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Will prodigal children return? Almost assuredly! The scriptures and prophets promises are astoundingly hopeful. Absolutely there is help.

(This article comes from Rescuing Wayward Children.)

Will prodigal children return? Almost assuredly! The scriptures and prophets promises are astoundingly hopeful. Absolutely there is help.

John and Alyson (names changed) of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada described their heartbreak:

Evan came to us as all babies do: innocent, pure, full of promise and fresh from Heavenly Father. But, by the time Evan was a toddler, we knew that we were in for a rough ride. It was just a matter of time.

The downslide began when he entered middle school and discovered the electric guitar. Soon, some friends invited him to join a band. We were concerned about his friends and the influence they seemed to be exerting on him, but we also wanted him to have the freedom to develop his talent. We were so nave. The band played hard rock, and soon Evan embraced everything that goes along with that culture. He began dress sloppily, go around unshaven and experiment with alcohol.

Six months ago, he began to smoke, and now he goes through a pack a day and cannot stop. He has tattooed his body, pierced his ears, nose and tongue, and has begun to wear eye makeup. He has died his hair strange colors, and most recently he has shaved his head except for a clump that he braids into a ponytail that falls to the middle of his back.

We don’t know how to stop the hemorrhaging. We have tried calmly talking to him, screaming at him, limiting his privileges; we have even threatened to send him away to a disciplinary school program-but nothing has worked. He has a girlfriend with whom he has frequent sexual problems. He invites his friends to our home and they leave it with a dark and terrible feeling. Our oldest son moved out after high school because he couldn’t stand the atmosphere; our younger children are always tense, as if they are afraid. Four weeks ago, Evan nearly lost his life when he overdosed on drugs, slid into unconscious oblivion and had to be rushed to the emergency room.

Where, we ask ourselves, is the sweet, innocent spirit that came to us seventeen years ago? Evan is so far removed from the clean, angelic son of God whom we once welcomed into our family that now he is almost unrecognizable.

What did Father Alma Do?

Mormon foresaw an epidemic of latter-day wayward children. He spoke of the rising generation falling away. The epidemic would be of such proportions that even the best of parents, exemplified by the king and the prophet, would not be exempt from their having wayward children. Mormon also explained that a father (or mother) can pay the price and increase his level of sanctification and thereby summon a conversion opportunity to rescue their wayward children.

So what do we learn from Mormon? Why did he direct our attention to wayward Alma and the wayward sons of Mosiah? The answer lies in what Alma the Elder did: He sanctified himself. Rather than put his energy into changing his son, he put his energy into changing himself, and that effort facilitated a spiritual awakening for his son. Brigham Young taught,

Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they 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.[i]

Jesus is Our Example

One mother wrote and asked if I could prove scripturally that spiritual rescue is facilitated by another person’s effort to sanctify himself or herself. I pointed to Jesus’ example. In his great intercessory prayer, Jesus said, “I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified.”[ii]

To understand why a perfect man would need sanctification, we must first define some gospel terms. Purification means to eliminate contaminants. Sanctification means to change the purpose of something. For example, priests take common bread, bless and sanctify it, and the bread’s purpose changes. Now it is sacrament bread, set apart for a completely new purpose. In a similar manner, Jesus was about to sanctify himself or change the purpose of his life so that he could help to sanctify others.

What did he do?

He partook of the sacrament, offered mighty prayer, entered into a fast, and offered a vicarious sacrifice. He went to work on himself before he went to work on others! Could we not do likewise, recommit to gospel basics, and expect a similar result?

Parents’ Mantra

Parents have asked me to sum up my philosophy in one sentence. Here it is:

Every effort you make to sanctify yourself has a redeeming effect on the person for whom you are praying.

Passing Judgment

One exasperated father wrote me and stated that his son was lost forever. He saw no way that this boy would change his ways or that he could ever be redeemed. I urged him to slow down. Because we parents cannot see into the future and are blind to the work of God happening beyond our view, we are often quick to throw in the towel and pass eternal judgment. But even God has not done that yet! Time is on our side, and if there is one thing that God has lots of, it is time.

Individual Plans of Salvation

A mother from Idaho wrote about how overwhelmed and alone she felt. She was carrying the weight of the redemption of her child on her shoulders-a weight that only the Savior could carry-and she was being crushed by that weight.

I urged her to remember that she was in a covenantal partnership with the Lord. The Covenant guarantees that He will walk the long road with us and share the weight of the yoke.

I bade her remember that within the global Plan of Salvation, there is an individual plan of salvation for all of us. Parents don’t have to create the plan; they only have to discover and fulfill their part of the plan. Again, we are in a covenant relationship with the Lord; we are partners. We are not expected to do work that only a God can do; we are only expected to do our part as he directs. Usually that means showing unconditional love to maintain the relationship, and to assemble and direct the healing team.

Assembling the Rescuing Team

I hear from parents who are simultaneously trying to be saviors, bishops, psychologists and even medical doctors. Typically, they are not equipped with skills for any of these things. But they are equipped to assemble the healing team.

A spiritual sickness can have three parts: 1) spiritual, 2) emotional/behavioral, 3) physical. We need to split up the sickness and involve expert healers in each area.

Bishops are spiritual healers. So are others whom he might involve. By covenant, parents are spiritual healers, too, but they might need to learn some spiritual skills to become effective. Usually, bishops are not psychologists, but we often make the mistake of leaning on the bishop for emotional or behavioral issues.

Psychologists are highly skilled to address emotional or behavioral issues. A spiritually wayward child almost always has an emotional of behavioral issue that is aggravating the problem. In most cases, neither bishops nor parents are equipped to deal with these issues. Involve a good psychologist. LDS Family Services is a fabulous resource.

Medical doctors are skilled in healing physical problems, but they are neither bishops nor psychologists. If your child gets physically ill or injured, take him to a medical doctor.

So the bottom line is this: Assemble your team and direct the process of healing. If your child is spiritually sick, involve a spiritual healer: the bishop. If your child has an emotional or behavioral problem, involve an emotional/behavioral healer: a psychologist. If your child hurts himself physically or becomes physically ill, involve a physical healer-a medical doctor.

Don’t mix up the roles. And don’t try to be something that you are not.


A mother in the United Kingdom mourned that the world had encroached upon her family to such a degree that she felt she could no longer protect her children and hold them to the Church. All three of her sons had now left, and they had assumed lifestyles of selfish pleasures, drinking, sexual dalliance, and in one case, drugs. She said, “If you are living next to a muddy field, you are bound to get dirty.”

I explained that she made a good point. The conditions of this earth were described by the Lord to Enoch as the most wicked of all his creations. We are in the last days, which rival the most wicked times that have ever existed on the earth. There are going to be casualties. But we must remember that our children are inherently good people, who are temporarily being deceived. Their present choices and attitudes do not necessarily reflect who they really are.

Mormon’s example of Alma the Younger represents a universal principle. In one way or another, each of us will have an Alma experience, in which we will be presented with the truth and a choice. We expect that when that time comes, most people will remember who they really are, and, like Alma, repent and choose right.

Divine Positioning

Many parents have had experiences with their children before they were born. Then when the child later goes astray, the parents are left confused. How could such an obviously choice person forget so completely who they really are and go against his/her true nature?

“Evelyn” in Michigan wrote of her daughter:

My husband and I knew that the child I was carrying was a special soul. Early in my pregnancy we began to have experiences with this child. Soon we perceived that a little girl was coming to us. And what a powerful person she was! When we would gather our children together for family prayer, our “little girl” would come and join us, too. Sometimes, we could actually point to the place where she was kneeling. On a few occasions, when we had Monday night activities for Family Home Evening, we perceived that she had come along. Although we had enjoyed special experiences with each of our children before they were born, we had never experienced anything like this.

When our daughter was born she was the joy of our life, and she lived up to the powerful personality that we had previously experienced. Then, when she entered High School, she hit a crisis point. In a class, she was introduced to another element of friends, who had a profound affect on her. Without our knowing, she began to experiment with alcohol then marijuana. One thing led to another, sloppy appearance, sexual experimentation, and soon she was spending less and less time with our family, and she abandoned the church altogether. Our hearts were shattered one night when we received a call from the police station that she had been picked up for driving under the influence.

We do not know when this trial will end for us. We continue to love and encourage her, but we are settling in for what may be a long siege. Our peace lies in the fact that the Lord allowed us to experience early the power and importance of this child who was coming to our family. We know she is ours for a reason, and our responsibility for her is long-term. Our prayer is that our daughter might someday remember who she really is.

Children are not placed in families by a cosmic roll of the dice. Their placement was decided in the distant eternities for the purpose of redemption. Elder Neal A. Maxwell called family placement “divine appointment,” or we might say divine positioning. This organizational method 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? For redemption, of course.

Which leads to the next question:

Is My Child’s Waywardness a Curse or a Calling?

In an effort to help parents change their paradigm, I ask them the following question: “If you were called to be the Young Men’s or Young Women’s president and had wayward youth in your class, would you interpret the youths’ behavior as your failing? Or would you see it as your calling?”

Clearly, dealing with a wayward child is a trust not a curse.

Redemption is the work that we signed up to do, because we desired to become like the Gods. Therefore, redemption is the work that we will be doing throughout eternity. Is it any wonder then that God gives us opportunities to learn redemptive skills here and now?

Parents Becoming Agents of Change

For us parents to become agents of change and people who are capable of acting in the strength of the Lord, we must reevaluate our level of belief in the Plan of Redemption and adopt a new perspective. Perhaps we need to reexamine our faith and ask ourselves some searching questions.

  • Do we simply believe that Christ exists, or do we believe who he really is-the Deliverer?
  • Do we believe that the gospel is a nice culture, or a vibrant system of reclaiming and redemptive tools?
  • Is our child’s waywardness indicative of our personal failing, or is his waywardness indicative of a divine trust?
  • Did Heavenly Father foresee this season of spiritual sickness, or did it catch him off guard?
  • If he knew about it, did he plan for it?
  • Am I alone? Do I have to fret and come up with a plan to save my child, or is there already a plan of salvation in place, and I just need to learn and do my part?
  • If what I am going through is a calling rather than a curse, was I prepared for it? Can I count on God making me equal to my calling?

Prophets’ Promises

Of course, nothing trumps agency, and no guarantee could ever been made that a child will ultimately choose to turn from a life of waywardness. Nevertheless, these redemptive principles are so powerful that the prophets have used very little qualifying language in making universal and incredible promises. The Atonement has a much greater reach than we might imagine. Joseph Smith said, “Our Heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in his mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive.”[iii]

Of the many promises made by prophets concerning the eventual return of prodigal children, one that I love the most is from President Hinckley:

I leave my blessing upon you. May there be…a sense of security and peace and love among your children, precious children every one of them, even those who may have strayed. I hope you don’t lose patience with them; I hope you go on praying for them, and I don’t hesitate to promise that if you do, the Lord will touch their hearts and bring them back to you with love and respect and appreciation.[iv]


The divine resources that are available to us are amazingly expansive, and the vast body of confirming evidence of eventual success is overwhelming. Therefore, to discount the Lord’s power to reclaim, even from incredible distances, or to minimize the power that the Lord has placed within our reach is to disparage the redeeming power of the infinite and universal Atonement of Jesus Christ. Absolutely there is hope and there is help!

Author’s Note

This article was adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children.


[i]           Discourses of Brigham Young, 208.

[ii]           John 17:19.

[iii]          Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 257.

[iv]          Gordon B. Hinckley, Address given to the Saints in Great Britain, August 1995.