Doing All We Can Do When a Loved One Strays
by Darla Isackson

I received a thought-provoking reply to my “Title of Liberty” article. The author was concerned lest we use the concept of honoring agency as an excuse to do less than we CAN do. I am in total accord with her ideas. Although coercion is never effective and we need to guard carefully against unrighteous dominion, there is much we can do. In fact, discovering the true place of agency in our child-rearing efforts should take us to our knees and lead us to learn, as it did the author of this reply, that we can open the powers of heaven in behalf of our families. This does not mean they will instantly change for the better. Regardless of their response, we can be left with a greater measure of peace when we truly know that we have done all we can do. This inspired woman and fine writer gave me permission to quote from two letters she sent me as long as I did not use her name or divulge personal information about her family. I will honor those guidelines and call her “Jean.” I had, at first, planned to insert quotes from her letters into my own text. However, I could soon see that her ideas stand on their own.

After sharing the fact that at this point in time several members of her family are lost to the “dark side” Jean said,

It would be easy to dismiss me as either being a major failure or, worse, of trying to use coercion to force members of my family to “see the light.” Neither is true, for I have had a personal witness that the Lord is pleased with my efforts (I say this humbly and hesitatingly for obvious reasons). My family members who have chosen to live in the darkness certainly do cast some blame on me. This is, of course, natural, and is perfectly illustrated in the account of Laman and Lemuel.

My first attempts at trying to help them to see the joy of the light centered around trying to be an example and doing what you term “beaming my joy” at them. Now, I do not know if at some time in the future this will have some influence but at this point I would have to say it hasn’t. During the Savior’s mortal ministry, the only people who truly saw Him were those who desired to see Him, so the major purpose of “beaming our light” is simply fulfilling our commitment to stand as a witness so those who want to see will see. We simply must do this as disciples of Christ as the command to “let our light so shine” that others may see sanctifies us as we fulfill the commandment. What others perceive as they see (or don’t see) our light is beyond our influence. So, I think that we sometimes make a major mistake if we think that simply setting a good example will do the trick. Elder Maxwell has said that “in the last days discipleship must be lived in crescendo” and Elder Eyring has warned us that our spiritual efforts of the past will no longer suffice as the darkness of the world grows more intense. I think we must increase our spiritual efforts both personally and in behalf of those we love who are struggling.

I also learned deep lessons, as you did, about the Lord’s commitment to agency, but–and this is a very, very big “but”–we do not know what is needed in the life of someone involved in sin and we do not know their timing, nor do we know to what kingdom they really want to go. There are so many variables here in mortality and I believe that a person caught up in sin has forgotten his/her divinity and potential. How do we know whether or not we are dealing with an Alma the younger, one of the sons of Mosiah, or a Paul? And we can only imagine the pain and agony these men caused their families! I am sure it was similar to what we have been through. Anyway, because of this I have learned that even while we understand and respect agency, we still must make all spiritual efforts possible (as I feel sure our Father did in our pre-earth life) in behalf of a spouse or child struggling and mired in sin. And this we must do in spite of any pain and suffering we are called to go through. I have learned not to take the pain they cause me personally. Although this is very hard to do initially, when one gives up pain and suffering to the Savior whose precious Atonement covers it all, then a sweet sanctifying thing happens that I don’t think I can properly describe. There is a way, in fact, that the pain becomes a blessing as it actually strengthens and stretches us and we learn more about the Atonement of our beloved Savior.

Discouragement is never far away. It only awaits a tired moment, a weak moment, a distracted by the “cares of the world” moment to rush in with all its debilitating power. We know where it comes from, of course, as certainly Satan is very angry with anyone who tries to save the people he thinks he has won over. It is a continual battle but a magnificent battle, and one that (except when I get really tired) I am actually happy and humbled that my Heavenly Father has entrusted to me.

I have seen sisters, in fact one dear friend of mine, decide that since agency is involved they don’t really need to do too much. This greatly concerns me. I have also seen parents do the same thing. I had a dear bishop say to me “don’t cross the finish line alone.” I have pondered much and worked on this. I don’t believe that he meant to just bring those along who want to come willingly and express their gratitude to us, but that this type of commission also encompasses those who seem, at first (and this “at first” could last a good part, even all of a parent’s mortal probation–Enos is a prime example) to continually “kick against the pricks.” The Lord said to Paul, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks”. I feel great compassion in this statement from our Savior to one mired in sin. One reason I was able to hang in there for so long (more than two decades) with my ex is that I was blessed to be able to feel his pain so I had the strength to work as hard as I did. I would never have left him because I had made a commitment, and I knew he was sick spiritually. After all, we go to tremendous lengths to get ourselves or someone else healed physically, submitting to risky surgical procedures, taking drugs with dangerous side effects, anything to get well, yet in the spiritual realm we don’t usually put forth such efforts; this seems to me to be a major problem with priorities.

I wonder if we, as sisters, fully realize the depth of power the adversary wields. It is so easy to say, “Oh well, he/she has a testimony. They’ll come around,” or just sit back and do not increase greatly our spiritual efforts. I believe that a lesson of Alma and Alma the younger is typified in what I have related. Alma, even as prophet, had no influence on his son as far as “waiting” or setting a good example, or even in his keeping all the commandments. It was only when he increased his own spiritual efforts in behalf of his son “pray [ing] with much faith” with all this entailed, that the very thing happened that Alma the younger needed. Much is implied here, of course, but I think the major lesson is that our faith needs to be proactive and that we need to be able to call down all the powers of heaven at our disposal.

It is when we know deep inside, by the power of the Spirit, that we have really done all we can do with all this entails, that peace comes. It is when deep inside we know that we really have not done all we could have done when peace and the full joy of the gospel eludes us and this is the place where the adversary enters in ever so quietly and ever so effectively.

I have a very strong and sure testimony that while a struggling spouse or child is still living in our home that there is something there, buried deep inside perhaps, that is keeping them close to us and we need to accept this humbly and recognize the preciousness and sacredness of the opportunity that we have been given. I remember reading once that a young man wrote a long letter to President Kimball outlining all the faults he saw in Church members. President Kimball wrote back a short reply, “Yes, I know. Please help them all you can.” What all this help entails will be personal and may stretch us way beyond the limits we thought we had. I don’t think we are capable of understanding what all we need in our own development let alone what is needed for others.

I often reflect that it must have been hard for Jacob to watch his seemingly unbelieving son not “get it”. Yet if we were to ask Jacob if it mattered in an eternal sense when Enos “got it” of course he would say it did not. The important thing is that Enos did “get it”.

Yes, there will be Laman and Lemuels in our families. But, even though Lehi was shown in vision that his sons would not “come unto Christ” yet he did not give up his extensive efforts in their behalf and he continued to sorrow for them. When and if the Lord tells us that “it is enough” I believe that it is only at that point that we let them go as did the prodigal son’s father or when Nephi and his followers separated themselves from Laman and Lemuel. And, I have known so many, many sisters who have not waited patiently on the Lord for such deep inspiration and have simply decided that they don’t want to “put up with it any longer”. Then, I have seen these sisters struggle deeply and often lose their testimonies. Sometimes I think we forget that secular marriage vows say “in sickness and in health.” We should have the strength to face whatever sickness our spouses or children have and do all in our power while calling down all the powers of heaven in their behalf. Only then does peace come and only then can we be free, really free, to feel the blessing of “afflictions being swallowed up in the joy of Christ.”

[Only one of my family members is currently active in the Church.] Am I discouraged? No, I am not! I have been given so much inspiration, so much! I have been given so much knowledge and I feel peaceful. I know how to do all in my power and then let these things rest in the hands of Him who truly knows them, knows what and when and where they need the experiences, people, etc. who will help and then, in the end, if they still choose another kingdom, well, they are all kingdoms of glory and who am I to do anything other than what our Father would do, does do, and what our Savior would do and does do? Much comes down to trying to learn what our Savior meant when He said we were to follow Him. He did far more than just set a good example, He constantly preached and strongly and courageously too (the key for us is to seek the Spirit when we are attempting to say what the Lord would have us say to a struggling loved one). He taught that some things “goeth not out but by fasting and prayer”.

[As I continued to fast and pray and follow the counsel of a visiting Authority to be active in missionary work] I began to grow in ways that I cannot even describe. My fasting, always first for [family members], began to encompass much more and I saw many miracles occur, not only for [them] but in the lives of others. My eyes became opened in a way hard to describe and my feelings of failure simply vanished along with the bouts of depression. I began to really understand what Alma teaches about afflictions being swallowed up in the joy of Christ. Mind you, [my family members] rejected the miracles and grew farther away, but I was full of joy!

As Sheri Dew says in her book, No Doubt About It : we need to understand who we really are as women of God and what our full potential is. We must be warriors, and strong ones. We can afford to be no less. The battle is waging and escalating and victims are falling all around us. The deeper the wounds the harder they are to heal. I think we need to understand, or put great efforts into trying to understand, all the implications of being “Saviors on Mount Zion.”

I believe there are many ideas worth pondering in this sister’s heartfelt response. So many things in our lives are not as they seem on the surface. We know so little and need the Lord so much.

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