Thousands of LDS families have “wayward members.” Parents fast and pray, exert faith, and try not to despair over children who choose another path. Spouses have faith crises, brothers and sisters become less active. I have loved ones in this category as well, and often wish we could have a ward fast for those struggling spiritually, not just physically.
But in pondering this circumstance, my eyes have been opened to a larger understanding.
I began to realize that there really isn’t a dividing line with “obedient” on one side and “wayward” on the other. Too often we picture such divisions, often with ourselves on the “good” side. Instead, we are all somewhere on the continuum, with no one but Christ himself as an example of flawless, perfect living. I suppose you could draw two groups, and label one “perfect” and one “imperfect.” But the reality is that “perfect” would include just one individual: The Savior. And the entirety of humankind would belong in the other group.
Sometimes we label a person “wayward” as if that broad stroke describes the complete person. We stuff them into the “less active” pigeonhole. We forget that, unless we are truly perfect, we are all wayward to some degree. And it’s this gradation of waywardness that came to me as I was pondering the concept.
Do we truly live every commandment every single day? Are we stellar missionaries every minute? Do we never slip or stumble or find ourselves in quiet rebellion against rules that are hard for us? Is it not waywardness which we try to overcome all our lives? And isn’t this why we need the Sacrament each week, to cleanse us and help us recommit to doing better?
Instead of passing judgment on the outer behavior of another, let’s remember that it’s our hearts God cares most about. Just as the apostles all asked, “Lord, is it I?” when he said one of them would betray him, that’s a question we might ask in our prayers to see if we are actually the ones who need improvement, not someone else.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf once shared a bumper sticker he saw, which said, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.” It’s so easy to have a checklist of what constitutes acceptable behavior to us, forgetting what is acceptable behavior to God.
Such quickness to see the mote in another’s eye also makes us overlook the rest of the person—perhaps they have greater charity or deeper love than we do. Perhaps they are slower to judge or quicker to forgive than we are—and these are essential qualities our leaders have urged us to develop. When someone leaves the church, it doesn’t mean they have left every good trait they ever developed, or every kind impulse. Perhaps we need to focus upon the good still within them, instead of the flaw that catches our eye. Regardless of their choices, we can still love them, and should.
It’s the same way with beating ourselves up for one mistake. Even a serious problem such as an addiction does not define your entire self. It’s a small part of you and yes, it needs to be overcome. But it doesn’t make you worthless, 100 per cent awful, or condemned to hell. It’s one part.
When we hear of someone “falling away” or losing their testimony, it is tragic and sad. We pray they will return. But we err when we think we know how God is judging them. He may see grand potential and wonderful characteristics that bring him joy and hope. We would do well to do the same.
And when we have children and other loved ones who stray, let’s remember we are in good company. Think of Heavenly Father’s wayward children—there’s a whole planet of them, and it includes each and every one of us.