(Note: This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Follow this link to learn more.)
The still small voice whispers yet a deeper meaning. Home is heaven. We are strangers here on earth. My real home is not here, but there.—Elder Gene R. Cook[i]
Understanding the extent of the Fall and the condition of our physical bodies is a significant step forward in understanding a child’s condition of waywardness.
Like us, our children are strangers here—not strangers on earth, necessarily, for it was created to be their eternal home,[ii] but strangers in this remote sector of space in a telestial setting far from their Heavenly Father. To say that they fell is an understatement; they fell enormously. They, like the earth, once enjoyed celestial associations in a celestial environment in the celestial presence of God. President Brigham Young explained,
When the earth was framed and brought into existence and man was placed upon it, it was near the throne of our Father in heaven. And when man fell—though that was designed in the economy . . . the earth fell into space, and took up its abode in this planetary system, and the sun became our light. This is the glory the earth came from, and when it is glorified it will return again unto the presence of the Father, and it will dwell there.[iii]
The Fall was necessary. As we have been taught, the universal law of opposites[iv] states that to ascend up on high we must descend below all things, so that we might comprehend all things, and thereby gain the ability to become as the gods—above, and in all, and through all things.[v] For reasons that we do not completely understand, this process is the only way to become exalted.
Our Children’s Descent
We cannot comprehend the distance and depth of the Fall. We fell physically, spiritually, and emotionally into a condition described by President Joseph F. Smith as “below all things.”[vi] A couple from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada described their son’s mortal fall:
Evan came to us as all babies do: innocent, pure, full of promise and fresh from Heavenly Father. But by the time Evan was a toddler, we knew that we were in for a rough ride. It was just a matter of time. The downslide began when he entered middle school and discovered the electric guitar. Soon some friends invited him to join a band. We were concerned about his friends and the influence they seemed to be exerting on him, but we also wanted him to have the freedom to develop his talent. We were so naïve. The band played hard rock, and soon Evan embraced everything that goes along with that culture. He began to dress sloppily . . . and experiment with alcohol.
Six months ago, he began to smoke, and now he goes through a pack a day and cannot stop. He has tattooed his body, pierced his ears, nose and tongue, and has begun to wear eye makeup. He has died his hair strange colors, and most recently he has shaved his head except for a clump that he braids into a ponytail that falls to the middle of his back.
We don’t know how to stop the hemorrhaging. We have tried calmly talking to him, screaming at him, and even limiting his privileges; we have even threatened to send him away to a disciplinary school program—but nothing has worked. He has a girlfriend with whom he has frequent sexual problems. He invites his friends to our home and they leave upon it a dark and terrible feeling. Our oldest son moved out after high school because he couldn’t stand the atmosphere; our younger children are always tense, as if they are afraid.
Four weeks ago, Evan nearly lost his life when he overdosed on drugs, slid into unconscious oblivion, and had to be rushed to the emergency room. Where, we ask ourselves, is the sweet, innocent spirit that came to us seventeen years ago? Evan is so far removed from the clean, angelic son of God whom we once welcomed into our family that now he is almost unrecognizable.
Our children’s descent might be compared to the earth’s descent. Between premortality and achieving God’s presence loomed the experience of mortality. In effect, our children stood upon the safe ledge of the brilliant celestial kingdom and looked downward into the dark, knowing that once they stepped off, they would forfeit their memory and power and become helpless, completely incapable of making it on their own.
Worse, they would have no immediate comprehension that they had descended into a fallen world. Unless they are taught differently and gain a testimony of their real identity and heritage, they will grow up believing that this mortal life is all there was, and worse, that this life is normal. Tragically, for a time, they might even embrace the dangers that permeate earth life.
In her Alma the Younger series, M. Catherine Thomas proposes that our children “would begin to make choices before [they] had much knowledge or judgment or ability to choose right over wrong consistently and would inevitably make mistakes and sin . . . . As [they] grew in a fallen environment, [they] would form wrong opinions and make false assumptions, by which [they] would then govern [their] lives, and would unwittingly be programmed by many precepts of men. [They] would make many choices before [they] had grasped the significance of even the Light that [they] had.”[vii]
We cannot fathom the range of emotions our children must have experienced as they contemplated their descent into this lone and dreary world. To have this mortal experience was what they had fought for. They had vigorously defended the Father’s plan in the great war in heaven; they had shouted for joy at the prospect;[viii] they had dedicated their lives to Christ, who was to become their Savior and the central figure of the plan; they had prepared in every way for this moment; and yet, they must have had some idea of the sobering reality
In Catherine Thomas’s words, “The period of descent was surely seen by the righteous premortal spirits as a great sacrifice. The most righteous did not want to sin. They knew the truth about sin. A veil was necessary so that they would make the descent . . . into spiritual darkness.” Only profound faith in Christ could have given them the strength to descend.
Therefore, armed only with the Light of Christ, they stepped off the celestial ledge and plummeted toward this dark telestial world. Imagine their courage, for we must assume that, because of agency, no one was compelled to come; imagine their hope, for the transcendent possibilities of eternity lay before them. But they knew that those possibilities were dependent upon their keeping their second estate.[ix]
Therefore they willingly left the arms of seasoned, perfect, Celestial Parents for the arms of novices—we, imperfect telestial parents. What we parents had going for us was love, but otherwise we would be learning through trial and error. President Howard W. Hunter said,
Conscientious parents try their best, yet nearly all have made mistakes. One does not launch into such a project as parenthood without soon realizing that there will be many errors along the way.