(This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Click to learn more.)
President Gordon B. Hinckley counseled parents: “I hope you don’t lose patience with them; I hope you go on praying for them.” And then the promise: “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.[i]
President Hinckley, like other prophets, repeatedly counsel parents of wayward children to never give up.
Remembering the 1980 Miracle Bowl’
Consider the 1980 Holiday Bowl where Brigham Young University was pitted against Southern Methodist University. BYU entered the game with an 11-1 record, and SMU had an 8-3 record. BYU had overwhelmed its opponent with a powerful passing game orchestrated by quarterback Jim McMahon. But SMU had an explosive running offense led by Craig James and Eric Dickerson.
With four minutes left in the game, SMU scored to take a commanding 45-25 lead over BYU, which now appeared to be headed for yet another bowl loss. They simply could not handle SMU’s offense. At this point of apparent hopelessness, my wife and I decided to spare ourselves the misery of watching BYU go down in defeat. We left our children with my mother and headed to a movie theater.
When we returned, my mother met us at the door and excitedly announced that BYU had won. They had scored three touchdowns in the last two and a half minutes of the game. Thereafter, the game was to be called the “Miracle Bowl,” and it has taken its place in history as one of the most exciting college bowl games ever played. And we had been too discouraged and impatient to see the miracle.
We were not alone. At the four-minute mark, most of the BYU fans had begun leaving the stadium when McMahon screamed that the game wasn’t over yet. Very few believed him. Nevertheless, undaunted, he promptly threw a touchdown pass. This was followed by several more smart moves that decreased the gap in scores. After throwing two incomplete passes, McMahon then launched a “Hail Mary” into the end zone as time expired. What resulted was one of the most miraculous touchdowns in college football history. Then, with the score tied, BYU’s Kurt Gunther kicked the extra point to give BYU a miraculous 46-45 victory.
In the last two minutes and thirty-three seconds of the game, BYU scored 21 points-and we had missed it!
Never Give Up
When all seems lost, we must not give up. President Benson said there is no question about the final outcome-righteousness will achieve victory.[iii] Victory is in our future, even if that victory comes at the very last second. To achieve that victory, the Lord will call upon players on both sides of the veil. Our responsibility is to persevere by keeping one eye fixed on the goal and the other on what needs to happen today. Even if a child seems to be sinning away his salvation, we must never give up hope.
Robert L. Millet wrote though “there are limits, not necessarily to God’s mercy but to the extent to which mercy can temper justice,”[iv] nevertheless, there is still hope. He said, “I have a conviction that when a person passes through the veil of death, all those impediments and challenges and crosses that were beyond his or her power to control-abuse, neglect, immoral environment, weighty traditions, etc.-will be torn away like a film. Then perhaps that person shall, as President Woodruff suggested, see and feel things he or she could not see and feel Before.”[v]
“Linda,” a mother in Utah, wrote of clinging to hope, even up until the very last minute.
My husband and I have five children. I learned from my two oldest to never give up. Our oldest son, “Ben,” started hanging with a bad group and drifted away from the Church. At one point, he told us that the Joseph Smith story was a load of baloney. He started smoking and experimenting with drugs. He stayed away from church for several years. We fasted and prayed for him constantly; we put his name in the temple religiously, and we tried to include him in family prayers and family home evening, as much as he would allow.
Once, at a regional conference, Elder Holland spoke and gave the congregation an apostolic blessing. He promised that if we as parents were faithful in all things, we would see our wayward children return. I remember weeping as I listened to his remarks. I prayed that his promise would be fulfilled.
Then, in 1998, our youngest child accidentally drowned. Ben was devastated; we all were. A month later, Ben phoned me and asked if I was sitting down. He announced that he had decided to go on a mission. I was speechless. He said that he had become so despondent over his brother’s death that the only thing left to do was to pray. He told me that he had prayed all night and into the morning. Then he heard a voice as clear as a bell tell him to put his life in order and go on a mission. He moved home a few days later and began the repentance process to prepare to serve. At age twenty-two, he left for his field of service. Today he is married in the temple, has two beautiful children, and has graduated with a degree in business from BYU-Idaho.
Our second child, “Paul,” abandoned the Church in his junior year in high school when he started hanging around with a bad group of friends. This was uncharacteristic of Paul. He was the peacemaker in our home. He was always a sensitive and spiritual boy. Whenever my husband would give Paul a blessing, he would burst into tears. There was just something about him. But when he began to make poor choices of friends, he went from being an honor student to dropping out midway through that year.
I watched with despair as he became more and more involved with drugs. He was arrested repeatedly, and went through the juvenile system. Most of the time the punishment was light, and he always bluffed his way through the drug counseling. Within the year, he moved out of our home and we rarely heard from him. Often, we had no idea where he was.
After Paul turned 18, he continued on his downward spiral. We prayed and prayed for him, and I fasted almost every Sunday. I recalled Elder Holland’s promise, and I tried to be faithful in every way. Nevertheless, I found it hard not to question myself. I would constantly wonder what I had or had not done that had caused Paul to go down this path, but I never found any answers. Still, I beat myself up ruthlessly.
Paul finally reached a low point when he was sent to prison for an evaluation before sentencing.
He spent three months in prison, twenty-three hours a day in a cell, and we could only have contact with him through letters. Over the course of those weeks, I noticed the tone of his letters change. He wrote and asked us to send him a set of scriptures. He read them from cover to cover. Soon, he was bearing his testimony in his letters. It was an amazing transformation.
But his journey wasn’t over. Next, he was sentenced to complete inpatient drug rehab, and he spent several months in the county jail waiting for a space to open up for him. While in jail, he attended the Church-sponsored meetings and he grew very close to the men and women who served there. He was finally admitted to the Salvation Army inpatient program, and he worked very hard to complete it.
When he was released, he did well for a few weeks, but then relapsed. Angry with himself for failing, he checked himself back into the program and worked even harder. He completely changed his life; he moved away from his old friends and started attending a singles’ ward. There, he met a wonderful young woman, and they were married in the temple a little over a year ago. He continues to be involved with the LDS substance abuse program, and is often a facilitator at the meetings. He works with the young men in his ward, and has one of the strongest testimonies I’ve ever heard.
As a parent, I have felt guilt, inadequacy, and failure during those days. So many times I felt that the Lord dealt me a bad hand and I wasn’t up to the task. My husband and I counseled with our bishop many times, and even today I still question my parenting skills, but I never gave up and I will never give up. I continue to fast and pray for my children, and I know that miracles happen.
When Paul was in jail he wrote a touching poem. I think his sentiments might give hope to all parents who struggle with their wayward children.
The Person I Used to Be
It’s Going to Be All Right
The purpose of this article could be boiled down to this one statement: It’s going to be all right. The Lord had provided a spiritual solution for waywardness. We are not impotent; we can pray for opportunities for our children to change. We have (or can develop) all the necessary tools to partner with heaven in bringing our children to a crossroads or in petitioning for a “conversion opportunity,” as did Alma the Elder. As we apply these tools and patiently work with our wayward children, we must maintain our perspective of where and when they are living.
This world is possibly the most corrupt among God’s creations, and our children are living in the most wicked phase of its existence. Agency and truth are choked by such vile conditions, and God will mercifully take this into account. President J. Reuben Clark Jr. said, “I believe that in his justice and mercy, [God] will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which it is possible for him to impose.”[vi]
We must remember that our children were among the noble and great ones whose fall rendered them exceptionally disempowered: physically, spiritually, and emotionally. They are asleep as to their true identity and to things “as they really are.”[vii] Nevertheless, in His wisdom, God foresaw these conditions, and with the redemption of all His children in mind, He created a plan to organize families into saving relationships, where strong parents nurture spiritually weak children, and strong children bless spiritually weak parents.
We parents were prepared for our mortal redemptive missions. Despite our temporary amnesia, we carry within us vital instruction and skill to become saviors on Mount Zion to our children. As we perform our missions, we will develop essential godlike characteristics that will propel us into the celestial kingdom.
Central to our being able to hone the invaluable skills of working redemption among God’s children, we will be introduced to “the heart of the gospel message,” which Jesus described in the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. We will observe firsthand the Savior’s ability to rescue those who have wandered, who have become lost from view, or who have rebelled and traveled to a “far country” to live like the Gentiles. We will be invited to follow His example. We will also observe the work and glory of God as He sets His hand to reclaim His wayward children. In the process we will recognize angelic ministrations as the powers of heaven are loosed to answer our prayers in behalf of our children and to assist us in our mission.
To ground us in faith and to provide us with strength to persevere when all might seem lost, we can rely on the many prophetic promises that assure us of a positive outcome. Central to these promises is our obligation to sanctify ourselves and to offer service in the temple that blessings might more easily flow from heaven.
Parents and spouses can have confidence and power to gather in the name of Jesus Christ as we call on the powers of the priesthood-the powers to bind our children to us, to turn their hearts to us, and to claim them forever through the eternal weld that is represented by our sealing.
In the end, we know that the worth of our child’s soul is great in the sight of God. Our Heavenly Father anticipated and prepared for the difficult situation that we are now facing. He sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to rescue the child through the power of the infinite and eternal Atonement.
The work of the Father and the Son is fully adequate to snatch our children from the deepest abyss, break down every obstacle, and place them on a throne.
Let us, therefore, ascribe to our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ the perfections of character they are due: mercy, love, power, knowledge, compassion, grace, truth, and so forth. When we attempt to impose upon them constraints of time or imagine that a difficulty is beyond Their reach, we discount the testimony of prophets, who have said nothing is too hard for the Lord.[viii] Therefore, we should be careful when we pass immutable judgments on wayward souls, even when they sin grossly or remain unrepentant even until death.
A veritable tome of evidence testifies that, with the help of the Lord, parents can be equipped with immeasurable ability and resources to rescue their wayward children from any location, time, or situation. Clearly, our covenants take on an added dimension when viewed in this light, for great power is given to those of us who sincerely make and keep covenants.
As we sanctify ourselves in the covenant, we reach out to Jesus, who extends “the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.”[ix] We become one with Him in every way and thus have access to His saving power. No statement of understanding could be more comforting as we persist in the work of redemption.
You Are Not Alone
We end with President Monson’s counsel on gaining peace over the care of our families. He shared these sentiments with faithful members in leadership positions, but considering the broader context of the prophets’ promises regarding all worthy parents who are sanctifying themselves and serving the Lord, these words clearly apply to all of us:
“You are not alone,” President Monson promised. “We pray for you.” He goes on to remind us of a scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants: Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you . . . your families are well; they are in mine hands, and I will do with them as seemeth me good; for in me there is all power.'”[x]
May we always have faith in the Lord’s power to work in and through us. May we always remember the love He has for each of us. And may we never forget that with God all things are possible.
This article is adapted from Rescuing Wayward Children. Click to learn more. Receive all seven free PDFs to my Pillars of Zion series: www.pillarsofzion.com. Follow our Internet missionary project: www.gospelideals.org.