When the Happy Ending Hasn’t Happened—Yet

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“When the Happy Ending Hasn’t Happened—Yet,” Ensign, Feb. 1993, 51

When the Happy Ending Hasn’t Happened—Yet

Our son chose a different course than we wanted for him, but we have learned to love him just the same.

His name is Kevin.* He is a brilliant, loving son, but he has long been inactive—even angry with the Church. It wasn’t always so. Once he was as typical a Latter-day Saint boy as could be found in any Primary class. His schoolteachers told us what a bright, promising child he was. We were certain he would continue on the path to Eagle Scout, missionary, temple marriage, and Church service his whole life.

As parents, we were doing all the things we knew to raise a righteous family. We paid our tithes and offerings, held family home evenings, and lived the commandments in our ordinary way. For many years, all seemed to be going just as planned. We were secure in our expectation that if we loved our children enough, they would not go astray. We would be united forever, marching right into the celestial kingdom with hardly a hitch in our eternal progress.

We were not aware of how things were going sour with Kevin—partly because of the times. It was the late sixties, and the drug culture was so new we just didn’t discern what with hindsight was so obvious. He first started using drugs in his early teens, and we had no inkling of what was going on. Most of his friends were active in the Church, and all went to meetings and Scout activities.

But Kevin became increasingly difficult for us, not coming home when he said he would, sometimes not at all. He found new friends who looked repulsive to us, and we were frightened to have our daughters at home alone when they came over.

Gradually, it occurred to me that Kevin was involved in drugs, and for the first time in our marriage, my husband and I had serious disagreements we couldn’t resolve. John felt I was exaggerating the behaviors he often wasn’t home to see. He felt Kevin was just having a tough time going through his teens, and if we gave him enough space and love, our son would be just fine. We both knew plenty of young men who had strayed a little during their teens and had come back.

Those reassurances made us both feel better for a time, but Kevin’s bad behaviors escalated. He lied more than he told the truth. He refused to attend church. He was surly, and whenever he came into the house, he would immediately slip into his room, often staying there for hours.

We had always operated on trust in our home. We didn’t inspect our children’s bureau drawers or read their diaries, and we felt our system worked very well. Finally, I decided to do what I had always considered a violation of the trust we had prided ourselves on—I searched Kevin’s room for what I knew I would find there. It didn’t take long. He hadn’t even bothered to hide it well. There were several small bags of marijuana in the clothes he hung in the closet. Ironically, most were in his Sunday suit.

It was a bitter afternoon for me, and it was almost more than John could bear. But for the first time, we were both facing the same reality. We decided that if it were some dread disease Kevin had, we would spare nothing to see that he got help, even if it meant spending our last dime. But even greater than the financial challenge was the process of coming to terms with our beloved child’s drug abuse.

First of all, we had to deal with our own pride. We didn’t want anyone to know about Kevin’s drug problem. We both had ward callings, and we debated about whether to ask the bishop for releases. We didn’t feel worthy to serve the Lord when we felt we had failed our first responsibility, rearing a family. We were not aware of community resources, and being so deeply ashamed, we resisted some of the most obvious helps.

Our first resource was prayer, and from our desperate, heartbroken pleadings came help from many directions. Our bishop reassured us of our worth in our Church callings. Kevin’s quorum leaders never gave up on him, and though he often refused to participate in activities specifically tailored to his interests, he occasionally surprised us all and took part.

A turning point in our lives came when the mother of one of Kevin’s friends phoned us. It took courage for her to approach us, for she had no idea how we would react. But out of our common need, we became good friends, and we went to our first meeting of Al-anon, a support group for family and friends of alcohol and drug abusers. We had been accustomed to finding help and solace among Church associates and connections, so it was difficult to unbend enough to understand and accept the help that was being offered from strangers, and later through workshops and community resources.

We had focused so much emotional energy on Kevin that we had little left for the rest of the children. With understanding and help from our new friends, we learned how to meet some of our challenges. Most important, we accepted the divine principle of agency and, in effect, gave the problem back to Kevin. One of the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous is to “let go and let God.” This meant giving Kevin the responsibility for what he was doing and then trusting in God. Our prayers became a time of sweet solace, and we understood that Kevin’s behavior had been out of our hands for a long time. The sooner he bore the full responsibility, the sooner he would learn that he couldn’t be happy and still do the things he was doing.

Kevin sensed something had changed, because we weren’t reacting the same as we always had. He graduated from high school and moved out of our home. A few months earlier we would have been devastated, but through prayerful understanding, we knew he would learn life’s lessons faster on his own than if we were providing his food and shelter. Unsure about even where he was living, we often wondered what would happen if he was sick or injured—or worse—and we couldn’t help or even know he needed help. Again, comfort came as we prayed, and we knew that our Heavenly Father knew where he was even if we didn’t.

Released from the burden of excessive worry, we now learned how hurt and forsaken the other children felt. Because we had been so wrapped up in Kevin, we had overlooked their grief. We attended BYU Education Week, taking every family relations and family communications class we could manage. As our scope broadened, it seemed that there was information available from many sources. We chose what was appropriate for us, and before long we were recovering, drawing closer in the enjoyment of each other. Without forgetting Kevin, we grew in appreciation for all the good things we did have as a family.

As the years passed, Kevin broke laws and reaped the consequences. But he eventually accepted the fact that he needed help, and he completed therapy in a rehabilitation unit and is not now using drugs or alcohol. He has grown up and married, yet somehow in these years, he has drifted further and further away from the Church.

We have had friends and members of our extended family who have faced similar problems. There are more treatment options available now than when Kevin was a teenager, and we have learned much from sources both within the Church and from carefully selected private counseling—as well as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous, other support groups, and therapies that focus on overcoming codependency and becoming a healthy family unit. Most important, we have learned to rely on our Heavenly Father, who knows Kevin better than any of us. He has inspired us and taught us to love unconditionally.

Our challenge has been to find joy in life and gospel service even though our own lamb has strayed. We have been blessed with examples in scripture—Alma the younger, the four sons of Mosiah, and Paul—all of whom persecuted the Church in their youth. Father Alma, and members of the Church in that time, persisted in their entreaties in his son’s behalf, and he was miraculously restored to the faith. The prodigal son returned home penitent, knowing his father loved him.

We had two fine neighbors who did not become active in the Church until their later years. One served humbly and quietly, especially faithful in doing temple work, grateful to be in the fellowship of the Saints. The other was called to the bishopric, an example to all in his enthusiasm at having found peace in doing the Lord’s work.

It always hurts that Kevin doesn’t join us in family fasts, missionary farewells, or meetings when babies are blessed or children confirmed. We have learned not to gauge our joy on a one-issue level, but to count every blessing and gift from each of our children. We do not have worship in common, but we do have years of family experiences, stories, laughter, and traditions that bind us together—not as surely as gospel ties, but they do the job for now.

On Easter Sunday morning, 1988, as John and I sat together to watch general conference, Elder Richard G. Scott spoke words that lifted our hearts. Tears ran down our faces as we rejoiced in faith and hope. Most of what he said we already knew; but spoken by the servant of the Lord with such sweetness and beauty, the words reaffirmed our course. Especially comforting were two principles:

“1. While there are many things you can do to help a loved one in need, there are some things that must be done by the Lord.

“2. Also, no enduring improvement can occur without righteous exercise of agency. Do not attempt to override agency. The Lord himself would not do that. Forced obedience yields no blessings (see D&C 58:26–33).”

Elder Scott’s concluding counsel was “Never give up on a loved one, never!” (Ensign, May 1988, p. 60.)

Many scriptures remind us that prayers of faith are heard. Moroni’s counsel is comforting: “Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.” (Moro. 7:26.) The Savior taught his disciples in Jerusalem: “Therefore I say unto you, What things soever ye desire, when ye pray, believe that ye receive them, and ye shall have them.” (Mark 11:24.)

Time after time as we study the scriptures, we are admonished to be prayerful and faithful. Amulek’s work among the Lamanites is an eloquent plea to cry unto the Lord continually with a prayer in our hearts at all times: “Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:27.)

Each autumn and spring, as the time for general conference comes, we pay close attention to the messages given by the Lord’s servants and read them when they are published in the Ensign. Without fail, there is counsel given that encourages us in what we have now come to understand is part of our life plan, to “endure to the end” in all things pertaining to our eternal family. We are inspired to continue in fasting, prayer, temple attendance, and Church service, secure in the knowledge that the Lord knows, far better than we do, the way back for his straying sheep. The faith it takes to move a mountain may be no greater than the faith it takes to move a Kevin.

We have learned to take joy in each of our children. The others have served missions and are faithful in the Church. Kevin has also done great things with his life, and now that we have stopped taking the shine off each of his achievements by harboring the unspoken wish that he were active in the Church, we have been able to appreciate him just as he is—a kind, intelligent man who loves his family very much. In fact, he lives by many of the values we worked so hard to teach to our children. Even though he doesn’t connect his values to the Church, he lives them, and we know that in some yet-to-be-discovered place in his soul, much of what he once knew is still there influencing him without his being aware of it.

Without the Church as a common ground, we have had to make an effort to stay close to Kevin. Fishing, sports, and working together on projects, plus the dedicated efforts of his siblings, have kept our family united. The scriptures and the prophets assure us that much can be accomplished through “small and simple things.” (Alma 37:6.) Those are the very things that are the easiest for our family to do—keeping constantly in touch, praying, accepting the good in Kevin and his family. Those things don’t require money, just patience, and it has become easier through the years to do them.

Our happy ending hasn’t happened yet, and we have no idea when it will. But we have unshakable faith that the Spirit of the Lord works in ways we cannot know and do not see and that good things will be accomplished according to the Lord’s own timetable. In the meantime, we take comfort in the words of his servants and the promises in the scriptures. And we pray always that we will “never give up.”

Illustrated by Cary Henrie