“Loving My Wayward Child,” Ensign, Sept. 2001, 26
Years ago when I was a young mother, my heart was broken when my husband left the Church, then left me. I pulled close to my two little girls and centered our lives in the gospel.
I prayed for my children daily and involved them in wholesome activities. Home teachers and bishops assured me that these little ones would be mine in the eternities and would appreciate my sacrifices for them as a single mother. I took comfort in the fact that because my children were born in the covenant, they would be heirs to special blessings. Three years after the divorce, I married a strong, faithful Latter-day Saint, and I felt sure that all would be well.
But soon we began having severe problems with my younger daughter. She had been happy and full of energy as a young child, but she became demanding, defiant, and belligerent as an adolescent. She began smoking, drinking, and experimenting with drugs and was disciplined for shoplifting. She used vulgar language and became sexually active. She challenged all authority and eventually dropped out of high school.
This was as difficult a challenge as any I had previously faced. My husband and I desired for her to feel whole and loved and accepted of the Lord. How we wished she would repent, obtain a testimony, and feel peace in her life. We wanted her to be responsible, respectful, and respectable. I became despondent and inconsolable—I couldn’t bear the thought of “losing” another loved one.
We fasted and prayed, pleading with Father in Heaven not to allow this child to be lost or to be influenced by her father’s apostasy. My husband and I counseled with each other and sought advice from our bishop. We put her name on temple prayer rolls. My patient husband was a great help and consolation to me, but largely ineffective with my daughter because she refused to accept him as an authority figure. I asked for and received numerous priesthood blessings. I spent hours attempting to talk with her. I read the scriptures and authoritative books on dealing with difficult children. I asked for advice, consulted with friends and family, and pled with youth leaders for help and influence.
I wondered, Where is the joy in family life? When will these problems cease? We feared almost every contemporary nightmare: teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease, drug-addiction, death in a drunken accident. Finding no resolution to the problem, I lost all confidence in my ability to parent. I felt desperate, sorrowful, frantic, angry, and helpless. A forever family in my case was just not possible, I thought.
Then, after several years of frustration, I began to realize that although my daughter was astray, I needed to make changes in my own life. Although I tried to help her, I was acting out of terror, not out of faith. The way of the Lord is not frightened frenzy. The Lord Jesus Christ brings hope, not despair. Satan is the author of discouragement and unhappiness. I was listening to the wrong voice.
I decided I needed to go back to the basics of the gospel and build a stronger, more solid spirituality. I wondered when was the last time, for instance, I had offered prayers of gratitude. Had I completely forgotten my many blessings? Had I actively looked for the good qualities of my struggling daughter? Did I appreciate the obedient members of my family, or had I forgotten their faithfulness? Where was the acknowledgment of joyful moments in my day? Was I stirred by a beautiful sunset? Did I enjoy a soft rainstorm or appreciate the purity of freshly fallen snow?
I was ashamed. I had become so negative and unhappy that my thoughts and actions did not reflect my testimony of Jesus Christ. My countenance didn’t show my love for and hope in the Savior.
I chose to change. I particularly wanted to concentrate on filling my soul with good and positive thoughts and feelings. I read uplifting books and stopped watching content-empty television programs. I became diligent with a personal exercise program, which provided relief from stress and lifted my spirits.
But by far my most important personal modification was to alter my routine of scripture study. Because I’m freshest in the morning, I began reading the scriptures early. Sometimes I’d read just a few verses, other times a few chapters. I even kept my scriptures near me to read as I was dressing and getting ready for the day. As I drove in my car during the day, I turned off the radio and used the time to ponder and meditate upon what I’d read that morning. The spiritual experiences I had right there in my car more than made up for any temporary frustrations caused by not listening to the traffic report.
Amazing things began to happen. Impressions popped into my mind: I received ideas of how to handle day-to-day obligations, how to prepare for Church assignments, and, most importantly, I received inspiration for interacting with my precious daughter. What an experience it is to receive personal revelation from the Holy Ghost!
One day I felt the strong feeling that my conversations with my daughter should turn to the positive things we had in common. Sure enough, our shared interests in music, art, and old movies provided us with nonthreatening topics of conversation. This was a helpful first step in repairing our damaged relationship.
Another morning, I felt a strong impression that would continue to enter my mind over the next few months: Force is not the answer. I offered a tearful, silent prayer and asked Heavenly Father to forgive me for forgetting that agency is an inherent part of His plan. I was reminded that it is not appropriate to attempt to make someone do something, even if that thing is righteous. That had once been Satan’s design.
So I continued to change, but it didn’t happen overnight. Change was difficult, and I had to do a lot of it. I had setbacks, but I kept trying. As parents, we still had to set standards for what was acceptable in our home, but this daughter responded better because I was more confident and logical, and less emotional.
The continuing spiritual impressions we received were a great blessing. Line upon line we were taught by the Spirit what to do and when to do it. When we followed, we were blessed. When we struggled, we were gently reminded.
On one occasion, it was brought to my remembrance that true conversion comes through the Lord. So I began to pray differently on this daughter’s behalf, asking that she would be blessed with a change of heart instead of merely asking that she would do what I told her to do. And I looked for appropriate teaching moments to talk with her about the Savior. She agreed, for instance, that a violent, harsh world needs more of His loving, gentle ways.
As the Spirit taught me, I began to recognize more of Christ’s great mercy in my own behalf. I saw, as did Moses, my own nothingness compared to what He has done for me.
One day I thought, Perhaps these experiences with straying family members can help me realize that I, too, stray when I don’t put my whole faith and trust in Him. Maybe our family’s struggles with this prodigal child can ultimately be for our benefit. Perhaps our weaknesses, though not as readily visible as hers, also need refining. As I began to think such thoughts, I became more grateful than ever for Christ’s Atonement. And as my gratitude increased, so did my faith in His ability to touch my daughter’s life.
I diligently tried to be more Christlike—more patient, more loving, more kind. I developed a firm conviction that He will keep entreating her and trying to bring her back. He loves her even more than I do! My role now is to be close to her and to strive to become the best example of the Savior I can be for the rest of my life.
Today this daughter is still not active in the Church, but she has a good life. She obtained a high school equivalency and some college education. She recently married a good man, and she is a responsible and capable worker in a good career. She loves her family and extended family, and she and I have a great relationship. I have a bright hope that she will someday return to the teachings of her childhood.
I have learned that we have the right to inspiration in our own lives and can find inspiration if we seek it and live worthy of it. I firmly believe the Holy Ghost can help us as we prepare ourselves to hear His promptings and act on them.
I also know that if someday I receive eternal life, the experiences I’ve had with this daughter will have helped to bring me to the One who can provide it. Without her, I might not have learned what it truly means to rely on the Atonement, to seek the Holy Ghost for guidance, to search my own soul, to be grateful for what I have, and to hope for the future.