What hope does the gospel give to parents of errant youth?

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“What hope does the gospel give to parents of errant youth?” Ensign, Mar. 1993, 53–54

What hope does the gospel give to parents of errant youth?

Harold C. Brown, commissioner of LDS Social Services, and president of the Salt Lake Cottonwood Stake. Few things cause faithful Latter-day Saint parents more heartbreak than if their children, though reared in the gospel, stray from its precepts and seem to turn their backs on the Lord. Parents’ feelings of grief, guilt, and confusion can seem overwhelmingly hopeless. Yet if they have tried to “teach their children to pray, and to walk uprightly before the Lord” (D&C 68:28), they have good reason to hope that a prodigal child will again embrace the gospel and conform to the Lord’s standards.

Recently I visited with a young man who as a teenager had rebelled against his parents and become embroiled in sin. Feeling that his parents were overbearing, he disregarded what they taught him of the gospel and, encouraged by his peers, cut himself off from the Church and his family.

As we talked, he expressed a need to understand more of the gospel. He indicated that something was causing him to rethink the importance of the Church in his life. Now he is taking the steps leading to the inimitable peace and joy of gospel living.

Why do such people often have and eventually act on the desire to return to Church activity? While there are no simple answers, there is one very important principle, spiritual in nature, that we sometimes forget. It can give us abiding hope, especially as we fast, pray, and do all we can to love, communicate with, and encourage a loved one to come back.

This principle has to do with the hope that Latter-day Saints have as they honor the sacred gospel covenants they made at the marriage altar in the temple. They and their children born or sealed in the covenant have a right to spiritual help in this life. Even those children who have for a time forsaken the gospel often speak of a recurring, troubling need to return to the fold. Perhaps these desires come to them because they are children of the covenant—children whose hearts, planted with patriarchal promises, “shall turn to their fathers.” (D&C 2:2.)

Although we may not fully comprehend the magnificent eternal promises of the marriage covenant, we can understand and derive hope from the promises that Church leaders have enunciated.

President Joseph Fielding Smith said that the advantage those born under the covenant have is that, “being heirs [to the kingdom,] they have claims upon the blessings of the gospel beyond what those not so born are entitled to receive. They may receive a greater guidance, a greater protection, a greater inspiration from the Spirit of the Lord; and then there is no power that can take them away from their parents. … Nothing except the unpardonable sin, or sin unto death, can break this tie. …

“On this point President Brigham Young has said: ‘Let the father and the 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.’” (Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1954–56, 2:90–91.)

Of course, those born under the covenant who deny the Lord stand to lose their exaltation, for it cannot be forced upon them against their will.

Elder Orson F. Whitney said: “You parents of the wilful and the wayward! Don’t give them up. Don’t cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The Shepherd will find his sheep. They were his before they were yours—long before he entrusted them to your care; and you cannot begin to love them as he loves them. They have but strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fulness of knowledge brings the fulness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend. …

“The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1929, p. 110.)

These promises—some of the blessings given to Abraham and his posterity—are also extended to those on earth not born in the covenant but who are later sealed as eternal family units. “If faithful,” President George Q. Cannon said, “[they] receive the benefits of the covenant, the same as if they had been born in it.” (Gospel Truth, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957, reprinted 1987, p. 347.)

Our hope in the Lord’s special help, however, does not mean that we can afford to ignore the influence of our own prayers, fasting, and efforts to reach out to a rebellious child in loving concern. The effect of Alma the Elder’s prayers on behalf of his wayward son is a powerful case in point. (See Mosiah 27:14.)

Our good influence on our wayward children is strong when we honor covenants made in the temple. We honor these sacred covenants by living worthy lives, serving others, and serving in the Lord’s kingdom. Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve has said, “We cannot overemphasize the value of temple marriage, the binding ties of the sealing ordinance, and the standards of worthiness required of [parents]. When parents keep the covenants they have made at the altar of the temple, their children will be forever bound to them.” (Ensign, May 1992, p. 68.)

We can take comfort in the words of the Lord through his servants. The gospel is a gospel of hope. With a steadfast faith in Christ, we can press forward through any trial with a “perfect brightness of hope.” (2 Ne. 31:20.) Knowing the hearts of us all, the Lord is a righteous and perfect judge. There is great consolation, reassurance, and hope in knowing that all people—even a disaffected son or daughter—“shall see eye to eye and shall confess before God that his judgments are just.” (Mosiah 16:1.)

We learn from scripture that we should do all in our power to live faithfully, to love and teach our children, and to reach out to them with all the energy of our heart and soul. Then, we are assured, our faith and hope in the fulfillment of our covenant blessings will be fruitful—a power for good in the lives of our errant loved ones.

Photo by Jed Clark