Many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have concerns about family members and/or friends who have become less active in the Church. The common questions are, 'What can I do?' How can I help?”
Perhaps the insights of a now reactivated member, who spent eight years away from the Church, may be helpful.
My friend Sam (not his real name) was raised in the Church. He now states that he always had a testimony of the gospel. However, at the age of 16 years, he found the company of less active friends and non-members to be highly attractive. He abandoned the Church and exhibited many of the characteristics of a lapsed member. He states that he spent four years in rebellion, self-justification, avoiding active members, and 'living it up.'
Typical of the rebellion phase in many people are doubts about doctrine, finding reasons to justify disbelief, commandment breaking, inappropriate relationships, a focus on acquiring money, or just plain having fun, irrespective of commandments or parental and Church expectations. All of these are very common reasons or excuses given by people who almost imperceptibly begin to fall away from living restored gospel principles.
For four years Sam persisted in his wayward conduct, letting his newly acquired habits and variant thinking govern his choices. During this time, he met and married a delightful girl who did not share his deeply held but largely suppressed faith. When her grandfather unexpectedly died alone in his home, Sam's wife learned that her own ecclesiastical leader had little information about her grandfather's fate in the hereafter.
Life’s events can trigger introspection
She felt devastated and shared her distress with her husband. Sam suddenly became a missionary. He bore his testimony of the plan of salvation [the fullness of the gospel], which provided comfort to his wife. Missionaries were called, answers came and within six weeks there was a baptism and reactivation accompanied by sacred commitments that have persisted until today.
Upon reflection, Sam now states that after his four years of rebellion, the next four years were spent in fear and embarrassment. This however was not sufficient to 'turn him around.' It took the seeking of an answer to a question that his wife had to remind him how empty his life had become while he had been pursuing fun and neglecting to honor his own deeply held but submerged convictions.
This pattern can also be seen in scripture. In the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the son left his father's house in rebellion and spent his inheritance in riotous living. When the cash was gone, and the fun was but a memory, he thought of his father's house and yearned to return. After contemplating his situation while dining with the swine, he determined that the road back had more in store for him than to continue the patterns he had learned while he was in rebellion. He chose to follow the covenant path (D. Todd Christofferson, “Why the Covenant Path,” Liahona, May 2021).
Many have loved ones who have chosen to travel toward spiritual deserts, and as a result we mourn for them and long to know how to render effective assistance. Many need to find ways of reminding defiant or rebellious friends and/or family members that the truths they have known and the joys they have felt can be reclaimed. Instead of persisting in fear and embarrassment these people can ofttimes be loved into reawakening and rediscovering the divine approval that occurs when we “allow God to prevail in our lives” (Russell M. Nelson, “Let God Prevail,” Ensign, November 2020). Love, share, and invite are good approaches to explore (Gary E. Stevenson, “Love, Share, Invite,” Liahona, May 2022). We must love them, pray for them, serve them, be good examples of gospel discipleship, and help them mold their lives into honorable, covenant-living patterns.
This evidently is what the prodigal son’s father did. His love was apparent from his reaction when the son returned. His son knew he was safe at home and that his father would treat him well - because he saw him treat his servants well. He welcomed him home with open arms.
We can be creative in finding the words to say and the specific loving actions to take that will help motivate these temporarily lost souls to reclaim the rewards, joys and satisfactions to which they are entitled.