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Gospel Q&A: How Do I Support Family and Friends Who Have Left the Church?

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Gospel Q&A is a series from LDS Daily that strives to answer important gospel questions from readers. Today, we answer the question, “How do I support family and friends who have left the Church?”

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When we value our membership and covenants in the Lord’s church, it can be anguishing to watch the people we love cast them aside. We can feel hurt and then allow this hurt to dictate our behavior. This only drives a wedge in our relationships. Instead, here are four ways we can support our loved ones while holding firmly to the hope that they will return to the covenant path.

Maintain the Relationship

It has been said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. All your testimonies in the world will not matter if your loved one does not know you love them. Long before you preach, correct, or convince, you must love them with no ulterior motive—with love unfeigned. This means your love cannot be dependent on whether or not they return to full church activity. If your love is a trick to get them to come back, it isn’t love at all. Love them right where they are—today.

When asked how a person should approach loved ones who had left the church, President M. Russell Ballard taught, “My answer is please do not preach to them! Your family members or friends already know the Church’s teachings. They don’t need another lecture! What they need—what we all need—is love and understanding, not judging. Share your positive experiences of living the gospel. The most powerful thing you can do is share your spiritual experiences with family and friends. Also, be genuinely interested in their lives, their successes, and their challenges. Always be warm, gentle, loving, and kind.”

Pray for Them

3 Nephi 18:21 reads:

Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.

Prayers of the faithful have saved lives and freed prisoners (Acts 12:5), calmed the den of lions (Daniel 6:10), and softened the hearts of the vilest of sinners (Mosiah 27:14).

It’s not what we do when we have nothing else to do. It is our first line of defense against the adversary and the greatest strength we have. Never underestimate the power of faithful prayer.

Keep Including Them

Their lifestyle may be different from what it once was, but include and invite loved ones no matter their belief system. Assuming they are safe to be around (this applies to all people—members, not members, active, less active) make sure they know they are welcome. You don’t have to alter your standards to reflect theirs, but you are all best served if you include your loved ones in all your usual ways.

Toward that end, be inclusive in your language. “A good rule of thumb in Church discussions is to assume that no matter what you’re discussing, someone in your group has experienced it, is experiencing it, or will experience it—or they have a loved one who is going through it,” one YA Weekly article teaches us. This helps us be more understanding in the way we communicate.

Leave the Saving to Jesus Christ

Merrilee Browne Boyack writes, “My own mother fasted and prayed for years and years that her children would be faithful. One night she prayed with heartbroken tears, begging the Lord to save her loved ones…. Mother came to a great realization in that moment. She had not been trusting God. She had been so afraid, so desperate, that she had not had faith that God knew her children well and loved them dearly and that He will save them if they will allow it. This understanding allowed her to focus on being their mom and lay the burden of “saving” at the Savior’s feet where it belonged.”

We should share and testify when moved upon by the Spirit to do so, but most importantly, we should be the mother, father, sister, aunt, brother, and friend we are intended to be and exercise faith that Christ is doing what He was called to do.

It can be heartbreaking to see your loved ones choose to separate themselves from the covenant path. Remember, however, that though they may wander, they are not lost to God, and their story is not over.

Let Christlike love be your guide star and you can’t go wrong.

Disclaimer: While all of my answers will use scriptures and/or words of modern prophets, I do not represent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I don’t believe any of my answers are comprehensive. I’m just one person using the gospel I have been blessed with to bring hope, peace, and answers to other seekers of truth.

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Rebecca Wright
Rebecca Wright
Becca loves audiobooks, dark chocolate, singing, hiking, walking,  going out with her husband, and raising their chickens and children. She still wants to meet her hero Sheri Dew, see flowing lava and a blue whale in person, and uplift others with her words.

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