“Loving My Wayward Child,” Liahona, Aug. 2002, 26
Years ago when I was a young mother, my heart was broken when my husband left the Church, then left me. I pulled my two little girls close to me 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. I took comfort in the fact that because my children were born in the covenant, they would be heirs to promised blessings. Three years after the divorce, I married a faithful Latter-day Saint, and I felt sure 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 as an adolescent she became demanding, defiant, and belligerent. She began smoking, drinking, experimenting with drugs, and 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 faced. My husband and I desired for her to repent, gain a testimony, and feel peace in her life. 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. My husband and I counseled together and sought advice from our bishop. We put her name on temple prayer rolls. Although my patient husband was a great help to me, he was largely ineffective with my daughter because she refused to accept him as an authority figure.
During this time I received numerous priesthood blessings. I spent hours attempting to talk with my daughter. I read the scriptures and 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 drunk-driving accident. Finding no resolution to the problem, I lost all confidence in my ability to be a good parent. I felt desperate, sorrowful, frantic, angry, and helpless.
Then, after several years of frustration, I began to realize that I needed to make changes in my own life. I began to see that in my efforts to help my daughter, I was acting out of terror, not out of faith. The way of the Lord is not frightened frenzy. Jesus Christ brings hope, not despair. Satan is the author of discouragement and unhappiness. I had been listening to the wrong voice.
I decided to go back to the basics of the gospel and build a stronger, more solid spirituality. I wondered when, for instance, I had last 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? Did I acknowledge the joyful moments in my day? Did I enjoy a beautiful sunset or a soft rain?
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 concentrated on filling my soul with positive thoughts and feelings. I read uplifting books and stopped watching content-empty television programs. I became diligent in a personal exercise program, which relieved stress and lifted my spirits.
But most important, I changed my scripture study routine. My mind is most alert in the morning, so I began reading the scriptures early. Sometimes I read just a few verses, other times a few chapters. In my car, I turned off the radio and pondered what I had read that morning. The spiritual experiences I had right there in my car more than made up for the news and traffic reports I missed.
Amazing things began to happen. Impressions began to pop into my mind: I received ideas about how to handle day-to-day obligations and how to prepare for Church assignments. And I received inspiration about how to interact with my precious daughter.
One day I felt 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 change was a helpful first step in repairing our damaged relationship.
Another morning I felt a strong impression that continued over the next few months: Force is not the answer. I tearfully asked Heavenly Father to forgive me for forgetting that agency is a basic part of His plan. I realized that it is not appropriate to attempt to make someone do something, even if that thing is righteous. That was Satan’s design.
Change didn’t happen overnight. It 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 our daughter began to respond more positively because I was now more confident and less emotional.
The continuing spiritual impressions we received were a great blessing. Line upon line, the Spirit taught us what to do and when to do it. When we obeyed, we were blessed. When we struggled, we were gently reminded.
On one occasion, the Spirit reminded me that true conversion comes through the Lord. So instead of merely praying for my daughter to do what I told her, I began asking that she would be blessed with a change of heart. And I looked for moments to talk with her about the Savior. She agreed, for instance, that a violent world needs more of His gentle ways.
As the Spirit taught me, I began to recognize more of Christ’s great mercy in my own behalf. One day I thought, “Perhaps my 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 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 developed a firm conviction that He will keep entreating her and trying to bring her back, for 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.
Today this daughter is still not active in the Church, but she has a good life. Recently she married a good man, and she is a responsible and capable worker in a good career. She and I have a great relationship, and I have a bright hope that she will someday return to the teachings of her childhood.
Through these difficult times I have learned that we have the right to inspiration in our own lives. I firmly believe the Holy Ghost can help us as we prepare ourselves to hear His promptings and act on them.
The experiences I have had with this daughter have also brought me closer to the Savior. They have taught me to search my own soul, to seek the Holy Ghost for guidance, to rely on the Atonement, to be grateful for what I have, and to hope for the future.
“My heart reaches out to our youth, who in many cases must walk a very lonely road. They find themselves in the midst of … evils. I hope they can share their burden with you, their fathers and mothers. I hope that you will listen, that you will be patient and understanding, that you will draw them to you and comfort and sustain them in their loneliness. Pray for direction. Pray for patience. Pray for the strength to love even though the offense may have been serious. Pray for understanding and kindness and, above all, for wisdom and inspiration.”
—President Gordon B. Hinckley (“‘Great Shall Be the Peace of Thy Children,’” Liahona, January 2001, 67)