“Why do you talk so much these days about the problems you and Dad used to have?” queried the teen daughter.
Mom sighed. “Because it hurts so much to think about the good times we had that are now gone.”
Dad had left the family (and the Church), leaving behind a scrap heap of sadness, confusion, and anger. Mom dealt with the pain by rewriting the history of the relationship with unhappiness as the theme.
At the same time that Mom was editing the joy out of her marriage story, estranged Dad was using a parallel process in describing his relationship with his daughter. Even though he and she had been the best of friends for years, he told her that over the years he had spent so much time at work because he was tired of his family.
His statement broke her heart. She had always thought that he spent time at work because he loved his work—but that he really wanted to be with his family. In contrast to her dad’s revised version of their life together, she had a lifetime of evidence that he had often enjoyed his family.
Her dad had often taken his daughter with him when he traveled on high council assignments. Along the way he shared with her the glorious things he had learned at BYU and in a lifetime of Church service. Sometimes Dad sat behind his daughter while they watched TV and brushed her hair. He teased her about the rats’ nests.
What’s a daughter to do with all the pain when the father she has loved and admired leaves the family and the Church? The answer is a surprise.
The Roots of Despair
I used to wonder whether Moroni was being harsh and unsympathetic when he suggested that despair comes because of iniquity (see Moroni 10:22). Is he heaping blame on the heads of the depressed and burdened?
No. I think he is saying that troubles should activate faith. When we feel burdened, we should “cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save” (Alma 34:18). The failure to let Him help us is indeed iniquity. Or, as the Lord says, “they who are not chosen have sinned a very grievous sin, in that they are walking in darkness at noon-day” (D&C 95:6). His help is abundantly available but we prefer to tough it out on our own. We end up in despair.
Turning It Over to God
How does all this apply to a young woman who has lost her best-friend dad? The natural man is inclined to scold, berate, and chastise the errant dad. Not only does that not help, but it is also presumptuous of us. When did God give us the right to abuse each other? When did God invite us to repent others rather than ourselves?
The Lord has a better way. Note His challenge and invitation:
Behold, I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God. I came unto mine own, and mine own received me not.
I am the light which shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not (D&C 10:57–58).
The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not; nevertheless, the day shall come when you shall comprehend even God, being quickened in him and by him.
Then shall ye know that ye have seen me, that I am, and that I am the true light that is in you, and that you are in me; otherwise ye could not abound (D&C 88:49–50).
The Lord’s way is not just a little better than the natural man’s way. It is as different as noon sunlight from midnight darkness.
Going toward the Light
The first thing that faith invites us to embrace is the reality of goodness. Since this life is like being dropped into the foulest part of the barnyard, we should recognize that the foul odors and awful muck are not a true measure of the person covered with them. In fact, the best we have ever seen a person—when the muck is washed away—is probably the truest measure of the man.
So the dad who is ignoring covenants and shutting out his family is not the real dad. The real dad is the one who combed his daughter’s hair and shared his testimony in little branches all over the stake. The real man is the one who testified on rural highways of God’s goodness and inestimable redemption.
A vision of each others’ best moments is exactly what we should cherish, remember, and celebrate. We should not allow the moments when we slip into the muck to eclipse the eternal vision of what we really are.
I think Alma taught us something similar. I think he teaches us in the great parable of the seed that those views that swell our souls, enlighten our understandings, and cause our minds to expand, are those that are most real (see Alma 32:35–36).
Modestly embedded in a simple parable is the answer Alma found to philosophy’s imponderable question: “What is real?” He teaches us that what is light is real. The lightest, brightest, best views we have of each other are the truest. They should be honored with our remembrance. Dad can be remembered for his finest moments, sweetest goodness, and truest love.
But What is to be Done?
The exercise of faith begins our healing by replacing our tired views of each other with holier measures of character. The best is the truest.
But, what is to be done? How do we save those who have strayed? God’s timeless message shows the path:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you (Matthew 5:44).
God asks us to represent Him as messengers of hope and harbingers of redemption. Isn’t it wonderfully ironic and appropriate when those who have blessed our lives have need of our service? We are invited to return the favor.
We sustain the parents who sustained us. We encourage the friends who once encouraged us. We honor the spouse who at one time honored us. Even when they resent and resist us, we love them, bless them, and pray for them.
I Have Dreamed a Dream
Lehi introduced his vision of the tree of life by saying that “I have dreamed a dream; or, in other words, I have seen a vision” (1 Nephi 8:2). The vision of God’s purposes can be a hopeful one. I have imagined that those people we have loved who have strayed from the path may be ministered to in both mortality and the spirit world by throngs of well-wishers.
I have no right to declare doctrine, but in my heart I see a vision of ancestors reaching out to that wayward dad with words of invitation: “Come back and be refreshed by love and truth.”
I also imagine every priesthood bearer in the long history of this world joining the throng inviting the wayward back: “We are under covenant with you. Please come back. We want you with us. You are a part of us. Come back.”
I enjoy the vision entrusted to us in the book of Moses (chapter 7) in which we see God weeping for those wicked children who are suffering for their wickedness. He wants us safely back with Him under the protection of honored covenants. We are, after all, written on the palms of His hands (Isaiah 49:16). We are His children.
Let’s see if we can amend a scripture to open our minds to God’s purposes:
And again I would exhort you that ye would come unto Christ,
[Trust Him with your worries, concerns, and burdens] and lay hold upon every good gift, [from the comfort that I offer in trying times to the charity I grant for strugglers] and touch not the evil gift, nor the unclean thing [and set aside the evil interpretations of life and people that Satan offers constantly] (Moroni 10:30).
Instead of asking the question of those who are wandering in the wilderness— “Why are you not the person I wished you would be?”—substitute questions that lead to healing and hope: “How can I honor the good memories and connections I shared with this person?” “How can I turn to God to find peace in my soul?” “How can I offer light in this situation and share the vision of God’s purposes?”
Perhaps this vision of God’s relentless redemptiveness and ruthless loving kindness feels unreal and unbalanced to you. For me, it feels like a vision of the heart of heaven. It destroys despair and it sends me to my knees in awestruck gratitude. It fills me with light. And I believe that light is the measure of truth.
I think we should never tire of holding out love and hope to those who appear lost. Heaven wants them and we can join in heaven’s cause.