About 5 years ago now, I was on my mission in Ukraine.
I know what you’re thinking. “Great, another mission story. We don’t get enough of those.”
Don’t worry, this isn’t so much a story as it is an attitude. On top of that, it’s more of a “what we shouldn’t do,” rather than a “what we should do.” And it certainly doesn’t begin with “Back when I was AP…”
You see, to my missionary brain, everyone who didn’t accept the Gospel just wasn’t spiritual enough to understand the important message that we had to share. Those husbands of members, less-active members, and eternal investigators were just too stubborn to understand what they were missing out on.
In fact, I went even so far as sending a letter to my aunt who for years had been struggling to have a child. She had fallen away from the Church while I was on my mission, so my letter basically told her that God would not bless her with children if she wasn’t prepared to live the right way.
Yes. Reading that makes me cringe as well. Thank goodness my mom censored that email so it never got to her.
Today, there are thousands leaving the Church left and right. Our initial reaction is worry and panic. Of course it is. We want our friends and family to enjoy the same blessings of the Gospel that we experience.
But panicking is a man-made, worldly reaction.
Have you ever noticed that NOTHING in the scriptures describes God as someone that panics? He gets angry, He gets worried, He gets sad . . . but He never panics.
What does it mean to panic?
Go back to the seemingly endless days you spent in school. Some of you may need to really reach back there, some of you may be living it right now.
Regardless of your situation, you can probably remember the joy of the last few weeks of a semester. It’s the last chance to fix a broken grade or maintain a great grade through all the final projects and tests. It’s stressful and unpredictable. It overtakes our every thought and uses up our every second.
Maybe you can think of a time that you had no idea how to make ends meet financially? Or you lost someone close to you? Or you even found yourself in a hole spiritually that you just couldn’t ever seem to get out of?
Everyone experiences this kind of temporary panic. It’s not anxiety or a panic disorder. It’s simply a reaction to stress.
Panic is characterized by overreaction to uncertainty and pressing stress. It takes everything that is good about life and twists it into a problem that needs to be fixed.
The paper was good, but we are constantly worried about it being good enough. The path of repentance is gradual for a lot of things . . . but are we doing enough?
When we experience panic, we frantically run around trying to do everything we can to get rid of the “problem.” We have to escape; there is no other alternative. Because we don’t know what’s going to happen, it must be bad. If we could just get rid of the situation than nothing bad could happen.
The good news is that if you’re reading this right now, then you understand one important thing . . .
sometimes always make it out of these situations alive! It is NEVER as bad as we think it is.
Panic distorts the truth of the situation.
Panicking over “lost” loved ones
So the golden question. The last one we would be answering if this were a round of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
How do we panic when others leave the Church?
It comes in different shapes and forms, but almost always it has to do with our attitude of viewing the way we choose to live against the way others choose to live.
Perhaps our tendency is to boldly defend the Gospel and the blessings that come with living it. Maybe we choose to share everything we possibly can in order to persuade them to come back and stay a little longer. Worst of all, we sometimes judge the decision to leave, and view it as inferior to any choice that we make.
We panic. We do all we can to immediately remedy the situation.
Usually, nothing is inherently wrong in the way we act towards those that may choose to leave the Church . . . but when we act in a state of panic, then almost nothing positive will come from it.
Of course we want them to stay. Of course, we can be passionate about the Gospel and share it as best as we know how to. That’s not what I’m worried about.
I’m worried about our general inability to understand godly patience and longsuffering.
It is in these attributes that as members of the Church, and as representatives of Jesus Christ in our own spheres of life, that we will see the greatest and sweetest fruits of our labors.
“Given” to a few to follow Jesus
What I failed to realize on my mission is a principle that Christ tried to teach His disciples over and over, but which few fail to practically grasp.
“And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, EXCEPT IT WERE GIVEN UNTO HIM OF MY FATHER” (John 6:65, emphasis added).
Jesus had just finished teaching the people about how He is the “true bread from heaven.” He explained that not everyone will partake of His flesh and His blood. Only those whom the Father has prepared. Only those who listen to the will of the Father.
How devastating must that have been for Christ’s other disciples? Being in the very presence of the Savior, watching Him heal and feed, watching Him teach and enlighten . . . just to have “many” of His followers walk away.
There is no verse 66 that says “And Jesus ran after them, persuading and convincing in any way possible in order to keep them around. He begged and pleaded that they turn around and come back so they can one day inherit the mansions of heaven.”
He understood that God’s ways and God’s timeline are very different from our own.
And more importantly than anything else, He was willing to suffer on Gethsemane, and die on the cross for even those whom He witnessed walk away.
There was not an ounce of panic in the Son of God.
He would just love them, and sacrifice for them the best He knew how. Understanding that one day they would return. Whether in this life or the next, they may want to turn around and try to follow Him again.
And He would be there waiting with open arms when they did.
That good that comes to all of God’s children
I have a small test for you. One that may put things into a little different perspective than most of us are used to thinking.
The other day in my institute class, someone told the story of a pastor that they had the privilege of teaching on their mission. They taught him for days as he devoured the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and every General Conference talk he could get his hands on.
“So, have you prayed to know if the Book of Mormon is true and if Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God?”
“Yes. I have. I know without a doubt that this book is true. I know Joseph really is a prophet called to bring the full gospel back to the earth.”
“Will you then follow the example of Jesus Christ by being baptized by someone who holds that restored power and authority to do so?”
“I prayed about that too. No. God told me I shouldn’t be baptized.”
Pause. What are you thinking? What would you do? How would you react in this situation? I know when I first heard this story, I thought that that answer was ridiculous. My panic mode set in as I heard of this man choosing to, what I thought, walk away.
The story doesn’t end there though.
The missionaries who taught him were able to return about 5 years later to visit him. In those five years, the pastor told them that he had been teaching from the Book of Mormon ever since they taught them, and had led over 20 others to the missionaries, and many had eventually been baptized.
Did God actually tell him that he shouldn’t be baptized yet? Or was He simply inspiring Him the best He could regardless of the “wrong” decision?
Unfortunately, we don’t know the answer. Do you know what the real message is, however? The answer doesn’t matter. The end result is the same.
God didn’t panic. He didn’t throw thousands more missionaries and trials at the pastor to make sure that he was baptized. God patiently waited, loved and spoke to him.
There is no difference in the mercy God shows us when we make mistakes than to those that leave His Church.
During both instances, God patiently waits. He loves all of His children and will do His best to urge them forward, inspire them, and take care of them.
So… what do we do?
Maybe I lied. Maybe this is the real million-dollar question.
What do we do when our friends and family leave the Church?
You know the answer. You’ve been practicing it for years.
Serve them the best you can. Refrain from judging them. Invite them to activities or church when you feel it is right.
But most importantly you need to love them. They will still value your friendship and relationship. They will still love to spend time with you.
A choice to leave the Church is not a choice to leave everything that is good in the world.
They just need to go on their own path for a while. It doesn’t make them any worse of a person than you or I. It doesn’t even necessarily mean they are “wrong.” Maybe there’s something important for them to learn away from the Church.
Regardless of what their situation is, I can assure you that God is with them. Even if they ignore Him, He is there watching over them and protecting them.
Because that’s what fathers do, and He is a perfect Father.
As we move forward and come across those who choose a different path, please, please, please, don’t panic!
Pray for the faith to understand God’s plan and patience.
Then one day, we may all be reunited and look back at how our gift to choose how our lives go is exactly the thing that enables us to become perfect through Jesus Christ.