A recent post on Wheat and Tares has got me thinking. The post is titled, “Blaming Parents vs. Mourning with Those Who Mourn.”
I know people whose children have left the Church, who did “everything right.” They had scripture study, gospel conversation, family home evening, bore regular testimony, and did all this with love — and despite that, their children left the Church. I also know parents who did not do all of these things — that is, I know for a fact that they did not have family home evening, regular scripture study, and gospel topics were rarely discussed in the home except perhaps over Sunday dinner. And some of their children have also left the Church.
If I were the teacher of the fifth Sunday lesson, here’s what I would want to say. I certainly would follow the Spirit with a prayer in my heart, and I’m sure that, in the moment and facing brothers and sisters who are clearly hurting, I would probably speak these things in gentler ways than I do here, where I am at a distance and in a blog post.
Brother _____, we love you. God loves you. Our savior Jesus Christ loves you. Many of us have felt the heartache of children who have left the faith. Nobody here is leveling an accusation here — not even Elder Bednar. We’ve known Elder Bednar for quite some time, and we’ve heard him speak on many, many occasions, and you know and I know that he does not think that every child who has left the Church has done so because their parents did not teach them enough. So first of all, let’s be a little bit more generous when interpreting his remarks than that — he is talking in the abstract and in the aggregate here, and he knows full well that there are myriads and myriads of families where this does not apply. So let’s not make him an offender for a word, and read into his remarks absolutes and finger pointing that simply isn’t there.
Second of all, I believe you when you say that you did everything you could — when you say that you had family scripture study, family prayer, family home evening, and gospel conversations, teaching, and testimony in the home. I believe you. And I’m certain everyone else here believes you as well. But can you honestly say in your heart of hearts that the same is true of every other family in the Church? Can you honestly say in your heart of hearts that every family in the church has daily family scripture study, daily family prayer, regularly testify and teach of the truths of the Gospel in the home, perhaps even on a daily basis, have weekly family home evening? Can you honestly say that? And can you honestly say that this does not have an affect, in the aggregate, on the gospel understanding and testimony of our youth?
Since we all know — both you and I — that many, if not most, families in the Church are not doing all they can in this regards, and that this does have a net, aggregate affect on our collective spiritual well-being, why not allow Elder Bednar to teach and instruct in this regards? Why make him into an offender, rather than accept his message for what it is?
One of the deepest blessings of following prophetic counsel in this regards is that when we have done everything in our power to testify, to teach, to counsel our children — when we have poured our souls into making our home a spiritual haven for them, where we study the scriptures diligently on a daily basis together, then when our children do leave — and they sometimes will — we can sleep knowing that we did all in our power. It will hurt nonetheless. God, who has done everything in His power for his children, weeps for those who have left Him. So yes, it will hurt. But you can ask your Father in Heaven for spiritual assurances that you have indeed done that which was in your power, so that your pain is the pain of love and grief, not that of self-imposed guilt. We will all have moments where we ask ourselves if there was more we could have done, but if we have followed the counsel of God, we can find peace of conscience, even as our heart aches for our loved ones.
You may not have that testimony right now, even if you did do all you could do. I invite you to seek that spiritual reassurance, to know your standing before God, so that when prophets counsel us to do better in this regards, you do not instinctively react as if someone has just dropped hot coals on your head. When you have that spiritual assurance that you have indeed done all in your power to witness and testify of Gospel truth in the home, I believe that you will no longer feel the need for offense when prophets suggest that many of us can do better. For they are speaking truth — many of us can do better.
It is simply asking too much of prophets — of any mortal man, for that matter — to ensure that every statement they make is applicable to every person in every circumstance. Some Latter-day Saints view pornography, but those of who don’t should not react with offense at the suggestion that many marriages are troubled because of pornography use. Some Latter-day Saints do not attend the temple as often as we could and should, but those of us who do should not react with offense at the suggestion that our spiritual well-being as a collective will improve if those who do not did more. Every prophetic teaching has myriads of members for whom it does not apply, and if we are the exceptions, we should not take offense at that. It makes their divine task harder if those to whom they are not speaking to take offense at words not applicable to them.
So I invite you to pray for spiritual assurance, and do not set your heart at war against the teachings of these men — look inward, ask yourself if there is more you can do. If there is not (which may very well be the case, and I believe you when you say it is), then seek a spiritual assurance of that, consider yourself an exception to the counsel, and move on. Because I guarantee you that there are people in this room — and in this Church — for whom this counsel is sorely needed. While the pain you feel is real, and I have no desire to delegitimize it, a clear conscience does not react as if touched by hot coals at the suggestion that we — as a Church — can do better in some areas, particularly when we all know that what Elder Bednar has said is true: many of us aren’t doing these things, and yes, that makes a difference.
In the meantime, know that we love you, and that we believe you, and we recognize that your response right now comes from a place of grief and pain, because of your love for your children.
Again, I want to emphasize that in the context of a Sunday lesson, I would probably say all these things differently, with the gentleness and contextual awareness warranted by the situation at hand. However, I was deeply troubled by this person’s response, and wanted to share my initial thoughts about it.
I honestly think that we do ourselves a disservice when we treat counsel that doesn’t apply to us as offensive because it doesn’t apply to us. If we are truly at peace with our actions, if we truly have a clean conscience, we don’t get offended at the implication that we can do better. Our hearts will instead be at peace, and if there are parts of the counsel that don’t apply to us, we will simply move on. If there are part of the counsel we disagree with generally (and not just in regards to us), we will react with a heart at peace, instead of with a heart at war or full of offense. Either way, we won’t react as if we’ve been pricked.
Again, this doesn’t imply that those who do react that way have done anything wrong — it may simply be that they need to seek a personal testimony of their standing with God.