To rescue a wayward spouse or a wayward friend requires implementing the same principles as rescuing wayward children. Here is one husband’s story and my response.
Dear Brother Barkdull,
I have recently become aware of your writings in regards to wayward children. Your messages are full of comfort and hope for parents. So far my children are active. My concern is my wife. After having some doubts about deep doctrinal issues and then learning things in church history that she did not know, she has completely turned from the Church. She no longer attends, has removed her temple garments, no longer pays tithing, drinks coffee (maybe more), and wants nothing to do with the Church.
Obviously this has been a severe blow to me and to the kids. I know there are many promises made by prophets about wayward children but what about us who are concerned our spouse will not be our eternal companion? Is there any hope for us and them? What can I do to survive this trial and maybe even help bring her back?
Honestly, it is hard to picture her ever gaining a testimony (again).
I think there are many people like me. Would you please write about this issue?
Husband of a Wayward Spouse
Dear Husband of a Wayward Spouse:
In my opinion, the only pain that could approach that of a wayward child is the pain associated with a wayward spouse. There are so many emotions and expectations in marriage. We live in a day when the marriage and the family are under attack. We are often blindsided by the world. The only way that I know to repair or hold things together spiritually is to apply the remedy of personal sanctification.
Every effort that we make to become more sanctified has a redeeming effect on the person for whom we are praying.
That is not to say that the wayward person does not have agency. Your effort cannot interrupt your wife’s agency. Rather, your effort should be to ask God to place opportunities in her path to urge her to use her agency to make better choices.
Over the course of a marriage, spouses take turns carrying the weight of the relationship. Health problems, financial concerns, and other adversities will intrude on the relationship and cause one of the parties to weaken for a season. You might want to think of your wife’s situation as having the flu. You certainly wouldn’t insist that she attend church or carry her weight in the family during her sickness. You would tenderly care for her until she was well.
From what you are describing, it would seem to me that your wife has the spiritual flu. Only unconditional love and patience will help her to heal. Your loving example will help her, too.
For now, why not set aside church issues and focus on strengthening the relationship? Court her, give her compliments, love her, and validate her feelings without agreeing with her erroneous ideas (a difficult balance). Give her a safe place to be “sick.”
Be a caring husband and a good son to Heavenly Father. Only if you create a safe environment will she open up and share her concerns with you. Be careful how you answer. Gently explain your beliefs only when you are invited and then without debate. The issue of activity in the Church must never become a battleground. Your marriage is more important than her drinking coffee. If and when she reconsiders, it will be because you loved her and waited for her.
I hope your marriage doesn’t end, but if someday it does, let the decision be hers. The lie that she is living will likely drive her to the point of decision; either she will admit and abandon it or she will act on it. We pray that she will abandon it.
Here’s the last thing. I doubt that her issue is the Church. People don’t casually discard their beliefs and covenants unless they are dealing with some deep-seated issue that they cannot resolve. Your wife seems to be trying excessively hard to go opposite the gospel, and she is using anti-Mormon literature as her rationale. I would guess that she has been struggling with other non-Church issues for some time.
These issues have probably lain under the surface and gnawed at her testimony until she finally read something that tipped her over. If you can discover that other issue(s) and try to deal with it, her issues with the Church will probably take care of themselves.
Again, don’t get caught up in preaching, contention or debate. You could wear yourself out researching and debating Church history issues with your wife, and you would never address the real issue. Satan is a master at misdirection and keeping us so busy with trivia that we never confront the real issue. If you want to chop down a tree, you don’t whack at the leaves; you strike at the trunk and roots. What is the root problem? Discover that, and you will be able to partner with the Savior to help your wife
I don’t think you can get through this alone.
I highly recommend that you, personally, talk to a marriage and family therapist. LDS Family Services is excellent. We would hope that your wife would go with you. She needs to talk to a good counselor to get to the root causes of her feelings and behavior. Don’t force this upon her; rather, set the example by going yourself. By all means, talk to your bishop. Beyond being a good man, he has special priesthood keys for this very situation. Your solution needs to be directed by the priesthood.
You sound like a faithful, determined man who loves his wife. You hold the priesthood, which is the power to save people’s lives. The more you learn about your priesthood, the more power you will infuse into your life. Of all the sanctifying things that you can do to increase priesthood power, the greatest of all is temple worship. Impressions will come in that holy setting. I pray that things work out for you.
Thank you so much for your quick and thoughtful response. If I may I have a few follow up questions and comments.
In reading your other articles you speak of parents being Saviors in Zion and having been selected in the pre-existence to host such children. Do you believe that some spouses may have taken on a similar role for a spouse who needed us? I ask because when I first met my future wife, we were working together, and she watched me to se if I would live my religion. She asked me questions about the Church and we started dating. I baptized her and we waited a year to be married in the temple. Her parents did not practice any specific religion, and my wife lived a life of freedom and broke many commandments in her youth. Baptism was truly a life change.
She had a spiritual experience letting her know that she should marry me. I have always felt that I was to help introduce the gospel to my wife and her family. Now that seems to be in question. The scripture says: “how great shall be your joy if ye shall bring but one soul unto me.” That used to feel so true, but now that one soul has turned completely away from the gospel, and how great is my sadness. I don’t want to lose my wife now or in the eternities. So, as I read your articles I wanted to ask: Is there hope for spouses who make covenants and then go astray?
Husband of a Wayward Spouse
Dear Husband of a Wayward Spouse:
I have always found it intriguing that marriage is called a saving ordinance. Truly, God saves us by means of our spouse. Likewise, we save each other. While men are ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, both worthy men and women are blessed with the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood to invoke a saving influence on our families and bring them into the presence of God.
The word Melchizedek means “King of Righteousness.” When you were ordained to that priesthood and subsequently entered the temple and received sacred ordinances, you effectively became a king of righteousness, called to do the works of Melchizedek.
Adam used this priesthood to bring his family into the presence of the Lord at Adam-ondi-Ahman. If you will study the accounts of Adam, Melchizedek, Enoch, Moses and Joseph Smith you will see a pattern emerge, which pattern is taught to us in detail in the temple.
A man and a woman enter into the Patriarchal Order of the Melchizedek Priesthood when they are sealed. This is not a separate priesthood but rather an order of the Priesthood–a family order in which husbands and wives preside over their children and help them to receive all the saving covenants and ordinances. Both the Melchizedek Priesthood and the Patriarchal Order of the Priesthood have incredible ability to save souls. This is why I recommended that you spend time in the temple contemplating all the covenants and ordinances from beginning to end.
The scriptures call these ordinances “keys,” i.e. D&C 124:95, 97. These “keys” are not to be confused with administrative priesthood keys; rather, Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances as “keys” open the door to the knowledge of God and the power of godliness (D&C 84:19-22). Whereas you received priesthood authority at the time of your ordination, you received access to godly knowledge and power you received your temple blessings. Unleashing the power of these “keys” is the journey of a lifetime; it requires righteous obedience to the covenants and ordinances.
Understanding these “keys” and learning how to use them are how great patriarchs and prophets brought their families and people to the Lord for salvation. Pay particular attention to the account of Melchizedek in JST Genesis. He was working with very wicked people, but he gained godly knowledge and power to become a partner with Christ to rescue and reclaim them and eventually to bring them into the presence of the Lord.
Read the accounts of the sons of Mosiah, Alma, and later Nephi and Lehi, the sons of Helaman. Clearly, Melchizedek Priesthood holders can become instruments in the Lord’s hands to convert thousands of sinful people.
You hold the same priesthood as those righteous individuals. Therefore, you can learn to do what they did. If that were not true, Mormon would not have included their stories in the Book of Mormon. These stories are our patterns. If you apply the same principles, you can reach out to the living and the dead and become a savior to your loved ones by means of your priesthood.
Let me give you some prophets’ promises to give you hope for a positive outcome:
I have a declaration to make as to the provisions which God hath made to suit the conditions of man-made from before the foundation of the world. What has Jesus said? All sin, and all blasphemies, and every transgression, except one, that man can be guilty of, may be forgiven; and there is a salvation for all men, either in this world or the world to come, who have not committed the unpardonable sin, there being a provision either in this world or the world of spirits. . . . Every man who has a friend in the eternal world can save him. . . . And so you can see how far you can be a savior. . . . Hence the salvation of Jesus Christ was wrought out for all men, in order to triumph over the devil; for if [that salvation] did not catch [a man] in one place, it would in another; for he stood up as a Savior.[ii]
Let the father and mother, who are members of this Church and Kingdom, take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang.[v]
When the gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable.[vii]
God has fulfilled His promises to us, and our prospects are grand and glorious. Yes, in the next life we will have our wives, and our sons and daughters. If we do not get them all at once, we will have them some time. . . . You that are mourning about your children straying away will have your sons and your daughters. If you succeed in passing through these trials and afflictions . . . you will, by the power of the Priesthood, work and labor, as the Son of God has, until you get all your sons and daughters in the path of exaltation and glory. This is just as sure as that the sun rose this morning over yonder mountains. Therefore, mourn not because all your sons and daughters do not follow in the path that you have marked out to them, or give heed to your counsels. Inasmuch as we succeed in securing eternal glory, and stand as saviors, and as kings and priests to our God, we will save our posterity.[viii]
Joseph F. Smith
Jesus had not finished his work when his body was slain, neither did he finish it after his resurrection from the dead; although he had accomplished the purpose for which he then came to the earth, he had not fulfilled all his work. And when will he? Not until he has redeemed and saved every son and daughter of our father Adam that have been or ever will be born upon this earth to the end of time, except the sons of perdition. That is his mission. We will not finish our work until we have saved ourselves, and then not until we shall have saved all depending upon us; for we are to become saviors upon Mount Zion, as well as Christ. We are called to this mission.[ix]
Orson F. Whitney
You parents of the wilful and the wayward! Don’t give them up. Don’t cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The Shepherd will find his sheep. They were his before they were yours-long before he entrusted them to your care; and you cannot begin to love them as he loves them. They have but strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fulness of knowledge brings the fulness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.[x]
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared-and he never taught more comforting doctrine-that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God.[xi]
A principle in this statement that is often overlooked is that they must fully repent and “suffer for their sins” and “pay their debt to justice.” I recognize that now is the time to prepare to meet God’ [Alma 34:32]. If the repentance of the wayward children does not happen in this life, is it still possible for the cords of the sealing to be strong enough for them yet to work out their repentance? In the Doctrine and Covenants we are told, “The dead who repent will be redeemed, through obedience to the ordinances of the house of God, “And after they have paid the penalty of their transgressions, and are washed clean, shall receive a reward according to their works, for they are heirs of salvation” (D&C 138:58-59).
Mercy will not rob justice, and the sealing power of faithful parents will only claim wayward children upon the condition of their repentance and Christ’s Atonement. Repentant wayward children will enjoy salvation and all the blessings that go with it, but exaltation is much more. It must be fully earned. The question as to who will be exalted must be left to the Lord in His mercy.
There are very few whose rebellion and evil deeds are so great that they have “sinned away the power to repent” [Alonzo A. Hinckley, in Conference Report, Oct. 1919, 161]. That judgment must also be left up to the Lord.[xii]
John J. Carmack
In 1919 at general conference, Alonzo A. Hinckley, then president of the Deseret Stake of Zion, quoted Elder James E.Talmage of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as follows: “I promise the Saints in the Deseret stake of Zion that if their lives are such that they can look their sons and daughters in the face, and if any of them have gone astray, that the parents are able to say, It is contrary to my instruction and my life’s example; it is against every effort of love, long suffering, faith, prayer and devotion that that boy or girl has gone,’-I promise you, fathers and mothers, that not one of them shall be lost unless they have sinned away the power to repent” (in Conference Report, October 1919, 161). Balm and hope abound in that counsel. We may not understand exactly how Elder Talmage’s counsel will come to pass in this life, but we can understand that there is more to the relationship of righteous parents and their children than we fully understand in this life and more help available with the problems that arise in that relationship than we grasp with our worldly logic. We are not alone in our struggle to save and preserve the sealing between us and our children.[xiii]
Gordon B. Hinckley
I leave my blessing upon you. May there be . . . a sense of security and peace and love among your children, precious children every one of them, even those who may have strayed. I hope you don’t lose patience with them; I hope you go on praying for them, and I don’t hesitate to promise that if you do, the Lord will touch their hearts and bring them back to you with love and respect and appreciation.[xiv]
Don’t give up. Complete judgment can only be passed with complete light and truth. Your wife is not there yet. From your description, I suspect that she is dealing with unresolved past sin. Neglecting repentance or repenting only partially render us vulnerable to the buffetings of Satan. If we do not achieve a change of heart, the unresolved sin will act like a cancer until it overwhelms us. Pray that she can have experiences to come to grips with these unresolved issues then do what it takes to finally be rid of them. Of course, she will have to make this discovery on her own, and perhaps she will need a counselor and most certainly a bishop someday, but when she does what is necessary, she will find peace and reconciliation will follow.
Until then, love is the only answer. “Love casteth out all fear,” John says. Make life safe for her while she is working things out. I promise that the Lord is working with her. He has marshaled angelic hosts to help. That is how He works most of the time, so pray for the ministering of angels. Because of your priesthood, you have the right. In the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood we are promised angelic ministry. Believe! President Faust used to speak a lot about angels, and Elder Holland spoke of it in October 2008 conference. Look up their talks on LDS.org. Your answer is in your priesthood.
On last question and I will leave you alone. You mentioned unresolved sin. Aren’t those taken care of at baptism? Why would those be an issue?
Husband of a Wayward Spouse
Dear Husband of a Wayward Spouse:
While it is true that baptism cleanses us from sin, it is also true that we can carry the effects of sin in our physical being. Remember, we are both spiritual and physical beings. For example, let’s say that you became drunk, injured yourself then found the Church and were baptized. Your sins might be resolved, but you would still carry the physical injury that needs healing. Moreover, baptism cleanses us only if we have truly repented. Otherwise, the sin still needs remedying.
Additionally, we are given the gift of the Holy Ghost at the time of confirmation, but that gift is not a guarantee that the Holy Ghost will always remain with us. The sacrament is the covenant that provides retention of the Holy Ghost. But if we do not partake of the sacrament worthily, the Holy Ghost will not abide in us and keep us clean. These ordinances are completely dependent upon our worthiness.
An unresolved issue eats away at us until it invokes a reaction, and often that reaction drives us away from the person or thing with which we are at odds.
Your wife seems to be reacting to her unresolved issues by distancing herself from the Church. This is typical. Often, in a frantic effort to make peace with ourselves, we abandon the precursors to peace-repentance and forgiveness. Only when we truly repent can we experience the peace of forgiveness, and that happens by aligning ourselves with the truth.
Of course, repentance is not always possible until we dig deep into our emotional selves and identify the triggers that affect our behavior. For example, a porn addict can go through the motions of repentance, but until he discovers and overcomes the root cause of his bad behavior, he might feel remorse, but his remorse is not full repentance. Repentance means to change, and we cannot change until we have unearthed the deep-rooted causes of our behavior.
I think you wife is dealing with some old, unresolved issues and behaviors that she has been able to suppress until recently. Now she is reacting to them, but in ways that are unhealthy. Suddenly, you have a third member in your marriage: you, your wife and the unresolved issue. You do not have the skill to eliminate this third member, and if you try, it will fight back violently. It doesn’t want to give up its host.
Hopefully, someday your wife will reach out for help, and then you can get her to a good counselor and her bishop. When the issue is identified, it can be defeated, and then she can repair her life. Again, the Church is probably not the primary issue; the real issue is an unresolved issue that she cannot square with the Church standards. Your prayer should be that she can detect it, face it, and overcome it.