On Having Inactive Children

It was a beautiful late summer day today. The sun was shining, 78 degrees. So I overcame the inertia of sitting on the couch watching football and went for a walk.

I almost can’t help but think of my children when I go for a walk. My preferred path is around the lake near the elementary school they both attended (called, appropriately enough, Lakeview). It is a beautiful setting, with lots of trees, swans, geese and ducks, but it also is next to the playground where I would take them to play when they were small. A little further around the bend are the tennis courts where my son and I would often play together. So as I walked, basking in the sunshine and wearing the Utah State tshirt I bought when I dropped my son off at Logan two years ago, my thoughts turned to my children.

There were six children in my own family; of those, only two are active (myself and my oldest sister). I always kind of wondered what my parents thought about having children that were not interested in the Church. Now I have a little bit of insight into that, because neither of my two children (a daughter about to turn 26 and a son about to turn 21) is active in the Church.

This was hard for me at first. When I saw it starting to happen with my daughter, while she was still in high school and living at home, my first instinct was to fight it. My first instinct was to force her to go to seminary and church. But then I reflected on my sister just older than I am. She didn’t want to be involved in Church, my parents compelled her activity, and as soon as she went away to college she dropped out completely. I didn’t want my daughter to have hard feelings about the Church, even if she ceased to be engaged in it, so I took my foot off the gas and gave her some space.

When it was clear the Church wasn’t cutting it for them, I actually took them (in separate years) to Sunstone in the hope that this might kindle at least some continued nontraditional engagement with the faith. My daughter still gets a subscription to the magazine I gave her. Although it didn’t make a difference, they did appreciate the experience and honor and respect my own involvement.

You never know what the future holds, and with possible marriage (substantially) down the line or children, it is possible that one or both could re-engage. But as of right now there is no sign of that happening.

The main thing I wish to express is that I am actually ok with their being inactive. It doesn’t bother me anymore, and hasn’t for some time. They are great kids; intelligent, kind, funny, just great human beings, the kind of people you would want to have as a friend. I am immensely proud of both of them. And as I’ve gotten older (I just turned 49), those are the things that matter most to me. Sure, it would be nice if they were involved in the Church, but that would just be the gravy. I find that I care much, much more about what kind of people they are. And they have turned out great. I could not possibly love them more.


  1. I wish my parents (and in-laws) were like you Kevin. Me and my husband find ourselves moving (unexpectedly) away from the church after 27 years of activity and a temple marriage. We cannot disclose this to either of our parents for the discord it would surely cause in the family. We aren’t really sure what to do. But both of our parents have actually echoed the dreaded “I would rather my children die than fall away from the church” line, so, we are sort of in an uncomfortable spot.

    Your children are very very lucky to have a dad who loves them no matter what.

  2. Kevin, thanks for this post. I think a lot of pain among us could be avoided if people were to take you as a role model in this.

    veritas, my heart aches for you and the many others in your situation. People say that honesty is always the best policy, but those people should walk a mile or two in your shoes.

  3. I’ve often seen more harm done by someone that is overbearing that by someone who is more understanding/realistic. My own sister had fallen away and struggled for many years. My parents didn’t panic but kept loving her and giving her her space. Eventually, as she worked on being a better person (this was the first step), she remembered what she was taught and returned to activity.

    I have always had a question dealing with this type of situation and the sealing power. Does the sealing power allow those that have been sealed to repent and work out their own salvation in the next life? I seem to remember a statement like this is the last general conference.

  4. Kevin: Thank you for this thoughtful post. I have wondered about your feelings on this subject since reading your previous mentions of it. I think also, FWIW, that you made the right decision about how to react.

    I have rarely, if ever, seen “stepping on the gas” (as you put it), have any effect on children of any age other than to foster resentment. We have an overly-optimistic view of our poor power to change our children in many cases.

    Far better that we show unconditional love, set an example, pray for them (and for our own patience and understanding) and, most importantly, appreciate all of the things that are wonderful about them. A testimony of the gospel is very important but it is not all of what and who we are. Bravo to you for recognizing that and appreciating all of the fantastic elements of your children regardless of their involvement with the church.

  5. Kevin? It was your birthday and you didn’t tell us!? Happy Birthday!

    In my teens I was inactive and sinned. When I caught the fire again, I was sure that I was inactive because of the sins and that everyone needed the Church. As I’ve grown up and maybe it was bc I was single (I can’t use this card anymore I realize) and saw how it didn’t always work for people at all times and some people it doesn’t work for at all. It was actually a load off when I could step back and see how it worked for some people and not for others. It’s stressful to make something fit everyone. All that to say, your kids must love you for this. For you just wanting them to be good people.

  6. Thanks, Kevin, for this touching reflection.

    Slightly off tangent, but relative, I think:

    In our HP Group lesson today (Elder Wirthlin’s “Life’s Lessons Learned) a former bishop and SP Councilor, a soft-spoken and gentle professor, said about his totally inactive, adult daughter’s unexpected and shocking death: “I have learned that the Gospel brings peace and assurance most deeply in times of great and terrible pain and suffering. I wish I hadn’t had to learn that lesson the way I learned it, but I am grateful for having learned it.” Coming from such a humble, good man . . .

    I don’t want to “lose” any of my children – to death or inactivity or leaving the Church, but, of those options, I will take inactivity or leaving the Church any day – trusting in them and the Lord to make it all work out in the end. Perhaps others will see that as lacking a testimony in some way, but I have lived long enough to feel differently. If my children become truly Christ-like people, I will be content – since I believe He will reward each of His children’s sincere efforts to live to the best standard they personally understand.

  7. Okay, I dug around and found the quote I was thinking of. Do we emphasize this enough in the church? It should be of great comfort to parents and it should allow parents to take a more realistic approach.

    In a talk in the Oct 2006 GC Elder Winkel said this:

    “”The Prophet Joseph Smith declared—and he never taught more comforting doctrine—that the eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves, but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain.”

  8. Thanks for this post, Kevin. I know, not from
    any specific speech or statement, but from
    their actions and examples over the years, that
    my parents care much more that I live
    a good life and be a good person than that I
    am active in the church (not saying the
    two are mutually exclusive). I also know that
    it is more important to them that I marry
    a good person than that I marry in the temple.
    I have an inactive sister who has told me, “I
    just don’t believe it’s true.” She also has
    said, in discussions about the Holy Ghost, that
    while she thinks the church is a good organiz-
    ation, she has never received that witness that
    is so important to a testimony. I have no idea
    if she will ever be active again, but I don’t
    feel that I can fault or blame her for living
    in harmony with what she feels and believes. I
    trust that Heavenly Father will see that all
    is worked out in the end. In the meantime, I
    am so very grateful for loving parents who have
    been wonderful examples of love and faith for
    all of us. I know when we have life questions
    to figure out, we always look to them. Sounds
    like you are just that kind of dad! Thanks for

  9. john willis says:

    Have you read the new biography of Spencer
    W. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride? There is
    a good discussion of the inactivity of his
    eldest son who had a distinquished carrer
    as a law professor.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Yes, John, I’ve read that. I can’t help but think that SWK made some mistakes along this line with his eldest. I was on a panel at Suntone reviewing this book with Greg Prince and Ed Kimball responding, and this topic came up. I got the impression that Ed would agree that his dad made some mistakes in pushing Spencer Levan so hard when he was an adult and it was abundantly clear he had no interest in the Church. Their relationship was severely strained as a result.

  11. Great post, Kevin. I’ve come to similar conclusions about my husband’s inactivity and disbelief. In the long term it’s impossible to pressure someone back into the church, but it’s very possible to damage the relationship pretty badly trying to do so.

  12. Last week I felt impressed to go and talk to one of the people I home teach. I had no idea that he had been offended by the Bishop the previous week and decided he would never again attend church. His revelation about the incident came as a complete surprise to me–our Bishop is one of the most spiritual and kind I have met in recent years–so, I simply told this brother that the Lord loved him and that I loved him no matter what.

    When I visited him today for our monthly home teaching visit, I presented an abbreviated message and emphasized President Hinckley’s testimony of Heavenly Father and testified to him about the power of prayer. I challenged him to seek the Lord in prayer for answers and comfort. The Spirit was present and I knew he felt it.

    In my experience, love is sometimes the best and only answer for those who turn away from the Lord and His Church. We may not understand or agree with their decision, but we are under commandment to love them.

  13. This post strikes a particular cord for me, since it applies to my family. The only difference is that is wasn’t the children leaving the faith, rather my parents opted out of church. Its a hard thing to go through and wouldn’t wish the situation on anyone. The expierences have not changed my faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but have rather strengthen my testimony, through study and reading of our church’s history.

  14. Kevin, you rock. Plain and simple. Loving your kids, no matter what, is the MOST important thing.

  15. Thank you for sharing this, Kevin. Neither my sister nor my brother are active in the church, and for a time neither was I. My parents gave us space to do this and as a result none of us resented the church. In my case I was able to come bck when the time was right, and my sister and brother are more Jack Mormons than former Mormons. In a moment of despair my father asked me what they could have done differently. I had no answer except to point out that activity in the church is not the only measure of moral success — that we are all happy, in functional marriages and contributing members of society, and we owed that at least in part to our upbringing.

  16. California Condor says:

    Kevin Barney,

    Thank you for this. I think you are taking the right approach.

    Yes, the weather is beautiful this time of year. Even here in Arizona it has cooled down a little. I went for a walk this evening.

  17. Kevin,

    Of my six children, two are not active in church. While we have accepted the reality, it still troubles us greatly. We hang on those promises made that if we honor our covenants that they will be reclaimed. But it is so hard in the meantime. However, I’ll share an experience we recently had with our oldest.

    He recently came out of work, came across a man that looked like he was homeless and hanging around in the parking lot. My son didn’t pay a lot of attention, until he noticed the man seemed to be bleeding heavily. He decided to double back and check with the man, who was a little incoherent. The man was trying to find a bus, indeed was homeless, but my son decided that because of the blood to call an ambulance, and waited with the man until the paramedics arrived, stitched up a cut on his arm, and got him to the bus stop.

    This was in a retail parking lot at a busy store, and who knows how many people had walked past this man without bothering to stop? While I still long for this son to return to activity, I couldn’t help but feel proud of him for his compassion and concern. I see him with his girlfriend, and how he treats her. He may not be doing everything I would like, but he is certainly acting in a Christlike manner, and that’s good enough for now.

    We’ve backed off the gas pedal, Kevin, but we still hope and pray. Thanks for this post, as it really struck a chord with me.

  18. Brewhaha (#7),

    That is a direct quote from a talk Orson F. Whitney gave in General Conference in April 1929. The problem is Orson F. Whitney was born in 1855, eleven years after Joseph Smith was killed. So I would like to know where Elder Whitney obtained his information from.

    It is certainly true that Joseph Smith believed that everyone except those who commit the unpardonable sin will eventually be saved (in some degree of glory), even if they have to pass through hell first.

    But the part of Elder Whitney’s claim about sealings seems to imply celestial glory, and I have no idea what his source was for Joseph Smith’s position on that. The logical conclusion of Whitney’s apparent position is that everyone will go to the celestial kingdom, as long as they are transitively sealed back to Adam and Eve, or some other exalted couple. That seems rather questionable to me.

    Elder Faust’s April 2003 talk on the subject denies the latter interpretation while generally holding out for Joseph Smith’s original position (i.e. eventual salvation some degree of glory).

  19. I agree completely that trying to push our loved ones into church activity is not a good approach, but I don’t get the part about not caring when our loved ones fall away from the Church. Sure, it’s more important that they be good people than that they participate in the Church, but don’t covenants matter? Doesn’t the Church matter? Doesn’t our faithfulness and devotion to God in this life affect our eternal happiness?

    I hope I’m not coming off as judgmental here. Recent experiences in my own life have had me asking myself the same questions. Last year a “pen-pal” type friend of mine fell away from the Church and I found that it didn’t affect me as much as I thought it would or should. I wondered if my reaction reflected a lackluster conviction as to the veracity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; I think it did. The scriptures are clear that it does matter that we believe and be faithful and obedient in this life. Being good and honorable people is great and will put us in a good position in the afterlife, and I will definitely love and appreciate my own children no matter how much or little faith they have, but according to ancient and modern prophets faithfulness matters. So when somebody loses faith or disregards covenants and it doesn’t really bother me, I feel like that either means that I’m not very concerned about their eternal well-being (i.e. that I don’t love them enough) or that I don’t believe all that strongly myself. I don’t want to be content with either of those two alternatives.

  20. So when somebody loses faith or disregards covenants and it doesn’t really bother me, I feel like that either means that I’m not very concerned about their eternal well-being (i.e. that I don’t love them enough) or that I don’t believe all that strongly myself. I don’t want to be content with either of those two alternatives.

    I think that’s an admirable sentiment. That said, I wonder if somewhere your not being bothered by someone else losing their faith couldn’t be an (at least initial) withholding of judgment and thus a good thing. There are plenty of people who do fall away from the church, only to regain their testimony or their desire to keep their covenants later in life. As someone who wandered when younger, I found people who weren’t judgmental, who were concerned more about me as a person than me as a soul (if that distinction makes sense) made better bridges back into activity when I decided to come back. I personally am glad there are people around who aren’t so concerned about my eternal well-being that they are bothered by my choices, past and present.

  21. I have one brother who has been inactive for several years, as well as a brother (plus a wife and two kids) who have recently become inactive.

    The five of us who remain active in my family have dealt with this in varying ways.

    Mom thinks she has to kill the fatted calf every time they go to sacrament meeting, or conversely gives them a steaming side order of guilt when they do not attend. As if somehow church attendance equated to having or feeling anything in relationship to deity…

    My sister’s role seems to be that smoldering judger. She tries to “live and let live,” but any time the subject comes up she’s the first to bring up how they are not living the commandments, have given up on their beliefs, and deserve what’s coming to them.

    For my single brother, I have had good talks with him to try and understand his reasons. That has gone a long way, and he knows he can confide in me without me freaking out. With my other brother (with the family), it is veru hard not to say “get your sorry butt to church so your kids can learn about Jesus…. millstone neck!” As you can see, I’m still coming to emotional grips with the fact that my nieces are not being raised in the faith.

    Honestly, the hardest thing I’ve had to accept is the possibility that they might never come back.

    So for those of you who might be inactive for whatever reason, be sensitive toward your family. The realization that something they hold so dearly is of less value to you than they wish it was invariably causes deep pain.

  22. I don’t get the part about not caring when our loved ones fall away from the Church.

    What part is that Tom? I may have missed something, but I don’t recall anyone saying they didn’t care. We all care deeply. The question is what to do about it. Are you suggesting some particular course of action (e.g. rending one’s clothing or pulling one’s hair out) or are you just finding fault with others’ level of caring? I find your series of retorical questions arrogant. You know the answers, so why ask the questions?

  23. MCQ, Tom might have been referring to how Kevin B. said, in the main post, that it didn’t bother him that his kids were not active in the Church.

  24. Kevin – A wonderful post, that reflects parts of so many of our lives. If it happens to me and my kids, I hope I handle it as well as you have.

  25. I believe there is a wide gulf between not being bothered by something and not caring.

  26. Brewhaha #7 and Mark D. #18 – Please indulge me while I share a personal story about that quote from Elder Whitney. One of my sons took a wrong turn about the time he graduated from high school. It was not just a matter of him being inactive in the church, as Kevin described his own children, but he was living a life in direct oppostion of everything we had taught him. The once caring and sensative young man we knew had turned into someone else. It was a trying time in our lives and we often felt that our prayers were not being answered. Without all the details let me say that I found that quote in Elder Gene R. Cook’s book called “Raising Up A Family Unto the Lord” and I shared it with a friend who was experiencing similar difficulties with one of his children. Then my friend had the occasion to read those words back to those of us involved in a Bishopric Meeting (I was a counselor and he was the Exec Sec) and while he read those words I had a witness confirm their truthfulness to me. I knew my son would come back to us – maybe not in this life but at some time in the future. I was overwhelmed by that witness and I no longer cared how long I had to wait because I knew that as long as I did my part (remained faithful in valiant service) he would come back. It took another three years but things did turn around in his life and today he is happy in the gospel.

    I believe those words DO mean that we will see them in the celestial kingdom. Kevin’s post reveals the most important thing we can do for all of our children – continue to love them without conditions. I know that as we continued to show love and respect for our son, and demand his respect for the rules of our house, his heart was turned and he, not us or anyone else, made the choice to change his life.

  27. It might be interesting to understand a bit of context for the quote from Elder Whitney (my great-grandfather, incidentally).

    Elder Whitney said this at a time that his oldest son was completely inactive in the church. In fact it was fairly common for the children of the apostles and other general authorities at that time to leave the church if for no other reason, than for the fact that their fathers were constantly away from home. Elder Whitney’s son went away to California, met a girl on a streetcar and got married, had two kids, left his wife with the kids and disappeared. The two kids (my grandmother and her brother) were a lot for a single to handle, so they were taken in and raised by Grandpa Whitney.

    When my great uncle came back from serving in the navy in WWII he sat down in a diner in Ogden and began talking to an old man sitting next to him. As they spoke, it became apparent that the old man was his father (Elder Whitney’s son), whom he hadn’t seen for almost 2 decades.

    So when Elder Whitney said what he did about the eye of the shepherd being upon the sheep who wander and the tentacles of divine providence feeling them out, he said it not only as an apostle declaring some doctrinal point, but also as a father grieving for his son’s absence, but hopeful that he would return.

    For what it’s worth, lamonte, I’ve heard several people share a similar experience with the doctrine underlying the quote. I suppose it’s possible that Elder Whitney and everyone else who believes this is just mistaking emotional longings after their children for spiritual confirmation of a doctrinal truth. But I don’t suppose it’s up to me to question their spiritual experiences. At the very least, the fact that Elder Whitney’s statement is repeated every few years in conference does, in my opinion, give pretty solid ground to those who find hope in it and want to believe it.

  28. MCQ,
    I don’t have a course of action to suggest besides being loving and accepting of those who lose faith. I don’t think we need to dress in black and go through a grieving process. In my comment I shared the introspection brought about by my own lack of being bothered as much as I expected by a friend losing faith. The questions I ask are things I have been asking myself. I’m working out what my reaction tells me about myself. Essentially I’m saying that I’m bothered by my own lack of being bothered. I suppose one can’t find fault with one’s own reaction without implicitly criticizing the reactions of others. I guess for the sake of not coming off as judmental I could keep my experience and perspective to myself, but I thought it would be OK to share it.

    Also, I could have expressed myself more carerfully. My first paragraph comes off as more accusatory than introspective.

  29. I will freely admit that a fear of mine is that my children don’t “get” church and faith and fall away. I guess we can all hold to the promises in D&C 31 and the teachings of General Authorites about our children being sealed to us.

    Kevin, Do you think you may have “over-innoculated” your children? As a father of a four year old and a 5 month old, I am not asking in judgment, but in genuine searching.

  30. Mysstified Mormon says:

    Kristine: I didn’t find Tom’s question to be arrogant at all. I can see the soul searching as quite natural and genuine.

  31. [I think mystified is responding to MCQ, not Kristine N.

    KristineN: That said, I wonder if somewhere your not being bothered by someone else losing their faith couldn’t be an (at least initial) withholding of judgment and thus a good thing.

    A good point. I do think that witholding judgment should make us less upset about people losing faith. Even if they never do appear to us to regain faith we don’t know what shape they’ll be in in the hereafter. Still, I think in my own case the strength of my conviction influences how much I’m bothered by people losing faith. It’s the same for my missionary motivation: when I have a decreased desire or motivation to share the gospel, I feel like that reflects a decreased faithfulness in myself.

  32. I wonder if being a convert gives me a slightly different perspective on this. I mean, none of my family are members of the church, and I doubt any of them ever will be, at least in this lifetime.

    We recently had a FHE with our kids (all teenagers, now) about a friend of theirs who has decided he’s an atheist. We talked about what makes people leave the church. We talked about how you find happiness. We talked about how strong their testimonies were. We talked about all kinds of things.

    I told them not to worry too much about their friend. I pointed out that while he said he was an atheist, chances are good that it all started when he had his feeling hurts by being rejected by the YM in his ward (he was an ultra geeky kid). We told them he’s a good person and we love him anyway. He’ll figure out his own path.

  33. JKC – Thanks for the insight into that quote those the have been so often quoted. I always assumed that it was the Prophet Joseph Smith who said “…the eye of the Shepherd is upon them…” and Elder Whitney was just quoting JS. But I can see how perhaps only the first paragraph was spoken by JS and the remainder wwas the hopeful musings of Elder Whitney. I can tell you that the witness I felt that evening is an experience I have never felt before or since and, for me at least, it is real and I believe it. Thanks again.

  34. I am blessed that my 5 children are doing pretty good as far as activity in the Church. My approach has been to understand why I have not been inactive and to provide that same rationale to my children. I have tried to show them that the Church, its doctrines, and standards are both true and beneficial and therefore loyalty is requisite and the “smart” thing to do. Even so, I am full of faults and weaknesses and so I tried to show that the most important thing for them to understand is that the fullness of Christ – especially the blessings of His Atonement – are to be found within the confines of the Church.

    Also, if there is an underlying feeling that our “love” is conditional upon someone’s activity in the Church, then we miss the whole point. That seems to be a use of the Church in our tyranny. But, I don’t think it improper to teach that the best we can get has to include activity in the Church.

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    #29 Matt W., I doubt that inoculation vel non had any thing to do with it. They are not troubled by anti-Mormon rhetoric. They acknowledge that the Church “works” for some people; they just don’t find participation in the Church (right now?) meaningful in their lives.

    I would much rather have that sort of benign disengagement (which allows the possibility for fairly easy re-engagement) than forcing someone to feel he has to prove to me that the Church isn’t true, with the result that he descends into DAMU-like bitterness as he tries to justify his decisions to himself and to me.

  36. To me, the Whitney quote is what the sealing power is all about. What use is the sealing power if the only people who achieve the Celestial Kingdom are those who are worthy anyway? Those people, because of the worthiness received Celestial Glory anyway whether they were sealed or not. What good is the sealing power if it doesn’t have the power to offer wayward family members a path for return?

  37. Kevin,
    Your approach in not pushing your kids is one that I think my dad would have preferred to take. It has taken him a long time, but over the past several years he has put much less pressure on my inactive siblings than he used to and they seem to be less bitter than they used to be.

  38. I too struggle with the inactivity of some of my children and have wondered how far to go in letting them know of my disappointment. The inactivity of my children bothers me and I hope will always bother me. But how do I communicate that disappointment? I feel that I need to communicate that in some way. Otherwise, I feel that I would be saying, “All those things that we talked about in FHE—well they really were not as important as we said.” Or “Remember when we talked about covenants? Well—not so much.” Or, “That sign on the mantle that says we can be together forever? Well, we’ll just see what happens.” For me, it will always bother me that I cannot be together with all of my children in a temple session—that my grandchildren are not being taught about a loving Father In Heaven—that my sons are not blessing their families as priesthood holders.

    I still love my children (those active and those inactive) with all my heart. I honestly feel that if I were to fully accept their lifestyle and not let it bother me I would not be true to them or to myself. That being said, I do try to show them my love and still express it often. I am not over pushy about the Church or the Gospel, but they do know of my disappointment. I hope they would not expect otherwise.

  39. Kevin, over and over again, I am impressed by what a good hearted person you are.

  40. Kevin, in my above post I hope that I did not come across as judgemental of your experience. I did not mean to. I am only speaking of myself.

    I guess what I am asking the group is: if you need to express your disappointment in the path of your child, how far do you go? Can not reacting or expressing concern be interpreted as total acceptance? A sincere question from a heartsick parent.

  41. Kevin Barney says:

    Darrell, I didn’t take your comment as a dig at me. It’s a hard issue, to be sure.

    My reaction to your question is that it is much like a lot of other things in family dynamics, in that it would be appropriate to make your position clear–once–and then to drop it and let it go.

    The problem SWK had with his son Spencer Levan is that he couldn’t let it go, and he repeatedly wrote and sent him long, anguished letters, by turns browbeating and pleading with him to return to the church. His relationship with his eldest son was severely damaged by this tack. Look at it from the child’s perspective, and you can appreciate why.

  42. My oldest sister became inactive soon after she went to college. It was devasting for my parents as well (and disappointing for me) but they’ve learned to show her that they still love her rather than constantly remind her of their disappointment. I think she knows; having been raised in our home and knowing the importance it has to the rest of us. It only needs to be said once. We just try to build our relationship with her (as we should with all our siblings) and be good examples. My parents also initially took on a lot of blame at the beginning (what did we do wrong? We should have done X more, etc..) but now they take solace knowing that even Lehi had 2 sons “go inactive”. Heck, even God Himself had a wayward son. It’s all about the free agency.

  43. More anonymous than usual says:

    Can I present a slightly different take on this?

    My wife and I are struggling with her family, who takes the approach that NO degree of activity in the Church is of any value to them. My father-in-law was a mission president; my mother-in-law has held great and glorious responsibilities within the COB. Yet, they have absolutely no interest and put absolutely no weight in the degree of activity of their children.

    It doesn’t matter how spiritual their children and grandchildren are. It doesn’t matter what “accomplishments” they have had at Church (I hesitate to use that word, but for lack of a better word, I’ll stick with it). It doesn’t matter how hard they are striving to better themselves, strengthen their testimony, or attend the temple. All they care about is how much money they are making, how big their house is, whether or not they live within a 20-minute radius, and if the grandchildren will make it to the Ivies (actually, only one Ivy is even worth mentioning).

    DW thinks that her parents are trying to overcompensate for two of her wayward siblings, by “leveling the playing field” and only taking interest what is/should be common amongst their children. But it’s a real trial for their children and grandchildren who are more interested in affordable-yet-sufficient houses, serving in the Church, taking a larger view of what colleges are the best fit, having enjoyable careers that allow them to spend time with their families, and not living in Utah.

  44. Darn that free agency, anyway :-)

    In trying to look at it from Pres. Kimball’s perspective, I am sure that he felt compelled to do everything that he knew in his power to bring his son back–even to using Lehi as an example (who both browbeat and plead with his sons to the end of his life). I’m sure Pres. Kimball felt that a strained relationship in this life is better than a severed relationship in the eternities. I am sure that Pres. Kimball felt that he was expressing his unconditional love to his son by sincerely wanting him to be with him forever. I am beginning to understand that we all do the best that we know how. Sometimes, no matter what we do, it is not good enough. That is when we rely on an all-loving Heavenly Father to make things right in the end.

  45. MattG: So true. And I would say that God has had more than one.

    Darrell: I agree with Kevin and I would never say that you shouldn’t express disapointment with poor decisions your children make, as long as you can do it with love. It is a very difficult path to walk, and few parents have done it without mistakes.

    The biggest mistake is thinking that a child’s rejection of the gospel is the parent’s fault or that it is a rejection of the parent. Neither of those things is true, in my experience.

    Rather than focusing on your disappointment, why not focus on the positive messages: “The gospel is true and we rejoice in it;” and “We love you unconditionally and want to have you and your children with us now and always.” If you send those messages through word and action, it seems to me that you are less likely to drive children away than if you are telling them of your disappointment.

  46. My husband is inactive and has been so for 5 years. I think if I browbeat him about it he’d be driven even further away. I used to wonder if I should be on my knees pleading daily to H.F. to help him, put his name on the prayer roll at the temple, and continually fret over it. I found no peace that in that direction. Peace comes from Christ and I found peace by understanding that I’m responsible for myself and my actions. His activity in the church is his business and has nothing to do with me. He’ll come back if and when he’s ready; in the meantime, it’s between him and H.F.

  47. I like Susan M’s approach with her then-inactive husband. She exercised faith and put it in the Lord’s hands. Her story is here.

  48. As an active but barely-believing member and the result of parents that were FAR too overbearing in terms of the Church, I hope you’ll entertain my opinions. Each of my 6 siblings struggles in one way or another with my parents’ good-intentioned train wreck that was our ultra-Mormon upbringing.

    First, never place the Church above your child. Happily miss temple night to attend a band concert. Skip church to connect with a distraught teenager, even if that only means hanging out on the couch watching football together. You might think your extra-Churchy example will help them, in fact you might think that your actions are securing their salvation based on that irritating Whitney/Smith quote discussed above, but in reality you are probably just fueling their resentment. (And if you really do believe that any aspect of the Church is more important than your child, well, I guess we just can’t be friends.)

    Second, take care to distinguish between God and religion. Being the “one true church” places God very close to our religion–great news for believers, bad news for rebellious children who are more likely turn not only against the Church but against God and morality in general. Children must understand that the Church doesn’t have a corner on the “good people” market. People who smoke are not inherently evil. Women in tank tops are not inherently immoral. Your child’s inclination or ability to conform to LDS norms is NOT a reflection of their value in God’s eyes!

    There are more, but Kevin seems to have the right idea in his post. Your child is inherently valuable, even as an atheist. As long as you believe that, you, and your children, will be just fine. Until you really believe that, you’re fighting a losing battle.

  49. The biggest question I ask myself as I ponder my son’s new religious direction (something very ethereal and not LDS) is “Do my children see me living the gospel with joy?” We have so many jobs, so many checklists and waiting awards that Mormonism can feel like a laundry list. If they think of me in my religious persona, is that persona SMILING? Or does she look ready to collapse?

    There are many days when I’m full of joy–especially the days I get to greet new missionaries. But there are certainly those other days too.

    My children know that I have a sense of the sacred, that I love the temple, that I love the Lord. They also know that I sometimes swear, that I drink coke, and that I have one heckuva temper.
    I do actually believe that they will forgive me of my many flaws if I don’t pretend the flaws aren’t there, and that they’ll forgive the Church for the human fingerprints running through it. I keep the fatted calf ready for whenever my inactive son decides to come back. And even if he doesn’t make that return trip, I’ll prepare good meals just to fill his earthly hunger.


    I was hoping this thread was about the morality of sedating my pre-schoolers (talk about active) before the block meetings…foiled again.

    Great thread! My 19 year old and I engage in long wandering doctrinal discussions sometimes (I wish more often and with more of my kids involved) and we talked this past weekend how the term “active” doesn’t really define individual faith. I know a lot of people who are ‘busy’ in the Church with callings etc and attend all activities who are still spiritually empty, and many who only attend sporadically who are deeply religious. I think there will be many “active” LDS saints among those who call “Lord, Lord” but who arrive too late to join the wedding party.

    I’m trying to teach my children that what the world can view as our “activity” in the Church is NOT the criteria that the Lord will use to judge us in the end. It is the intentions of our hearts…our motives behind our actions…what we KNOW of Christ rather than what we’ve been taught about Him that will determine those that are “His”. It is being “active” because we love the Lord and desire to serve Him and His sheep that defines ‘the faithful’. I want my children to be able to stand at the last day as the world crumbles and falls in pieces around them because they are anchored in GOD and not in church buildings, organizations or books that are just the works of man’s hands.(even under the direction of God)

    Yes, attending meetings, holding callings, and being physically present to live the gospel is important…it is the mastery of the soul over the body and the act of submitting in every way to the dictates of God. But the acts themselves are not capable of redeeming anyone…only faith rooted in our Savior and His power, justice and mercy can do that.

    No matter what my children choose for themselves as they mature and leave home, my goal is to make sure that THEY know that I KNOW, and that they have at least a simple but sincere seed of that same knowing planted inside of them somewhere to cling to themselves.

  51. This issue is part of the larger of how we perceive God and God’s justice in general. If we believe that he is loving, merciful and just, then we shouldn’t worry too much about those people who are honest, sincere and good people who happen not to have been blessed with the same faith as their parents. Worry about the character of your children, and leave the faith part to God. That is his job. I don’t believe he will turn away any of his children just because they happened to hold incorrect beliefs about him or his Gospel.

  52. re #49: Great point, Margaret. I agree.

  53. Paul,

    I agree with what you are saying. Some in the church really get uptight about their “duties” and responsibilities and forget the people we love. I remember getting a phone call from my parents while I was on my mission. They called to tell me that my 17-yr old brother got his girlfriend pregnant. Being an overzealous missionary at the time I was aghast and sad and full of despair. Yes, it was a mistake that shouldn’t have happened but it did, so what. Deal with it and move on. My brother and his girlfriend went on to get married and have a wonderful family. That little speed bump way back when really amounted to nothing in their lives (in terms of long-term effects). I know that this isn’t always the case be I think it is a good example of keeping things in perspective.

    Also, you say “you might think that your actions are securing their salvation based on that irritating Whitney/Smith quote discussed above”. I actually think that this quote is a call for parents to be less overbearing in the hopes that their efforts might turn their kids around. I can see, however, how some parents could interpret it to mean that they better double and triple their righteous efforts to the exclusion of everything else. Different perspectives, I guess.

  54. Kudos to Kevin and all the bloggers on this thread who have articulated the spirit of love and acceptance so well. I tried to say the same thing on another thread and it didn’t come off as well . . . I think I’m still picking the spitballs off my clothes. I mentioned that reading Elder Bednar’s talk on inactivity to an inactive might not be the way to show this type of love.

    Second point:Does anyone know parents who have major psychological and emotional problems stemming from this? I do. A mother- years of prozac and psychological therapy for failure. A father, who suffers an early heart attack after aging 20 years in a few months. There are some kids who actually triumph is knowing that their choices are causing familial pain. They know that rebelling against the church and God and you is going for the jugular.

    Third point: If you have sick and/or elderly parents or if your stepping away from the church in various ways will lead to this kind of pain, it really isn’t that important to tell them. Sheesh.

  55. When I was nineteen I was totally alienated from the church . My dad was not a member and my mother and brother were inactive. I was on my own and heading in the wrong direction.

    I got to thinking about the church and some of the teachers I had enjoyed as a deacon and teacher. I decided to read the Book of Mormon and I told the Lord that if it was true I would return to the church, if not, then I didn’t want anything to do with it. Within a few days of this prayer, before I had a chance to acquire a copy of the BoM, I was given a vision that left no room for doubt. I was astonished! The Lord left the 99 and came and brought me back to his church. That was over 40 years ago and I am so very grateful for that experience.

    I hope that a like experience will be extended to all those who have left the church, for whatever reason, at some point in their journey. The Lord can be very convincing when it is his will to do so.

  56. As a college student, living thousands of miles away from my parents, I have found it very difficult to connect with my parents religiously. My father has been a bishop, stake president, mission president, and has very conservative views in general. I have had a very difficult time with the church since returning home from my mission. I love my parents but I would feel very uncomfortable expressing how I felt to them. They think I’m still very active and I think that they think that moral success is dependent upon church activity. I believe that the church provides great assistance and services to the world but so do many other organizations and churches.

    In short, I wish I could talk to them or somebody in hope of reconciling by faith and questions about the church. My problem is that I don’t want to go through any family drama that could possibly arise by bringing up my concerns. Obviously, we are a very traditional Utah/Mormon family and I feel like the odd duck out. Kevin, I think it’s great that you have the relationship with your kids that you do. I would love to have a rational discussion with my father someday about the way I feel.

  57. From my own experience, I have learned that as I confess to the Lord my weakness as a parent and cast my broken-hearted burden upon Him, I feel the peace of faith rather than despair. It took some spiritual work to arrive at this point. The Lord doesn’t want us to beat ourselves up for our failings with our kids but turn to him in humility and faith.

  58. Velikye Kniaz says:

    To all, I have lived in Salt Lake City for the past 32 years, having moving here after my mission. I am the only member in my family and have been a Latter-day Saint since I was baptized at 17. It tears my heart out to see the great- grand children of the pioneers leaving the Church, but indeed they are as was detailed a few months ago in an article in the Salt Lake Tribune. It would appear that as far as Utah and perhaps even in the U.S. in general, is concerned the Church is dying. I am sure that there are parents who with the best of intentions were over zealous at times in trying to inculcate faith and kindle a testimony in their children, but I believe they did their best. They ‘lost’ their children, IMHO, to the values of the world which rains down in torrents upon the youth of this age. These good people were simply no match for the multitude of influences that their children were subjected to out side of the walls of their home. I have always been a ‘maverick’ my whole life and not a follower of trends or transitory fashions and I believe that is why growing up in the sixties barely put a dent in my character and worldview. I am at peace with where I am and what I am, but the deep sadness I feel at the loss of these young men and women from such a noble spiritual ancestry makes me feel that when the time comes I will welcome death. The Restored Gospel and Church of Jesus Christ, which the Prophet Joseph called, “this, so great a Cause”, may disappear from this state and continent. I am glad that I will not be here to see it. Savage if you will, but I am sincere.

  59. Velikye Kniaz says:

    Please excuse the typos and grammatical errors. The last line should read, “Savage me…”

  60. Velikye,

    Not one soul will be lost that chooses not to be lost. This life is a test for each of us…what we will or will not stumble under…whether or not we choose to stand up again after we fall. No matter how much we love our children, no matter how responsible we are to teach them the truth and raise them properly, none of us are capable of saving them at all, even if they want to be saved. Salvation is a personal contract between each of us and God.

    What the newspapers or other people say about the Church dying (or not) doesn’t really matter one bit in the grand scope of things. We know how this all ends and we know how bad it gets before the end. We also know that lineage does not trump agency and that the influences of Satan will never be stronger than the power of God. God knew before we were born which of the many that would be called, would be the few that would be chosen. The things that shock and sadden you come as no surprise to Him.

    That you think somehow that the Church will disappear from this continent only means you either haven’t studied as much as you should have, or that you doubt what you have studied. That you think there are not any genuinely faithful or believing saints in Utah now, or will be in the future means you either don’t know enough people, or you doubt the ones you do know.

    Why would anyone want to savage you at all?

  61. klear,

    Are you having problems with the Church as a religion and its doctrines or with the people who live and align themselves with the Church?

    Feeling like an “odd duck” could be simply the refusal to fit within a certain mold or be placed in a nice, labeled Tupperware container…and that’s OK. Maybe your “doubts” aren’t really holding you back as much as they are an indication that you sincerely want a deeper, more powerful understanding than you currently have.

    Most of the worlds most amazing discoveries are the result of great minds pondering a problem…seeking for an answer to a need. You said that you “think” your parents equate moral success with church “activity” but you could be very wrong about what they think. What I can testify to you is that the ONLY success that matters eternally is dependent upon the acceptance and submission to truth and the principles that accompany it. Everything else is just ashes.

  62. Bringing children into this world and, particularly, investing time, love and energy in raising them are, in my opinion, tremendous acts of faith. We cannot make ultimate choices for our children–only they can. We cannot provide to them the “whisperings of the Spirit”–only God can. And we cannot listen to the whisperings on their behalf–only they can.

    “Letting go”, so to speak, and having confidence that our children (and other loved ones) will, in their own way and time, seek a connection with and guidance from the Divine, is hard. And it is also hard to carry the confidence that God, in His own way and time, will look out for them {and us} in the meantime, and will provide the appropriate “nudges”.

    But, for me, learning to develop that faith in God and that faith in the individuals whom I love and respect, has brought a measure of peace and even joy. And that peace and joy have been deepened from time to time as I have obseved the “tender hand” of the Shepherd work miracles in the lives of those friends and families (including me), and as we each, in “fits and starts” draw closer to that God who gives us life and hope.

  63. walkinginthewoods says:

    I appreciated Paul’s comments–

    I came from a background where the church was, indeed, more important than the children, but one of the parents was not very loving; active, yes, loving, no, and one of my siblings left and has not returned, always hurting over the lack of love and the force of “faith”.
    It was hard for me to reconcile his leaving at one time; I thought he should be able to overlook our father’s angry righteousness, but I have come to see things differently.
    In the process I discovered that becoming “converted to Christ” and being religious are not always the same things.
    Since this experience I am more careful what I think of anyone; I can sorrow for those who seem genuinely sad and hopeless in any way, but I keep remembering Elder Packer’s words about the second act. Mortality is the second act; we don’t remember the first, and we haven’t arrived at the third.
    To grieve before we see how things will end up seems premature to me now–whether it is for my brother who left the church, my father who was angrily religious (SO faithful in his priesthood duties and so condemning of his children) and my son who wasn’t able to serve a mission and has chosen to do things I would never have imagined–while still remaining “active”.
    I am so grateful I don’t have to be responsible for the choices of those around me; I am especially grateful that I now really feel that Jesus is my Savior, and not just because I am LDS–but because I am human and in need of a Savior.
    I am intensely in debt to George MacDonald and C.S. Lewis (dead British scholars) for showing me how to resolve this crisis of family and faith–

%d bloggers like this: