Last week readers wrote in to share their experiences in part-member families.  This week we close up the subject, and the topic on readers’ minds this week is the observation that if part of the family is inactive in the Church, active members have the same frustrations.

Our first letter contains a request for us to discuss how to cope with inactive family members.  The letters that came afterwards do just that.  Here they are!

Sometime could you please discuss in your forum spouses that leave the gospel. My wife’s father died in a motorcycle crash when she was in high school. Her only brother shot himself in the 1980’s, and her mother hanged herself in 1996.

My wife feels she is “all alone in the world.” She feels God let her down and doesn’t care about her, so why should she care (she joined the Church in high school). Depression runs deep on her mother’s side with many more examples as above.

So, she just gave up! It’s been 14 years. There is nothing I can do. 

Anonymous 

I hope your wife is being treated for her medical condition, Anonymous.  It is hard to have any spiritual experiences when you are suffering from the despair of clinical depression.

I hope the following letters can help you.  They offer hope for people who are dealing with inactivity in their families.

I just read your article on part-member families, and realize I have lived in a virtual part-member family if not a literal one.

My husband was a church member.  We were sealed in the Manti Temple, and he was at one time called to be a stake missionary.  But in spite of all of this, for many years he was basically very much less active and we had issues to deal with both regarding that and other things.

He generally did support me on some level in my callings, but as one of the sisters wrote, he never took the lead in family prayer, family home evening or scripture reading. That always fell to me and quite frankly, I was disappointed because of it. I felt like by my filling in on what I considered his role, I was taking leadership away from him — but in truth, he was not going to do those things anyway.

I always tried to encourage him to use his priesthood within the family and sent our children to him for blessings. I coaxed them to obtain blessings for the school year, or if they became ill or whatever reason one might be obtained. 

Finally there came a time when I felt tired of picking up the dropped ball, and I stopped doing some things. We had been blessed to obtain family counseling and learned many useful principles on things like holding family counsels, setting limits and setting appropriate consequences for infractions, improving our one-on-one communications, and quite a bit more. All that was helpful, but it didn’t address the issue of his non-participation in church.

Did he pick up the ball? No, so things did not get done.

Looking back (and after reflecting on the Family Proclamation to the World), I should have kept on doing the things I was doing because the responsibility does rest on both parents.  If one has to be the stronger one in following the gospel, so be it — we are commanded to do it. Nevertheless, to the best of my ability at the time our children were taught the gospel by way of family home evening, as well as consistent church attendance, and I was always active even when he was not.

Once in a blessing we learned that he would not be healed until in the next world, so I have to believe that is taking place now. We are both converts to the Church (he having been Catholic and I was a Lutheran), so we at least became unified in faith when we converted to being LDS. Quite frankly there are numerous reasons our marriage might not have survived had we not become members at the time that we did. But it was a struggle even so. I can only imagine that most if not all marriages have their times of disunity, hopefully less and less as we mature in the gospel.

My husband is deceased and it is nearly three years now since he passed. About a year after his passing, he came to me in a dream, and due to the content of that dream I know that he is teaching the gospel in the spirit world. I expect when I go on to the other side that he will have gained much of what he did not develop here and be quite beyond what he had gained so that I should be pleased with his progression and hope to continue in mine that we become unified indeed.

My point in writing to you on this matter is that while being both members, I still felt like I was living in a part-member family the children notwithstanding. I was pleased to learn that others in a similar situation of being partial active families, the women tried doing some of the same things I was doing — that is to say, sustaining the husband as the head of the household (priesthood holder or not). I have no reason to regret trying to buoy him up in his honoring of the priesthood. I believe it was Elder Boyd K. Packer who stated that men of the priesthood have the authority, but now they must develop the power of the priesthood. I feel that I may have helped my husband in doing that at least to some small degree.

Hopeful Now

I’m sure your dream was a real comfort to you, Hopeful.  It shows that it’s never too late to give up hope.  This is a lesson that can help all of us in many areas of our lives.

My husband joined the Church when in our last year of high school and then left the Church four years later — a year after we had been sealed in the temple. He was inactive for ten years, and in the beginning it was most difficult as we struggled to redefine ourselves. At that time my husband didn’t want anything to do with the Church.  That included no gospel pictures in our home, no gospel music, no scriptures in view and most definitely any future children were not to be raised in the Church.

You are probably wondering if there was any hope for us at all. I wondered that for a long time. But I can tell you that this experience made really look at myself and my beliefs.

For the first time in my life I asked myself, Do I really believe this and what am I willing to risk if I do?  Through much prayer, fasting and agonizing, a mighty change of heart occurred during those ten years. You’ll be surprised to know that the heart that was changed was my own.

The first lesson I learned was that Heavenly Father wanted my marriage and family to be successful. He didn’t throw in the towel simply because my husband left and neither should I. The second lesson I learned (most powerfully through personal revelation), was that Heavenly Father knew exactly what my husband needed even better than I did, and that I needed to trust that He would take care of him.


 

I needed to let it all go back to Him.

 

 

The third lesson I learned was humility. Simply because I was “active” didn’t make me any more righteous or better than my husband. I wasn’t a “saint” or a “martyr” or on some higher spiritual plane than my husband, and the minute I felt that way I lost the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I needed to love my husband for who he was — not who I thought he should be.

My parents were wonderful examples to me every step of the way. They encouraged me to stay and work out my problems with my husband. They loved my husband for who he was and genuinely felt he was as their own son. For years my husband, though he loved my parents, felt uncomfortable around them and felt that they really didn’t like him because he was no longer active in the Church. My parents continued to show him the opposite by inviting him to all family functions, taking active interest in his work and hobbies, thanking him for being a good husband and provider to me and most importantly treating him no differently than any of the other active siblings or in-laws.

When my daughter was born they were respectful towards our new role as parents and let us learn while offering help and assistance as we asked for it.

Over time my husband saw the blessing of having the gospel on our home. This happened not because I or my family made pointed efforts to confront him at every turn with gospel “stuff” but because it eventually became the ebb and flow of our home, allowing my husband to observe the blessings in his own time and at his own pace.

When my husband confided in me four years ago that he was secretly meeting with the missionaries and attending church when he was out of town on business you could have knocked me over with a feather. He returned to full activity. But guess what? While I am happy and his activity has definitely given our home and marriage a new and stronger dimension, I would have loved him whether he returned or not. And my parents and family treat him the same as they always have — with love and respect.

Married My Best Friend

What an optimistic letter, Married!  Your experience is an example to all of us — not just on the marriage front, but in dealing with all sorts of problems that require patience and endurance.  Thanks for writing.

I just read your article about “Thriving in a Part-Member Family.”  The question and answer format was an excellent idea, and I read each person’s contribution, and your responses, with great interest.  This article was a great comfort to me, and I hope there are many more responses from readers.

I used to believe that under any circumstance it was the better, even the more righteous choice, for an LDS woman to choose to stay single for years, rather than to marry out of the Church. My views on that have changed. I now believe that it may be the right choice for some of these women to choose not to marry out of the Church.  And I believe that it is the right choice for some of these women to choose to marry, even though their husband may not be LDS.  Here is my story:

I was raised in the Church by an LDS mother and non-LDS father. Thankfully my mother had a strong testimony and she took me and my siblings to church, alone, for years.  We were each baptized, endowed in the temple, and are all still very active in the Church.  Because of the strength of my mother in being willing to bring all of us to church through those formative years (during an era when it was sometimes socially difficult for her to be one of the few women in the ward not married in the temple), I now have her example as I navigate my own family situation.

My three sisters all married LDS men in the temple.  I, however, married a non-LDS man.  He is a Christian, though he doesn’t attend any particular church, and he is a very good husband and father.

 

When we met, I was 42 years old and had not yet married.  Though I had stayed active in the Church and was very involved in LDS singles activities I realized, somewhere in my mid-30’s, that there were more active single LDS women than men in the Church and that this meant there would be many LDS women who either never marry in this life, or who marry out of the Church.

When we were introduced, my husband was a widower with three children, and we became friends.  As I began to have deeper feelings for him I prayed for guidance as to how I should progress in my relationship with him.  I received an answer, personally tailored to my situation, which I am at peace with.  The answer was that I could certainly go on as I had been, alone and single, attending church by myself and serving in the Church as I had for years.  I might or might not have eventually found and married a good LDS man.

Or, I could marry this righteous (though non-LDS) man, be a stepmother to three children whose mother had died, and I could love and serve this family, bless and be blessed by them, and in the process I could also bring as much of the Savior’s love and His truth into their lives, as they would accept.

I felt that it was acceptable to the Lord, whichever path I chose.  I chose the latter path.

I already knew how to attend church alone; I’d been doing that for years.  I did make sure, before we became engaged, that he came to church with me a few times and really, really understood how much the church means to me, and that it is a non-negotiable part of my life.  He did understand, and has continued to respect and support my church life for the 5 1/2 years that we’ve now been married.  He recognizes that many of the things he loves most about me have been profoundly shaped by my LDS lifestyle, beliefs and practices.

I love him dearly and feel truly blessed to be able to be his wife, companion and sweetheart.  I love my stepchildren, and though they don’t all share my belief in God and the gospel, I respect them and their right to choose to believe and live as they wish.  We have a mutual love and respect.

Is it always easy to be in church and the temple alone? No, but it wasn’t easy when I was single either. But now I have a family that I love.

I don’t want to cast a misleading picture here. I do believe our situation is made easier by the fact that I did not have children of my own coming in to this family, nor did I bear children after we were married. We tried but I was not able to become pregnant with my own children.


 

 

 

If I had brought children from a prior marriage into this family, or had borne my own children in this marriage, there would have likely been more potential stress points in our family. This is because there would have inevitably arisen questions of how and what the children would be taught.

A big part of why our situation works as well as it does is that I don’t press the Church on my family in  a heavy-handed way, and I do take personal responsibility for my testimony and activity in the Church.  I practice my religion and try to live so that the Holy Ghost can reside in our home, and then, hopefully, that spirit will touch and teach my family.  My job is to love, serve and teach where appropriate, then I leave the rest to the Lord and the Holy Ghost to soften and turn their hearts as they are ready to receive.

This type of family arrangement requires me to turn frequently to the Lord for insight, guidance, understanding and patience. But then, I believe this is required of us in a temple marriage as well.  In the end, we each can only decide if we personally will choose to live the gospel.  We then can pray for, love, help and serve those around us as they find their way to the Lord. If I had chosen not to marry my husband, he and my stepchildren would have missed out on the exposure to the gospel that they have had.  I would have missed out on so much joy and growth that I have received through them.

Every single LDS person I know has at least one, and usually many, beloved family members and friends who are not of the LDS faith, or who may be struggling with their faith. I would love to see more articles and more resources directed to this issue which touches us all.

One last thought…my father, at age 73, came to have a testimony of the gospel and was baptized. He and mother were subsequently married in the temple and our family is now sealed for eternity.  The arc of eternity is a long one. Some things take time — perhaps even a long time. The Lord has allowed us the privilege of working hand-in-hand with Him in the salvation of ourselves and our loved ones. It is never too late for someone to come to Christ and the gospel, nor should we ever give up on that hope.

Jennifer Gibbs Kambourian
Oakton, Virginia

What an amazing letter, Jennifer!  It makes a fitting close to this topic, as well as a look forward to our next topic — dating nonmembers.

That’s it for this week.  If you have any ideas for future topics, please send them to me.   Do not under any circumstances use the “feedback” form on this page!  Send your ideas to [email protected], with something in the subject line to indicate that your letter isn’t spam. 

Until next time — Kathy

“Many have quarreled about religion that never practiced it.”

Benjamin Franklin

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