Growing up, I believed in the gospel of Jesus Christ with all my heart, and I did everything I could to live righteously. And I wanted and expected my family to live righteously as well. The knowledge of the gospel gave me more joy than anything else in my life, especially knowing that I could be with my family for eternity.
So you can imagine how confused and hurt I was when my older brother started growing more and more distant from the gospel and also from my family and me. Ultimately, he left the Church altogether.
For a while, it felt like my world had exploded. I had so many questions:
How could he leave?
How could he not want all the blessings that living the gospel brings?
Doesn’t he want to be with our family forever?
At the beginning, I was angry with my brother. When I would hear my friends talk about how protective their older brothers were and how close their family was, I would feel devastated that my brother and I hadn’t talked for a long time. My dream of being together with my entire family in heaven seemed to be slipping away.
I would often look at the seemingly “perfect” families at church and feel like my family was doing something wrong. If we were righteous enough, wouldn’t my brother come back to the Church? But no matter what we did, my brother still wouldn’t come back.
I prayed to Heavenly Father about my brother all the time. I felt so angry and hurt. I would ask things like, “Why is this happening?” “Can’t you help him know the truth?” “Please change something!”
I did this for a while, and nothing changed. I didn’t understand why God wasn’t doing anything. But then, one day, something finally clicked. I realized there was something I could do.
I could love.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught:
“When you truly desire to bless and lift up those around you—then the power of the pure love of Christ can work in your heart and life.
“As you become fluent in [the language of the love of Christ] and use it in your interactions with others, they will recognize something in you that may awaken in them a long-hidden feeling to search for the right way on the journey back to their heavenly home. After all, the language of love is their true native language too.”1
Things started to change when I showed my brother my love for him instead of trying to change him. I started to pray for him out of love rather than anger. I could see that his heart was beginning to soften—not necessarily toward the gospel, but toward my family and me. And I realized that my heart needed to soften toward him too (see Mosiah 5:7). I began to see his goodness again, and I started to accept and respect his decisions, even though they were different from mine. I know those changes to my heart and mind could have only been made through the healing power of Jesus Christ.
Heavenly Father really does answer our prayers for others, even if it is not always in the way we expect him to. But just as Heavenly Father heard Alma the Elder’s prayers for his son, He hears our prayers for those we love (see Mosiah 27:14). And even though we might have to have a lot of patience and hope, our continuous prayers and faith for others really do have a mighty influence on them—and us. Much more than we might ever know.
My brother hasn’t come back to the Church, and I don’t think he plans to anytime soon. But I’ve learned that he has his own agency and that even if he chooses differently than I do, I can love and respect him anyway. We have a better relationship than we’ve had in years because of the love we show each other. I don’t always agree with his choices or his opinions, but by doing my best to understand him better, I’ve been able to get a glimpse of just how much Heavenly Father loves and knows each of His children.
The key to keeping families together and reaching each other’s hearts isn’t condemning each other’s choices; ultimately it’s love—the pure love of Christ. I can never force my brother to return to the gospel, but I can love him and help him know that he is always welcome.
I still pray and fast for my brother, and yet I’ve realized that his choices are his own. Our journey back to Heavenly Father is an individual one between each of us and Him. But we can turn to Heavenly Father and the Savior for help in supporting one another on our individual journeys and loving one another all the same.
I don’t know what will happen in the end when it comes to my eternal family, and sometimes I feel a little heartbroken when I think about it. But I take comfort in the words of President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency:
“Trust in the Lord. …
“[This] applies to unanswered questions about sealings in the next life or desired readjustments because of events or transgressions in mortality. There is so much we do not know that our only sure reliance is to trust in the Lord and His love for His children.”2
And that’s what I choose to do—to trust in the Lord and to share His love—no matter what.