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Editor’s Note: Our friend and longtime Meridian writer Larry Barkdull recently passed away. To remember and honor him this is one of a series of his past articles that we are republishing regularly.
“This my son was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found!”
Don’t Listen to the Negative Voices
The story of Jairus and his dying daughter is a perfect example of Jesus’ ability to save a spiritually dying child even when all seems lost.
Jairus was a Jewish ruler. Luke informs us that Jairus’s twelve-year-old daughter was at the point of death. When all hope seemed lost, Jairus had heard that Jesus was coming, and evidently he had waited on the seashore all night anticipating the Lord’s arrival.
When Jairus saw Jesus, he rushed to Him and “fell at his feet, and besought him greatly.” No time for introductions, Jairus cried, “My little daughter lieth at the point of death; I pray thee, come and lay thy hands on her, that she may be healed; and she shall live.”
Of the father’s distress, Ted Gibbons noted,
We feel this father’s great faith and confidence in this appeal. His girl was dying. Jesus could heal her if He would. He had healed others … had [even] done so from a distance.
[But] their journey was interrupted by the touch of the woman with the issue of blood, and as the Savior finished speaking with her, someone from the bedside of the child came looking for her father and said to him, “Thy daughter is dead: why troublest thou the Master any further?” (Mark 5:35).
Imagine the pain caused by those words. Christ had healed the sick…. But this was no longer a matter of sickness; the child was dead. “Why troublest thou the master any further?”
Don’t Listen to the Negative Voices
Jairus must have buckled under the weight of the news. But notice what Jesus did: “As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, he saith unto the ruler of the synagogue [Jairus], Be not afraid, only believe.”
Jesus would not allow a negative, alternative voice to damage Jairus’s faith. In effect, Jesus said to him, “Don’t listen to that voice. What the voice is saying is not true. It is not too late. Focus on me and let’s go to your house and save the child. The damsel is not dead, but sleepeth!” And when they arrived, Jesus took the child by the hand and commanded, “Damsel, I say unto thee, arise. And straightway the damsel arose, and walked.”
Jesus gave the same never-to-late message to grieving Martha at the death of her brother, Lazarus: “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Even now, though Lazarus had lain in the grave four days and all evidence pointed to his complete and unalterable demise, though he were dead, yet would he live!
Although Martha was distraught, she remained focused on the Savior and His saving power: “But I know, that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee.” And Jesus confirmed her faith in Him: “Jesus saith unto her, Thy brother shall rise again.”
And Lazarus did rise again. Jesus “cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go.” This story has obvious spiritual implications.
It Is Never Too Late
We must never listen to the alternative voices or imagine that it is too late. If we persist in sanctifying ourselves, one day the Savior will come as He did to Jairus’s daughter, lay His hands on our children as it were, and they will live. President Howard W. Hunter said, “Whatever Jesus lays his hands upon lives. If Jesus lays his hands upon a marriage, it lives. If he is allowed to lay his hands on the family, it lives.”
We must believe that the Savior can call out a wayward child, as He did Lazarus, who might be decaying in the tomb of spiritual death, and though he be dead, yet the child will emerge alive. Although the child might be bound with the graveclothes of sin, the Savior will say, “Loose him, and let him go.” The promises made by the Lord’s prophets of such deliverance are sure. To participate in God’s plan of deliverance, we must sanctify ourselves and follow the direction of the Spirit.
An Example of Improbably Redemption
Consider the following account of one father’s once-wayward boy:
Our son was dead; spiritually dead, that is. Where does one begin to describe the deep sadness and the feelings of total helplessness and loss? Even these words do not adequately describe the emotional [black hole] that surrounded and imprisoned my wife and me as we watched our son rapidly and undeterred set out to destroy not only his life but also his eternal salvation and divine appointment.
Jeff’s downward slide started in his teenage years. I still can’t believe it happened, but if it can happen to Jeff it can happen to anyone. My wife and I had loved our only son, indulged him, and wanted him to have every opportunity to be happy and feel good about himself. Jeff was the all-American boy…. He was also a basically good kid, although he sometimes struggled with self-worth and often associated with friends who were not the best examples.
During his teenage years, he began to change; he became arrogant, selfish, and argumentative. He learned to get his way by using his anger to intimidate and exasperate us. He portrayed himself as a victim. Nevertheless, he [still generally] seemed to want to do good things, and he even encouraged one of his best friends to go on a mission. Jeff helped his friend prepare by reading scriptures with him before school. His friend was older and entered the MTC three months before Jeff’s nineteenth birthday.
That inspired Jeff, and he started working with the bishop to prepare his mission papers. But after several meetings with the bishop, he stomped into the house offended one night because the bishop hadn’t shown up for their appointment. For some reason, this hurt Jeff deeply. He imagined that the bishop didn’t really love or care about him.
That single event tipped Jeff over, and he decided not to serve a mission. Thereafter, Jeff lost interest in the Church and started questioning Church policy and the validity of its doctrines. He stopped attending his church meetings and fulfilling priesthood assignments. Because he was the leader of his band of friends, who were not very active, he persuaded them to also abandon their mission plans. He began to disregard all Church standards, and he started hanging out with a rough group that frequented R-rated movies and stayed out until all hours of the night.
He began coming home smelling of smoke and alcohol. Then he declared himself to be agnostic.
Because Jeff was a likable, natural leader, he attracted other misfits. He brought them to our home, freely shared our food with them, and relentlessly argued with us about our rules and standards. Soon, we had to ask him to either follow our rules or live elsewhere. This angered him, but he moved out and shacked up with people who could only be described as the dregs of society. Now he was so entrenched in this debased lifestyle that he went out of his way to fight against and live opposite to every ideal and value of the Church.
Jeff began using pot and other drugs and driving under the influence. Drugs were readily available at his workplace and from his associates…. He engaged in gratuitous sex with his girlfriend. He began stealing from stores to get things that he wanted. When he was broke, which was often, he would drop in on us for some quick food — and, of course, he brought his drug-using friends with him and expected us to feed them.
He got a tattoo on his arm, earrings, and studs in his tongue. He would arrogantly walk into the house with his friends and proudly flaunt his newly acquired attire, piercings, and opinions. He would poke fun at the Church and its standards and express how liberated he felt now that he had adopted beliefs that aligned with his behavior.
It was all we could do to not retch and cry. I wanted to slap him and shake him from this evil state. I wondered, Where did my loving boy go? Every once in a while, I would try to calmly point out the flaws of his lifestyle and the blessings of righteous living, but he always became irate. It was as though he was possessed. He was truly past feeling. Our hearts were broken. We loved him so deeply and hurt so much for him. We greatly feared for his salvation. Our beloved son was dying, and there seemed to be nothing that we could do.
My wife and I prayed hard, night and day. We came to appreciate how Alma the Elder must have felt as he prayed for his son. We wondered, If Alma the Elder could pray for something dramatic to provide his son an opportunity to change, could we not do the same? We didn’t care how the opportunity came — a visitation from an angel or just for Jeff to hit bottom — all we wanted was for something to happen to shake him loose [from Satan’s hold].
Then one night, my wife had a strong impression that we needed to stop preaching to him, acting disappointed about his choices, and looking down on him and his friends, and simply love him. So that is exactly what we started to do. A change in us had to happen before a change in our son could occur. That was not a comforting thought, but one that we embraced nevertheless.
Thereafter, when Jeff would criticize our lifestyle, beliefs, or the Church, we would smile, acknowledge his opinion, then ask why he felt that way or gently change the subject. My wife welcomed his friends into our home and offered them food. Being the saint that she is, she actually hoped that they might feel the Spirit in our home.
On the other hand, I found it very hard to show love in this way. I had to bite my tongue on many occasions. I tried to take cues from my wife, who comes by the gift of charity more easily. She was able to genuinely radiate love to Jeff and his friends. Over time, as I watched her, I had the impression she was the angel that I had been praying for. In the end, she became the agent that made Jeff’s change possible.
Until that ordeal, I had never been able to comprehend exquisite pain and exquisite joy. Now, we had experienced both extremes. Years before, we had prayed for a son to come into our family, and when we were blessed with him, we had tried to love him unconditionally. We had nurtured, taught, sacrificed for, and tried to raise him to be a valiant child of God. Then, watching him plummet down to depths so low that he became unrecognizable caused pain worse than death. When Jeff should have been serving a mission for the Church, he was fighting against it. In fact, I call those two years his “Mission to Hell.” The answer to our prayers and the change that took place in Jeff’s life are incomprehensible to me now.
A series of significant events took place as if orchestrated from above. These events had a profound influence on our son. First, Jeff’s missionary friend was set to return, which started Jeff thinking about their relationship. With Jeff’s new lifestyle, how would he renew a friendship that was supremely important to him? This concerned Jeff and made him think more seriously about his choices.
Next, Jeff attended a rock concert, where he and some friends were smoking pot and doing mushrooms. He passed in and out of consciousness while he was listening to the music and under the influence of the drugs. He felt out of control, and he remembered thinking that imminent death was a possibility.
He reported that every time he [tried to focus on] the music, he would lose consciousness again. But every time he held onto the thought of family, he would stay present and not succumb. He struggled between the two worlds. He survived, and he realized that he had been spared. After the concert, these thoughts continued to play in the back of his mind.
Finally, at work, someone secretly placed on his desk a piece of paper that outlined the difference in behaviors between a person who chose Christ and a person who chose Satan. He noted that all the behaviors listed on Satan’s column were exactly what he was doing. For some reason this conflict played right in front of him and struck a nerve. He started crying uncontrollably and couldn’t stop for a long time.
A few days passed, and when his friend returned from his mission, he and Jeff began to hang out. Jeff was still quite moved by his recent experiences and was primed for a change. He and his friend had long talks that resulted in spiritual moments. The walls of rebellion finally tumbled down.
One night, in tears, Jeff came home with his returned missionary friend and another friend and asked me for a priesthood blessing. I was floored. The once-proud Jeff now stood before me genuinely broken-hearted and of a contrite spirit. He wanted God’s forgiveness. He pled for my wife’s and my forgiveness. He wept freely in our arms, expressing love, gratitude, and remorse.In the blessing I felt impressed to express to him his Savior’s undying love, His awareness of Jeff’s circumstances, and His promise of total forgiveness.
Jeff received a spiritual witness of the truth of those statements.
From that day forward, Jeff asked us to be patient with him while he tried to change. Each day he gave up a different vice. From the moment of the blessing, he never took another illicit drug or engaged in any sexual behavior. He stopped smoking one day and gave up alcohol the next. Having been previously disfellowshipped, Jeff started meeting with his new bishop to restore his membership standing and his priesthood. Our once-wayward boy is home at last! Seeing him now, I want to cry out with the prodigal son’s father, “This my son was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found!”(See Luke 15:32).
Our Children Are Bound To Us
As this story illustrates, our children are bound to us through our keeping of righteous covenants—whether they come back to the fold in this life or the next. As President Joseph Fielding Smith said,
Those born under the covenant, throughout all eternity, are the children of their parents. Nothing except the unpardonable sin, or sin unto death, can break this tie. If children do not sin as John says, ‘unto death,’ the parents may still feel after them and eventually bring them back near to them again.
May we have the patience and faith to “feel after them” until the time of their redemption.
This article was adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Follow this link to learn more.)
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 See Mark 5:21–43.
 Mark 5:22–23.
 Mark 5:23.
 Ted Gibbons, Be Not Afraid – Turning to Christ in Times of Crisis, 8.
 Mark 5:36, emphasis added.
 See Mark 5:39.
 Mark 5:41–42.
 John 11:25, emphasis added.
 John 11:22–23.
 John 11:43–44.
 Howard W. Hunter, “Reading the Scriptures,” Ensign, November 1979.
 Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Volume 2, 90.