I was talking with a friend recently, about how many grieving parents there are in this world, devastated by the choices of their children. Many in the church are grappling for reasons why their grown kids have pulled away. But we’re not alone; people of every stripe are struggling to understand why their children are choosing another path.
And he gave me a wonderful image. He spoke about the many Boy Scout camps he has both attended and headed up. One of the common experiences they all have is sitting around a campfire.
You’ve probably done this as well. There’s an art to making a good, safe fire. There are many designs that work, but the basics are the same: You choose a safe, designated spot that’s sheltered from the wind. You make a circle with dry rocks to contain the fire.
Next you arrange a loose pile of tinder (dry twigs, dry leaves, dry pine needles, even dryer lint or crumpled paper, etc.) inside the circle. Tinder is your fire starter.
Then you build a cone or other shape with kindling over the tinder, leaving spaces for oxygen to flow. Kindling is small, dry sticks or twigs about the width of a pencil. These will catch fire easily, but not burn too quickly.
Now add the larger pieces of dry firewood—stack them or lean them so the flames can get them burning as well. Now light the tinder. After a while, the burning logs crackle and collapse. You poke and prod them to rearrange the pile. Add more wood if you wish, slow and steady.
Eventually the fire burns out, a lifeless pile of gray ash where dry logs were once stacked. There’s no movement, no flame, no smoke. It seems dead.
Or is it? If you poke it with a long stick, scattering the ashes, you’ll find glowing embers underneath. And this, my friend said, is the testimony, the faith, the values we’ve taught our children. It’s still there; it hasn’t vanished completely.
It takes immense faith and patience to turn such problems over to the Lord. We want our children to be happy so desperately that we want to intervene, to pour gasoline on the fire, to fan the flames if we can (and sometimes the flames go out from too-vigorous fanning).
Instead, we must leave the timing to the Lord, and the agency to our children. It’s the same with anyone or anything we pray for, which is out of our control. We must trust that the Lord wants the very same thing we do, but He knows a better way to get the outcome. And we must pray for, and exert, faith in Him.
Consider this scene from the Lord’s perspective. As we agonize and worry, does He worry that we have lost faith in Him, that weare the ones spiritually flagging? Our despair certainly doesn’t demonstrate much trust in His abilities to bring our children back.
Believe that the ember is still there. It may be invisible to us, but God knows our children’s hearts, and how to bring them home. Some of them may need a treacherous journey before their ember can re-ignite.
Think of how carefully you raised your child. Just as with a campfire, you sought security and protection for your child. You gathered all the elements necessary to teach and inspire this growing person, like tinder to ignite their hearts and minds. You fed and clothed them. You taught skills and lessons, the kindling you kept replenishing. You gave all the love you possibly could, like armloads of firewood. You armed them with answers to life’s toughest questions. You built a wonderful campfire.
Know that God also knows all this. He sees the bigger picture and has the bigger plans. When we keep our covenants, we know that everything will eventually work out. We can consecrate this struggle to the Lord, faithfully staying true despite our pain. We can recognize this as our own Gethsemane, as beautifully described in Joseph Grenny’s recent article here. That kind of faith can bring us great serenity, great peace. Even as we wait on the Lord, we can feel a wellspring of joy in Him.
Let us buoy up one another, and remember that under all the ashes, an ember glows. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “Even the smallest act of discipleship or the tiniest ember of belief can become a blazing bonfire of a consecrated life.”
Hilton is an award-winning playwright and the author of many best-selling Latter-day Saint books. Those, her humor blog, and YouTube Mom videos can be found on her website.