One of my daughters recently told my husband and I that she wasn’t sure that she believed in the church because it just felt like too many rules and lectures. My heart dropped and my mind raced. How do I keep her in the church? How do I make sure her soul isn’t lost? How do I teach her the importance of commandments? What if she strays?
Just before I was about to respond, the Lord reminded me that I’ve wrestled with that same feeling. Think, he said, remember. What were you feeling? What did you need to hear? What did you want others to know about how you felt?
“Yeah, I get it. I feel that deeply.” Yes, I really talk that way with my kids. “Do you believe in God?”
“Yeah,” she replied, slouched and looking down at her lap.
“Do you believe in Jesus, and the things he taught?”
She sat a little taller, “Yes, I do.”
“Do you believe in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith?”
She sunk lower in her chair and dropped her head again, reluctant to answer.
“It’s okay, we won’t be upset or disappointed.”
“I just don’t know. It’s hard to believe. And I really hate going to church and stuff. I just don’t understand the point.”
“Thank you for sharing that with us. Hey, we love you. And I’m super proud of you for how you go to church and seminary and Young Women’s without complaining, and how you show up there ready to serve and be a light for others. You’re really an amazing person and the way you follow Christ’s teachings is super cool to watch. Thanks for being in our family!”
We gave her great big hugs and told her we could talk again any time if she wanted to. She was visibly lighter, hugged us tight, and was smiling as she went off to bed.
When I went to bed that night I struggled with feeling worried. Here I am, always preaching that God is big and we don’t need to worry or be afraid of anything, and he’s like, “Good, let’s see how far you’ll take it. Try this one.”
How do I keep her in the church? How do I make sure her soul isn’t lost? How do I teach her the importance of commandments? What if she strays?
This is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day (John 6:39).
The Lord gave me peace. I remembered that I really do believe that God is big, and that he knows, loves, and cares for each of his children. I spent the rest of the night thinking about my own life and drawing upon my own experiences.
My mom has always been my strongest supporter. She worked a lot when I was young so we didn’t spend a ton of time together, but I always knew she was in my corner. My parents did everything they could to give me the freedom I needed to learn and grow, while also occasionally gently counseling with me when it looked like I was about to do something that might hurt me. And I mean occasionally, like I can only remember a handful of times they’ve ever felt to say anything that might be considered a course correction.
I supposed you could take the stance that their seemingly latch-key parenting was to blame for my walk-about years, but I know that it wasn’t. My mom’s love was her guide. She prayed for me. A lot. And while my parents weren’t perfect, they were perfect for me.
In fact, a few months after my mom had come out to Utah and met Shiloh she asked me if I’d tell her exactly when I met him. She had been praying for me all those years, and felt to fast for me just a few days before I met him. She was so in tune with her love for me, and her trust in the Lord. She knew from her own experiences growing up that lectures and rules don’t work, so she had to go with all she had left, her faith that the Lord loves me even more than she does.
My mom’s example of love and trust, which I’m sure felt to her like desperation at times, has been a beacon for me. When I came back to church, there was no doubt in my mind that the Lord had reached down and saved me. And it was the love of my mother that created the space for him to do that, and for me to listen.
She never chastised me, lectured me, or even mentioned anything I know she felt about what I was going through. She never asked if I was going to church, attending meetings, paying tithing, or checking any other boxes. She didn’t feel to teach me anything, because she knew I already knew. She only loved me, and treated me exactly the same as if I had never left. She knew I wasn’t truly happy, but she also somehow knew that the last thing I needed was to feel judged or unsafe. She was completely unwilling to let me feel lost.
And when I came back to the church, she didn’t say anything either. I take that back. There was one time, months after I had shared with them that I had started going back to church and met this awesome guy, that she gave me a hug and whispered in my ear, “I’m so happy that you’re happy.” That’s all she ever said. She didn’t need to say anything else but express her sincere joy for my joy, because to her I was never lost.
The space that this created for me to experience God’s love and learn for myself was absolutely critical to my journey. I really don’t think I would have ever come back so quickly without her unfailing and completely nonjudgmental love. For those who have struggled with receiving less than this, I’m sorry. Some people don’t know what to do with their fear of losing you, and they forget to trust the Lord. Have patience with them.
So, when I think about my daughter now I feel so much peace knowing that the Lord has her. My job is to make sure I don’t build walls around her heart. Whatever inspires love, wonder, and a heart-fire for life in her can be used by the Lord to help her become a being of light which surpasses all understanding. Christ is the Good Shepherd, and my job is to not kill the sheep.
And the youth these days… more of them are in that same boat than we think. The ways of the past, where rules and duty reigned supreme, are over. As we move towards the second coming of the Lord, God’s children will become more and more in tune with the spirit of gathering and love. What this looks like is usually a distaste for obligatory service and arbitrary commandments. It looks, and sounds, a lot like willful disobedience. Don’t assume that what you see with your generational eyes is really what’s happening.
The youth these days have a deep sense of Christ-like love which transcends boundaries of race, culture, nation, and gender. This sense that God is big enough to love them, and everyone else, including all of their mistakes and struggles, is creating a space for humanity to have a new relationship with the divine, one built on mutual trust and respect instead of bottom-up devotion and top-down dictation. It’s truly beautiful to witness.
When we think about the youth we shouldn’t be asking how can we get them to stay, or how to get them to understand commandments the way that we traditionally have, or even how we can save their souls. We should be asking, “How can I be a part of what they’re creating?!” They need our authentic selves, with all of the wonder and awe we used to have when we were their age. And so does the Lord.
When it mattered most, the Lord has almost always called very young people to be his leaders. The Lord knows that the youth are unspoiled by dogma, untainted by years of naturally self-preservative narratives. They are courageous, energetic, and connected. They need us to help them use all of their wonderful strengths in positive ways, through experiences of love throughout the world. As for what we perceive as weaknesses, well, we just need to trust that God sees those as strengths-in-the-making too. If we’re open to our youth being big, they will be big.
I know, that’s easier said than done. I’m writing this more for myself than anyone else. I just really, really believe it. Deep in my bones. “Kids these days” are the Lord’s battalion. Not because we are teaching them to be, but just because they came that way. Our ways of helping are sometimes hurting. We’ve got to trust that the Lord’s got this. He’s got it all figured out. Even if at times the sheep appear to be straying, they are numbered. He knows their names and they know his. He only asks that we love, with everything that we are. He’s the Good Shepherd. Feed the sheep, don’t kill the sheep.