaking to the youth of the Church, Elder H. Burke Peterson said, “My dear friends, you are a royal generation. You were preserved to come to the earth in this time for a special purpose. Not just a few of you, but all of you.”[xiii]
The Noble and Great Ones will do the Work of Redemption
What was the premortal work that our children did so well that caused them to be distinguished above the majority of the hosts of heaven?
Redemption is not a work of God, it is the work of God, and therefore it is the preeminent work of all celestial beings-those who are or would be gods.
Former Brigham Young University professor, M. Catherine Thomas, wrote:
Out of all of Heavenly Father’s spirit children, a smaller group distinguished itself by its exceeding faith in the Lord Jesus Christ during the conflicts that occurred incident to the war in heaven. Those who were valiant in these conflicts, and in other ways also, demonstrated both their abilities and their desires to become actively involved in the cosmic work of redemption through the great atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ. The thing that characterizes the Gods and those who aspire to godhood is the love of the work of redemption; that is, nurturing spirit children through the first estate of premortality, then leading them through a mortal probation, and finally raising them to the level of their parent Gods….the great work of the Gods is family work-the raising and nurturing of children and the redemption of families to be sealed together for all eternity. We cannot comprehend the cosmic proportions of the love and the infinite investment of labor and grace that go into this magnificent work. You and I, as members of the literal house of Israel and of the Church of Jesus Christ, were called in the premortal world to participate in that work, everything else being trivial in comparison. Redemption is not just one of the things going on in the universe; it is the thing. That work of redemption is the work to which the premortal covenant people, the house of Israel, were called, and it was to take precedence over all other work and to subordinate all other work to itself.[xiv]
Although they are proportionally few in number, today’s youth comprise an unparalleled army in the earth’s history. Elder Gene R. Cook said, “I salute a royal generation, the greatest generation of youth in number and quality to ever live on the face of the earth. The amount of good that is being done by you is immeasurable. Your influence will be felt worldwide before you have finished your stay on earth.”[xv]
When we consider the proportionately small number of Israelites who have been found, gathered or born into the Church, we are awed by our children’s apparent premortal stature. Clearly, each is one in thousands. If the Lord’s intention is the redemption of all his children, no child’s birth into a Latter-day Saint home is a mistake or a roll of the dice.
The Work of Redemption within Families
God organizes his children into saving relationships so that the weak might be nurtured by the strong. That fact is most evident in families. God’s divine positioning often calls for weak children to be placed with strong parents, strong children to be placed with weak parents, or strong individuals to marry into weak families. Why? To do the work of redemption.
Catherine Thomas, said, “God may place spiritually challenging children in homes of spiritual and conscientious parents for their mutual benefit.”[xvi] Carlford Broderick, an LDS marriage and family therapist, wrote:
My experience in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to “metabolize” the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed. In suffering innocently that others might not suffer, such persons, in some degree, become as “saviors on Mount Zion” by helping to bring salvation to a lineage.[xvii]
Perspective on the Cosmic War for Souls
Are we prepared to disregard the volume of Restoration literature that pertains to redemptive work in the spirit world, the foreknowledge and mercy of God, and the far-reaching effects of the Atonement of Jesus Christ? If so, we do both God and Christ a disservice by imagining limits to their ability to save. To gain perspective, let us review some truths.
Our children are ancient souls, who practiced righteousness and did the work of redemption over vast periods of time. During that enormous duration, the focus of their attention was to become like their heavenly parents by coming to earth, gaining a body, achieving a glorious resurrection, and earning exaltation.
Our children bring with them mature gospel knowledge. It may be buried deep in their souls, but it is there just the same. The Fall may have caused them temporary amnesia, but God has not forgotten who they are or what they did. He said, “I will not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.”[xviii]
Of course, neither has Satan forgotten our children. These are they who helped Michael cast out the devil and his angels from heaven, causing Satan to swear in his wrath that he would destroy them in the flesh. And for good reason. Satan knew if our children were allowed to continue their premortal work, they would conquer him again and cast him into outer darkness forever.
Therefore, the war in heaven goes on, and this earth is its frontline. Hence, while the world is merely tempted,[xix] our children are viciously attacked.[xx] Why are our children so ruthlessly confronted? Brigham Young had the answer:
God never bestows upon his people, or upon an individual, superior blessings without a severe trial to prove them, to prove that individual, or that people, to see whether they will keep their covenants with him, and keep in remembrance what he has shown them. Then the greater the vision [or blessings], the greater the display of the power of the enemy. So when individuals are blessed with visions, revelations, and great manifestations, look out, then the Devil is nigh you, and you will be tempted in proportion to the visions, revelation, or manifestation you have received.[xxi]
Our children’s premortal nobility, righteousness and exceedingly good works warranted extraordinary blessings and opportunities in this life-royal birth, immediate access to gospel blessings, and so forth.
But these blessings carried a price. The Adversary would attack in proportion to their blessings, and once seemingly invincible souls, weakened by the Fall, would now be more susceptible to cutting down and wounding.
Wounded, But Not Defeated
The Book of Mormon contains a possible latter-day parallel and a promise. Imagine our children like the ancient Stripling Warriors, who, like their Nephite counterparts, are called upon to defend and save the kingdom.
Premortally, our children were “exceedingly valiant for courage, and also for strength and activity; but behold, this was not all–they were men [and women] who were true at all times in whatsoever thing they were entrusted. Yea, they were men [and women] of truth and soberness, for they had been taught to keep the commandments of God and to walk uprightly before him.”[xxii]
Now, having forgotten all, our children have come to earth to be born of goodly mothers and fathers,[xxiii] who try to teach them the gospel of Jesus Christ and prepare them to face the battle for the kingdom. Here, then, is an important lesson: Although every one of them is wounded in the battle with “many wounds,” “not one soul of them did perish.”[xxiv]
Although the comparison between the Stripling Warriors and latter-day youth has limitations, it nevertheless might give parents reason to hope and persevere knowing that perishing is not in the Lord’s design. President J. Reuben Clark said, “I believe that our Heavenly Father wants to save every one of his children.”[xxv]
Divine Positioning at Work
One thing is certain: Parents are not cursed with wayward children; parents are called by God to rear and help redeem these precious souls, in partnership with Jesus Christ. What we are experiencing is a trust. Therefore, we become to them “Saviors on Mount Zion.”[xxvi]
That they have been sent to our family is evidence of God’s divine positioning at work, and the purpose of that divine positioning is to redeem those for whom we have a responsibility. Because God called us to this work, he will make us equal to the challenge. President Hugh B. Brown’s apostolic blessing and promise to youth leaders might be applied to latter-day parents:
God help us all that we may do our part to prepare for that future, ominous though it may be. I leave a blessing with you…. From my heart I pray God to bless and guide you as you undertake to help to guide the youth of the Church, the reserves of the army of the Lord. I pray that God will bless you in your homes, in your work, in your play, and that He will give you faith and courage and fortitude to make you equal to your tasks. I pronounce this blessing upon you and promise that these things will be yours.[xxvii]
[i] Moses 1:39.
[ii] Moses 2:14.
[iii] D&C 93:30.
[iv] For example, see 1 Corinthians 10:13; Romans 8:28; Ether 12:27
[v] Neal A. Maxwell, “These Are Your Days,” New Era, Jan 1985
[vi] D&C 138:57
[vii] Ezra Taft Benson, “In His Steps,” Ensign, September 1988; Ezra Taft Benson, “You are a Marked Generation,” Ensign, April 1987
[viii] D&C 121:25
[ix] Romans 8:29
[x] George D.Watt, ed., Journal of Discourses, vol 23:186-187, emphasis added
[xi] Abraham 3:22-23
[xii] Spencer W. Kimball, “In Love and Power and without Fear,” New Era, July 1981
[xiii] H. Burke Peterson, “Your Special Purpose,” New Era, October 2001
[xiv] M. Catherine Thomas, “Alma the Younger, Part 1,” Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
[xv] Gene R. Cook, “The Seat Next to You,” New Era, October 1983
[xvi] M. Catherine Thomas, “Alma the Younger, Part 1,” Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
[xvii] Carlfred Broderick, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, August 1986, p.38-9
[xviii] Isaiah 49:15-16
[xix] D&C 29:39
[xx] D&C 76:28-29
[xxi] Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 338
[xxii] Alma 53:20-21
[xxiii] Alma 56:47-48
[xxiv] Alma 57:25
[xxv] J. Reuben Clark, Jr, Conference Report, 3 Oct. 1953, p.84
[xxvi] Mark E. Petersen, Conference Report, October 1959, p.14: “I would like to talk with you about your ministry among your own children, because you are ministers of the Lord unto your children, and if you will do your duty by your children, you will be as saviors on Mount Zion to them….”
[xxvii] Hugh B. Brown, The Abundant Life, p.188