Readers Share Heartaches and Solutions about Children Who Have Strayed
By Darla Isackson

I received many reader responses to my last article. For example, Sister Jane Hallstrom from Chapel Hill, NC, said, “You have put into words the anguish I have felt over the years. It is hard to convey how crushing it feels . . . Thank you for giving me confirmation about the strategies which I have adopted for dealing with my selfish hurt and my son’s still infinite potential.  To God truly goes the glory.”  I have asked permission to share some of the words of wisdom , as well as two poignant questions:

Question 1: Why has the Lord not answered my heart-felt prayers to bring my children back into the Church?

Here are excerpts from a lengthy reply showing how one mother is working through this problem: She said,“I’m glad to know I’m not alone. I have [several] sons who fell away from the church.  I think they took a part of me with them.  Since then, I’ve found it very hard to pray.  I’ve prayed so many times for them, wishing I could have done more to “save” them from the paths they’ve chosen to take.  So many guilt feelings/regrets, thinking I’d failed.  I too wanted him to “fix” things so our sons would return to the gospel and the Church.  I wanted it to happen, now, too.  And, because it didn’t, I guess you could say, I felt my Heavenly Father wasn’t listening.

“Sometimes I feel guilty for doubting that Heavenly Father is hearing me.  I know, deep in my heart and mind, that He does, as I’ve had other prayers answered.  It’s just that, this one prayer, the most important to me, seems to go unanswered….or, so I feel, sometimes.  Well, I need to constantly remind myself that Heavenly Father does things in his own way and in his own time and we sometimes tend to be impatient; particularly when it comes to something we want to happen so very much and our heart aches for it.  Maybe no answer, IS an answer….that the time for answering or responding to that prayer hasn’t come, yet.  Or, in other words, by no answer, it means, “No, not at this time, my child.”

“For the longest time, I was on an emotional roller coaster….until I remembered that ‘God can force no man to heaven,’ and realized, “Well, if He can’t, I certainly can’t.’

“I still struggle with prayer . . .  I KNOW prayer works.  It’s worked miracles in my life and in the lives of my family.  But, the miracles I REALLY want, I can’t seem to have–right now.   And, that’s okay, if I could just know that someday they’ll be back & that they won’t have to suffer as Jesus did, by not repenting.  Thinking about this, I can only imagine what it must have been like for our Heavenly Father, watching his only son suffer as he did, in the Garden of Gethsemane.  I sometimes wonder if I’m worthy enough, myself, to ask for miracles for my sons.  Each of them has had at least one life-threatening event in their lives, and so I’ve often wondered why the dear Lord saved them. There must’ve been a reason.  I’d like to think he has a great plan for them … or something. 

“Then, while sitting in the temple one day, I took to heart, this same phrase you quote in your article: ‘every knee shall bow & every tongue confess,’ and realized then, that this meant, my sons, too.  What hope this gives a mother with wayward sons. To add to this, our sons were born in the covenant.  I’ve heard that Heavenly Father will not lose those who are sealed to him…or something to that effect.  Another hope, I cling to. [When we] read about the lives of many of our prophets, since biblical times, we find that many of them had wayward children, too. . .  

“Well, I’ve come to the conclusion to “Let go and let God,” where my sons are concerned.  It’s hard, but I continue to hope, and yes, pray for them. . . Even if I don’t always say my prayers, I carry a prayer in my heart for them all the time.  I cry most every time when “Families Can Be Together Forever” is sung.  Some day, I hope to be smiling when I sing that song.  In the meantime, I continue to feel that I have “good” sons & continue to love them.”

Elder Dallin Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, reminds us that “All things must come to pass in their time.” (D&C 64:31-32) . . .

            “Indeed we cannot have true faith in the Lord without also having complete trust in the Lord’s will and in the Lord’s timing . . .

            “The achievement of some important goals in our lives . . . Are also subject to the agency of others . . .

            “Because of things over which we have no control, we cannot plan and bring to pass everything we desire in our lives. Many important things will occur in our lives that we have not planned, and not all of them will be welcome. Even our most righteous desires may elude us or come in different ways or at different times than we have sought to plan.” (“Timing,” Ensign,  October 2003, pp. 12-15) These thoughts can help us pray with patience for our children, and with faith in the Lord’s timing.

Question 2: What If My Child Was Not BIC [Born in the Covenant]? Where Can I Find Hope?

This is a deep question. Here are some of my thoughts. The sealing blessings offer additional assurance to faithful parents, but do they decrease the power of the Savior’s general promises and invitations? I don’t think so.

            . He never said he would go after only those little lost sheep whose parents were sealed in the temple.

            . He never said that “Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess” except those who were not BIC.

            . He never said, “I stand at the door and knock” unless your parents weren’t wise enough to be married in the temple.

            . He never said, “Come unto me and be healed,” unless your parents are divorced.

            . He never said, “This is my work and my glory, to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man” unless they were not BIC.

I truly believe the Lord’s promises extend to all, and that he is busily engaged in working out the immortality and eternal life of every person. He loves us all unconditionally and has our names written on His palm. The deciding factor will not be the Savior’s willingness to include, but each individual’s willingness to receive. Our children’s agency rules after all we can do, and even after all the Lord can do. Still, when He said, “Let your hearts be comforted concerning Zion; for all flesh is in mine hands” he made no exception to “all flesh.” Our hearts can be comforted. We can choose to “be still and know that I am God” (D&C 101: 16), because He is truly mindful of each of us.

We Can Yet Choose to Set the Example

If we, as parents did not choose temple blessings initially, we may yet choose them. If sealing is not an option, we can choose to be endowed and live worthy to someday be sealed. By our own repentance, by making and keeping our own temple covenants, we put ourselves in a position to help and bless our children.

President Lorenzo Snow said, “You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions and receive a resurrection, you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, 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 . . . we will save our posterity.” (Millennial Star, 22 Jan. 1894, 51-52)

Shepherds in the Holy Land lead their sheep; they do not drive them from behind.  I can lead my children by repenting, turning to Christ, depending on Him every moment and striving to keep my own covenants. My children will have no motivation to follow my lead if I weep in the darkness because of their poor choices instead of seeking more light.

Patience In What We CAN Do

A mother named Nancy said, “Thank you for . . . a sweet reminder to us all who struggle with children outside the Gospel, that we should put all things in God’s hands, and trust in Him. I too pray every night for a son who stepped outside the family circle to “find himself” (which he hasn’t yet). I remember what a great comfort it was to hear his patriarchal blessing being given to him. Even though it [doesn’t seem to have] helped him yet, it has helped me because I can see him as God sees him–his true spirit.  And I can love him as God loves him, for the boy he still can be. My mother gave me some very good advice once about keeping his trials in perspective.  She said, ‘Do you know how long it takes for a ship to turn around in the night ?’  I knew it would take a long time; he has softened, but his journey is a long way from being finished. What I also discovered along the way was that I wasn’t nearly as perfect as I longed to be myself. I have made many poor choices along the way and I too have been on life’s bumpy road and need my Savior to forgive me and guide me back. “

How much wiser to focus on what we can do–change and improve ourselves– than to wallow in anxiety over our children’s mistakes. Jacob 4:18 reads, “Behold, my beloved brethren, I will unfold this mystery unto you; if I do not by any means, get shaken from my firmness in the Spirit and stumble because of my over anxiety for you.” We need to be careful not to stumble in our own lives because of over anxiety for our children.

Another mother responded with these thoughts, “As parents of children who stray we need to know that we are not failures but that each child does indeed have their own choices to make in life. I am a convert to the church (many years ago now) but I am sure that when I converted,  my mother felt a failure in her attempts to keep me in her teachings–even more so since we were raised in a strong religious home. I even have a brother who is a preacher. Yet, in no way would I ever view her teachings as failures, for she taught me to love the spirit of truth and instilled in me courage to accept and live those truths when I found them. She taught me to love, honor, and cherish my Heavenly Father and to desire his interaction in my life above all else. In no way could this be considered failure.”

Success Stories

How wonderful to hear stories of mothers who have persevered and come to see their little lost lambs return to the fold. Janet Kent wrote, “My daughter was inactive from age 18 to 28, which broke my heart right in two–I had hoped to save her from the heartbreak of wrong choices during those crucial years.  However, she wanted to learn from her own experience, not mine, and she proceeded to do so with almost complete abandon.

After going through all the stages of grief, I finally accepted that I might have lost the battle, but I determined not to lose the war and her.  I took the advice of a wise friend who had gone through the same with her daughter.  Her advice:  ‘Build, build, build!’  Without approving of sinful actions, I did all in my power to remain loving and accepting of her right to make her own choices.  I found everything positive in her to compliment. 

I soon saw that a person whose good intentions and actions are acknowledged becomes stronger and wants to make even better choices, and thereby continues to grow.  I prayed to know what issues she was grappling with intellectually (she was an honors student at the U of U), so I could intelligently discuss them with her.  The Lord answered those prayers, and I knew before she told me what area of concern she was grappling with next:  environmental issues, capital punishment, the source of sexual orientation, other religions, etc.  I was able to suggest another way of thinking about these issues that wasn’t blatantly preachy or loaded with catch phrases.  Our dialogue deepened.

In the end, I trusted her to God.  She graduated from college and after deciding she didn’t want to pursue her three-year association with the Quakers, she moved to New England.  Soon after that, she met a young man who had been raised as a Catholic.  They spent their courtship discussing religious doctrine.  Their conversions developed together, and they became engaged the day David was baptized [into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints!].  I bless the day Elder Bill Kiel challenged them to embrace the promises of the gospel, and they both responded.

Today, they have been sealed in the temple and are very active. My daughter was returned to me and “added upon” by the Lord, in a way I could never have designed!

Now I wait for a similar miracle for my inactive, but very wonderful son and his family.  But I wait in happy anticipation, not doubt or despair.  To anyone struggling with the heartbreak of an inactive child, I counsel to build, build, build!

Another Pam wrote: “I, too, have had two sons who chose different paths for awhile.  It was such a learning time for me.  One day I heard the Lord whisper to me, “He is my son, please give him to me, I know what he needs.”  As I did just that, not without a struggle however, I watched the Lord orchestrate things in his life that I could NEVER have done on my own.  It was so beautiful to witness His hand at work.  I also kept hearing the spirit whisper to me, “They have to know the dark to know the light.”  How interesting that was to me.  After a period of 2 1/2 years, dark years I might add, my sons have come back to the Lord.  They have been converted.  They were born in the church, and I believe that they needed to step outside of it and away from the Lord to really know what it is like to be without Him.  For now they really know what it is like to be WITH Him.  It is a painful experience to have your children walk away from the Lord, especially when He means everything to you.  But if we truly “believe Christ”, that is what He died for.  To allow us, our children, other people to go through what they need to in order to learn what we need to learn.  We do the best we can, He makes up the rest.  He understands us fully, completely, every cell, where we have come from, our ancestry, our DNA, our thoughts and beliefs. He is so merciful and loving.  This I now know. I love Him so much for that.”

I close with my testimony that the plan of Agency was chosen for our best good and learning, that God lives and loves each of us, and that there is purpose in all things. I recognize the spiritual growth that has come to me through having children stray, through seeking answers to searching questions, through seeking spiritual comfort in my times of anguish over my children. I’m so grateful for the spiritual assurances, and scriptural promises. I love visualizing Jesus, the Good Shepherd going “out in the desert” after our little lost sheep. I know that in His own time and His own way He will find them and bring them home.


For more of Darla’s work (Including a booklet To Be a Mother: The Agonies and the Ecstasies, containing her article called “The Savior Makes Up the Difference for Mothers, Too,”) check out


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