I’m 47 years old. I haven’t always been active in the Church. (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) I stopped going to church when I was about 16 and didn’t start going back until I was 19. During that time of being inactive in the Church, I never doubted the teachings. I never lost faith in God, the Book of Mormon, or the Prophet Joseph Smith. I still believed it all. I just didn’t want to follow the commandments. The world had so many exciting and distracting things for me to pursue and Church was not one of them. But I knew I was breaking commandments. I was willingly rebelling against it all.
I know a lot of friends from high school and elsewhere who have done the opposite. They were active in the Church, maybe even went on a mission and got married in the temple, but now are not active. Some have gone even further than that. They’ve completely lost faith in God altogether and have become what you might call, Anti-Mormon, or someone who seems to always openly criticize the Church and its leaders including the prophet for pretty much everything.
Growing up, my mother was inactive. In fact, she was re-baptized into the Church when I was about 13. I don’t recall the exact time, but I remember the missionaries coming over and teaching us. She was married to my brother Nick’s father, Nick Sr. He was Greek Orthodox and never did join the Church. They eventually were divorced.
Me when I was 17 years old
A couple weeks ago in sacrament meeting, a brother in the ward told a story about how his mother had stopped believing in the teachings of the Church and was inactive for 30 years. She tried to find happiness in many different things through those years, always searching. The happiest day of her life, she said, was the day that she put her temple garments back on and renewed her commitment to follow God and the commandments and live the gospel of Jesus Christ every day. I can believe that. After 30 years of not having the blessings that come from having the Spirit with you, attending the temple, and partaking of the sacrament; after all of the promised blessings that she had given up for 30 years, it must have been a very happy day indeed.
I recently listened to a podcast that told the story of Dusty Smith. It’s an interesting story that I’ve thought about a lot since listening to the podcast. Dusty joined the Church as a young man after reading The Book of Mormon. He served a mission in Honduras. He came home and got a law degree and started reading things about the Church and Joseph Smith which turned him against the Church. He removed his name from the records of the Church and began a long crusade against the Church taking every opportunity to try to persuade people to disbelieve in the Church’s teachings, the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, etc. He even mentioned that he went back to Honduras to try and convince some of the people whom he had taught during his mission, to leave the Church. He was what I would call, extremely “anti-Mormon.”
After many many years, and through a number of miracles, his heart softened, and he eventually asked his stake president if he could be re-baptized and join the Church again. He finally realized, “No matter how much he searched, researched, and debated online, these answers could only come from his Heavenly Father.”
His story is so remarkable, that it was recently featured on LDS Living and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf even talked about it at General Conference. President Uchtdorf said, “Over time, slowly, (Dusty) did change. He began to remember with fondness the spiritual experiences he once had, and he remembered the happiness he had felt when he was a member of the Church.” Dusty had found his dormant faith and is now fully engaged in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
So what was it that made the lady in the sacrament talk, my mother, me, and Dusty Smith come back to the faith? I’ve thought a lot about this because I have some dear friends and family members who are at this point in time, in one of these spots; Losing faith, inactive, and some are even what you might call anti-Mormon.
Me and my bride Jennifer, May 6, 1995
I’m currently serving in our ward as the ward mission leader. As I’ve got to know some members who have stepped away from the Church, I have tried to think back to what it was that brought me back to the Church, and even got me to put college on hold for two years while I served a mission in Bordeaux, France? What was it that got me fully engaged in the gospel again and has kept my testimony burning bright ever since?
As I have pondered this, I honestly think that there are only a few limited things that we can do as friends, ward members, and family of those who have chosen a different path. We can’t argue with them about doctrine or Church history and convince them of anything. We won’t prove we are right. It is not likely that we will “convert” them.
What did Jesus command us to do? Love one another. That is what is required of us. I really think it is that simple. It is now the whole program of the Church, to minister to one another.
We can sanctify ourselves. We can stay active in our sacrament meeting attendance, temple attendance, and in ministering to others. We can live a life close to the Lord and pray fervently for those who have strayed. God hears our prayers for our prodigal sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and dear friends. If we are doing this, then God will reach out at the appropriate time, and touch their heart. That is what happened to me. I felt loved and I felt God pulling me closer to Him and back to church. I’m sure for many years my grandmother and mother prayed and fasted for me. They probably put my name in the temple. I know they showed me a lot of love. When I finally knelt down in humble prayer by myself next to my bed in my room late one night, that was it. That is all it took. The Spirit strongly witnessed to me that I was to serve a mission and get my life in order.
I don’t expect my friends, family, and fellow ward members who are on another path to have an Alma the younger experience where an angel confronts them, though I suppose it could happen. What I can see happening for many of them, is that at some time, maybe it will be 30 years from now, if they have been loved by us, their friends, their family, and their ward members, then when their hearts are prepared, the Spirit will touch them and bring them back.
My family October 2016
I know the blessings in the Holy Temples of God are real. These temple blessings are ours to have, by following the commandments and keeping our covenants with God. I want these blessings for my family, my friends, and my ward members. Does anything else really matter? The temple blessings are eternal. They are real. They seal families together for eternity through the Holy Priesthood of God. These blessings are more precious than money, wealth, gold, silver, and the distractions and entertainment offered by the world. They are Holy. They are truth. They are everlasting. They bring peace. They are from our Heavenly Father.
When we go to the House of the Lord we walk on sacred ground. We leave the world behind and turn ourselves to God. I’m grateful that I only spent 3 years and not 30 years searching for true happiness. This happiness we are all searching for only comes when our will and the will of the Lord are in harmony.
I pray for my dear loved ones that these eternal blessings will be theirs too, sooner than later. God is waiting.
Heavenly Father, are you really there?
And do you hear and answer ev’ry child’s prayer?
Some say that heaven is far away,
But I feel it close around me as I pray.
Heavenly Father, I remember now
Something that Jesus told disciples long ago:
“Suffer the children to come to me.”
Father, in prayer I’m coming now to thee.
Pray, he is there;
Speak, he is list’ning.
You are his child;
His love now surrounds you.
He hears your prayer;
He loves the children.
Of such is the kingdom, the kingdom of heav’n.