Our ward recently had stake conference and in Relief Society we were given a lesson on The Prodigal Son by our stake president. It was a wonderful lesson and I was touched by the words and thoughts that were shared by my wonderful stake president and members of my ward.
I think often in the LDS church, we get caught up in the “wayward children” part of the story of The Prodigal Son and see the return of that child as a return to activity in the church. There is nothing wrong with that analysis. It’s straightforward and encouraging. It helps people feel like there is hope for the people they love to return to the church, which is a good thing. But it also lends to disappointment and frustration when those children choose a different, but equally good path.
I do have to admit that looking at the story with the goal of getting people back to the LDS faith seems a little narrow minded. I know that I may not be the majority here, but I know for me, it would not be about my children returning to the LDS church necessarily. Yes, that would be grand if they decided to return to the faith that I participate in and that they grew up with, but I am more concerned about my children, and about all of my brothers and sisters in general, returning to THE Father. About coming home to HIM. I think it’s important to look beyond the little world we know to the bigger picture. Many of Christ’s parables are taught this way and I think we grow more spiritually when we think beyond the literal to a broader perspective.
Last conference the most touching talk for me was President Uchdorf’s talk, “Come, Join With Us.”
I particularly liked this statement:
“In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly, that was restored by a young man who asked questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love and the truth we have found, but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.”
I’d like to talk a little bit about the heartbreak that we experience when those we love choose a different path.
A few years ago I was talking to a friend who told me that they recently went to a cousin’s temple wedding. As they sat in the sealing room and looked around, they saw their grandparents and then started to take inventory of aunts and uncles present. She told me that in that moment she realized that it was only her parents and this cousin’s parents who were still active in the church. Out of all of her cousins, it was only her siblings, some of her cousin’s siblings, and a couple of other cousins who remained active in the church.
She then told me how her first reaction was sadness and heartbreak. Her grandparents were good people, how do they feel? How sad to have so many people fall away. How sad for future generations. How could they not want to be a part of this church? Whose fault was this?
These are valid feelings and so very common. Of course we feel sadness when someone leaves the religion that we love so much. It is something so intertwined in our lives not only here on earth, but in the eternities. It’s something that ties families together and where we are constantly told that if we don’t do certain things than we won’t reach the ultimate end goal. Of course it’s going to hurt when someone rejects that. It makes perfect sense to feel betrayal and hurt and anger toward people who choose a different path. And it’s okay to feel those things!
My friend felt all of those things. And then she started to think about each one of her cousins and family members who were no longer active. She started to see the good in them and in their lives. And for those that were struggling, was it really because they were not members of the church, or more that they were living the consequences of other poor decisions?
When she considered each family member individually, she was able to see past the initial betrayal she felt and feel love and compassion toward them. And she realized that even with how heartbroken her grandparents probably felt, she had never seen them show anything but absolute acceptance and love to every member of their family, no matter where they stood. And, coincidentally, they were the ones who had the best relationship with each person on different paths than they would have chosen for that person. Maybe her grandparents were doing something right…
Further on in President Uchdorf’s talk, he said, “To those who have separated themselves from the Church, I say, my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here. … regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”
Something that was discussed in our lesson was always leaving the door open. Leaving the door in our hearts open, just as Christ and our Heavenly Parents will always leave the door open for us. We are always welcome; God (and hopefully our family and friends) will always accept us.
A sister brought up that her favorite part of the parable of the prodigal son was in Luke 15:20. “But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.”
She loved this because it showed that the father (and, as I am a mother know that I would be doing the same thing) was watching for him. They of course had no idea he would be returning, but they hoped for that day and were waiting to welcome him with open arms and love. I love that thought.
On to that compassion part mentioned in Luke.
Compassion is just such a beautiful word. Add in the concept of compassion and it feels my heart with feel goods. Here is one definition that I thought applied very well here. “Compassion: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. “
How well would we do if we started showing more compassion to others? It is often such a hard thing to do. It’s hard when you feel that your way is the right way or that they are doing something wrong. I liked how the definition included “sympathetic consciousness”. That means that you see and acknowledge what they are feeling. Just as the word and concept are beautiful, the results are too, and not only for the receiver but for the giver as well.
I think an important part of compassion and being able to see another person’s struggles is the ability to recognize your role in their feelings.
Someone in class or the teacher brought up that it is important to be prepared to apologize.
How hard is it to apologize to someone?
SO hard. (At least for me).
Years ago, I wrote a passive aggressive (yes, I was one of those people who went with the most ineffective way to solve problems) letter to a dear friend who was struggling spiritually and with the church. In it I’m pretty sure I was trying to be loving, but I am sure that the things I chose to say to her were hurtful. It was hard for me to admit my fault. It took years before I was able to say the actual words, “I am sorry that I hurt you. I was wrong.” to her. And it was HARD.
It’s hard to apologize to my spouse sometimes; to admit that I was wrong or that my actions were hurtful. It’s hard to recognize my wrong doing and admit that to my young kids in the form of an apology. I imagine it will be even harder when my kids are older.
But I do remember that those times that my mom sincerely apologized to me with love and told me that she was sorry for her actions are among the times I loved and respected her most in my youth and even in my adult life.
I know I talk about love all the time. It’s kind of my go to thing.
I’ve seen so much hurt and have caused hurt myself by closing the door. By closing my heart.
Another sister in my ward said that in her experience, the only thing you can do is love. Love with no ulterior motive. Your love and your acceptance, no matter where that person is or ends up, is what will go further than anything else. And when they know that you love and accept them, no matter what, they will then feel like they can return to you. This cannot be accomplished with trying to rule over them or correct what you perceive to be their mistakes.
Our lesson concluded with the profound acknowledgement that we all play the different roles in the parable throughout our lives. At some point we may be the prodigal son. At another time, we may be the older son. And at others, we are the parents. It was very interesting to contemplate how I would react and how I would like to be treated in each of those positions.
Last weekend I was relieved to hear those beautiful words, “I love you”, from someone close to me who had, in a moment of poor judgement, said things that were hurtful to me. It repaired some of the damage that was done, even though their hurtful words were said with good intentions.
The things that we say effects others. The way we treat them and interact has an influence on where they end up. We hold a great power with our words and treatment with others, especially with those we hold closest to us. It’s important to realize that and put our love for them above all else.
At the end of the day, I think it will always come back to having an open heart and unconditional love. We can’t really go wrong when, even when we don’t agree with that person’s choices, we treat the people we care about the same way that our own divine and heavenly parents would treat us.
I hope that each of us can look at the deeper meaning of the parable of the prodigal son. It’s not just about getting someone back to church or to somehow make them see the error of their ways. It is not up to us to serve their judgement or make sure they feel guilty about their choices. It is about love without judgement. It’s about keeping the door open so they always feel loved and welcome. Love is always the answer.