“Staying Strong When Loved Ones Leave the Church,” Liahona, April 2021
I hadn’t been home from my mission for very long when my parents told me that my 19-year-old brother didn’t want to go to church anymore. I was shocked—I had never imagined my brother would leave the Church.
I remember emailing him about gospel topics while I was on my mission and asking him if he wanted to serve a mission. He was never sure, and looking back on these emails, I realized there had been signs that he wasn’t certain about the gospel.
I started thinking about what I could have done differently. And I questioned why this was happening right now. I was upset because I really wanted him to have a testimony for his own sake, but I also realized I maybe wanted it for me. I wanted him to attend church with me, as well as go on a mission, so we could talk about our experiences together. So it was challenging for me when he didn’t want any of those things.
I had just spent two years on my mission talking about religion and beliefs with people, so I didn’t understand why it was so much harder to talk to my own brother about these things, but it was. It challenged my faith in a new way. On my mission, the challenge was to work hard, to enjoy every day, and to have faith that everything was going to turn out well. But with my brother, it felt completely different.
My mission had taught me to ask inspired questions and ask for understanding. But I didn’t know the people I had taught on my mission beforehand. My only relationship with them was one of teaching and helping them come closer to Christ. I had known my brother for his whole life, and I had never had a relationship of trying to help bring him closer to Christ.
I remember a conversation we had one day when I asked him about the Church. He said he didn’t have a testimony about some of the teachings. If this had been someone I met on my mission, my response would have been one of respect and acceptance that he or she simply wasn’t ready at the time, and maybe some other missionaries would teach them later. But because of my love for my brother, it was harder to show that same level of understanding. I just wanted him to know what I knew, and I wanted him to feel the same Spirit and love from God as I had felt. It was hard for me to accept that he didn’t choose the gospel.
It took some time for me to get used to the situation, but now, almost two years after I’ve returned from my mission, my relationship with my brother is still good. We don’t talk about the gospel much, but we talk about other things. I still wish that we could have the gospel in common, but we do have a lot of other things in common. We still hang out and do things together, and I love him for who he is, because he’s a really good guy.
Throughout this time, there are a few things I’ve learned that might be helpful if you’re struggling with a loved one leaving the Church, to help you not only maintain a good relationship with them but also keep your testimony strong during what might be a spiritually challenging time for you.
Remember that everyone has their agency and that it isn’t your fault if someone leaves the Church.
Strengthen your relationship with them. Always show them love. Try not to let their relationship with the Church affect your relationship with them.
Spend time together doing things you both enjoy.
Although you can’t make choices for other people, you can be an example and support them.
Pray about the situation. Heavenly Father knows His children, so you can be sure that He will know best how to help you get through this.
Search the scriptures. Examples from the scriptures helped me a lot, and I realized that my situation is fairly common. Even in the scriptures, many families had one or more people who didn’t believe or were even against the Church, but their family still showed love toward them.
Talk openly about how you feel with your family members who are active in the gospel. They might have similar thoughts, and they might need someone to share with as well. Help one another.
Finally, don’t neglect your own spirituality.
When people close to you leave the Church, it can be challenging for your own faith, especially if the person who left is someone you looked up to in a gospel setting. You might begin to question certain areas of your testimony. I know I struggled a bit with questions when my brother left. But that’s why it is so important to look after yourself and your testimony. If you build and maintain your own testimony, you don’t need to fear what choices others make.
Remember that we’re all susceptible to having our faith weakened if we don’t work to strengthen it. Most people don’t go from being strong one day to leaving the Church the next. But if you forget to do the little things to strengthen your testimony every day, you might find yourself drifting further and further away from the gospel without even knowing it. Going back to the basics like studying your scriptures, praying daily, and performing all those small acts of faith and worship can have a powerful influence on your testimony.
Above all, if your loved one leaving the Church is affecting your own testimony and causing doubts or questions in your mind, remember the wise advice to “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith”1 and to “hold fast to what you already know.”2
I think it’s important for young adults to have a plan for their life, like knowing where they want to go and what they want to do. But we need to ponder and include the Lord in those plans and in our daily lives. It can be hard to do when we have so many other responsibilities each day, but we can always make time for Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. And if we do that, we will always be able to withstand the storms of life. I think of the scripture in Romans 8:31: “If God be for us, who can be against us?”
President Russell M. Nelson has taught how in coming days, we won’t be able to survive spiritually without the Spirit and receiving personal revelation for our own lives.3 I have always known that receiving personal revelation is important, but I haven’t always been the best at seeking it. I know that I can do better at inviting the Spirit into my life each day.
Personal revelation is just as it describes—it’s personal. And we can begin learning how the Lord speaks to us by asking Him for help in recognizing His voice and His hand in our lives. He is the best teacher.
We can’t always control the actions of others, especially when it comes to matters of strengthening our faith or living the gospel. But I know that even if those we love most in the world have challenges of faith, when we prioritize God and follow His will and strive to hear Him, we will always be blessed with answers, with a strong testimony, and with the spiritual revelation we need to keep following Him.