I have been thinking about some of the young people (youth men, young women, and young adults) in the church who have voluntarily decided to become “less active” in the Gospel of Jesus Christ; and, who for some cause or another have withdrawn themselves from us, or from the church. At the same time, I wonder: “What key elements would most effectively keep our children and young adults interested and committed to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and ultimately on the Covenant Path?” Clearly, a strong and united family is an important and foundational advantage. Of course, this is a goal we should all strive for. However, too often even the best families will experience some painful disappointment. So, with deep sorrow and introspection of my own, I ask: What other key elements can effectively strengthen our youth?
Recently, I viewed a General Conference Leadership broadcast of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The broadcast was entitled: “Spiritual Experiences are Key.” The panel members included four Apostles, three other General Authority youth leaders, and a moderator. They shared many observations, insightful ideas, and principles concerning strengthening the youth in the Church. Notably, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland referred to the results of a major church study (from the late 1980s) on this subject. He noted that the key elements identified in that study are still relevant today and “…haven’t changed in three decades.” In addition to the value of a strong united family, Elder Holland said the study found “Private Religious Experiences” are also key.
According to Elder Holland, key factors that help keep our youth active in the Gospel are: “They prayed, they studied, and they had spiritual experiences on their own. And, they had a significant adult example in their lives …a parent or some significant adult …that made them reach up.”
So, not surprising, the study found the key elements for keeping our youth active in the Gospel and in church activity are these:
- A strong united family unit.
- Personal prayer and scripture study.
- Personal spiritual experiences. And,
- A significant and positive adult example in their lives.
This is good information to know. And I suppose you might think “the findings from the study were obvious!” I suppose that would be right! I can see the wisdom. Frankly, these findings have been known, understood, and taught for many years. Looking back, I wish I had done a better job myself. In fact, if I had an opportunity to raise my children again, I would certainly strive more earnestly to diligently and faithfully follow, apply, and teach these principles to my children. Hindsight is “20/20!”
However, what can we do after our children are out of the home? What can we do when they begin to have children of their own? Of course, we should encourage them to apply these same principles in their homes. And many of them will do just that. But like us, they will also experience challenges and temptations in their homes. They will face some of the same issues we have faced. Plus, in today’s digital world, they will contend with social media, the Internet, online gaming, instant gratification, and numerous other intervening variables that compete for their attention. And we, as parents and grandparents, will have limited control over them and their homes. Ultimately, we know they have their own moral agency.
What then do we do about those who have moved on, out of our homes, and who may have strayed away from the Gospel? Even if we were perfect parents who taught and followed these key parenting principles closely, some of our children may still stray from the Gospel path. What then? Do we just give up on them and hope they will come back? No, we do not give up on them. Never! As responsible adults themselves, some of our children may choose to move on, even after we as parents have done our best in the home. No one is perfect! Certainly not us; and certainly not our children. But parenting should not end there. Although we may become less involved overtime, parents still carry a lifelong moral commitment to their children. “We are never released from being a parent.”
Now, if you have “less active” children, please do not agonize excessively over what you think were your failings (or theirs). Instead, continue always to love them and make sure they know you love them, regardless of their situation! We may not approve of their decisions and actions, but we can still love them as our children and as individuals. Like many others, I have personally experience the heartbreaking feelings of a child distancing himself from the Gospel. I have also felt the joy of his “coming to himself” (Luke 15:17) and returning to full fellowship with the saints. So, be patient and forgiving. Try very hard not to be critical. Stridently avoid sarcasm and harsh criticism. That is NOT the right reaction to their behavior. It will only push them away. We must “…labor long and unceasingly, with patience, and forgiveness, and prayerful determination.” And, never give up on them! Love them and be an example of a true Disciple of Jesus Christ. Remember, our Heavenly Father knows us, He knows our struggles, and He still loves us. Like Him, we too should continue to love and encourage our children.
In time, like the prodigal son (Luke 15:17-18), our wayward children may “come to themselves” and return. After all, we are all on this same journey together trying to follow the Doctrine of Christ and the Doctrine of the Great Plan of Salvation. Life is a learning journey; and by nature, our children are good!
“The patient, untiring, prayerful labors we devote to our young people who need help, and to those generally who for some cause or another have withdrawn themselves from us, often return to reward us in unspeakable joy and satisfaction in the years to come. May we labor long and unceasingly, with patience, and forgiveness, and prayerful determination among all such who need our help!” President Heber J. Grant
Note: If you’d like to watch an inspired and encouraging video concerning challenges in this life and Hope in the future, please click and watch the video below and listen to comments from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.
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