A guest post by Mette Ivie Harrison
Within Mormon culture, there is a hidden threat to the promise that families will be together forever. In the celestial kingdom only those who are fully active members of the LDS church will be invited to enjoy all the blessings of exaltation and the presence of the entire godhead.
So if a child leaves the church, either through inactivity or outright rebellion, parents are left with the belief that their “forever family” is broken—and that this is their fault. We may remind these parents repeatedly that even the prophet Lehi lost children, but many continue to feel guilt.
I understand parents and family members who wish that they remained a whole, intact family with everyone remaining a member of the church. But a part of me feels strongly that this is like wishing that your children remained babies forever. Or that your children never grew up and left home.
That is, it’s not only an impossible wish, it’s a selfish one. No family is ever going to have a homogenous level of church activity. If you congratulate yourself that your children are all active members, be aware that you may be encouraging them not to tell you their actual feelings regarding the church. They may feel pressed into agreement on every issue. Even adult children may worry that they don’t belong and that the love of their parents and other family members is conditional on certain behaviors.
My own parents have gone through two daughters who have asked to have their names removed from the records — one who did so in her twenties, one in her fifties. Both sent letters at the same time to family members, announcing that they were leaving the family, as well. I think they felt that there was no way to do one without the other, or that so many of their bad experiences with the church were connected to family that they couldn’t manage to do either one anymore.
My own second-oldest daughter left the church when she was fifteen. I have come to accept her choice and to see that she is on a path to truth, only a different path than mine. Isn’t that true with all children? She and I are very close, and we sometimes talk about her problems with the church, but often don’t. I love her and I believe she is smart and wise and good.
I don’t think she needs to be a Mormon to be righteous. I don’t know how this will all turn out in the end. I don’t know if this means our family is somehow less eternal. I don’t know if this daughter will be cut out of the celestial kingdom. For all that we Mormons think we understand what heaven is like, I don’t think that we have any idea.
And I’m fine with the not knowing.
Some questions I advise parents to ask themselves:
- Do you make comments about other parents who have lost children to inactivity or to excommunication or apostasy? What message are you sending to your own children in these comments? Are you demonstrating unconditional love?
- Is family conversation often about church topics? Are there children who seem to go silent during these times? Are you aware of the real problems these children may have with the church?
- If there is already a child who has left the church, how do you talk about this child to your other children? Do you give the impression that everything will be better once this child has inevitably returned to the fold?
- Do you spend more time talking to active children about their church callings than you do your inactive children about whatever is important in their lives?
- Please don’t wait until your children return to the church in order to enter into a fully connected relationship with them. Don’t wait for them to repent to celebrate their lives.
If your love is truly unconditional, as God’s is, love completely. If you think you can love the “sinner” and hate the sin, remember that no “sinner” feels loved in this way. They feel judged.
Mette Ivie Harrison is a nationally ranked triathlete and Mormon mother of 5, including one missionary in Texas. She is the author of six YA fantasies, including The Princess and the Hound and The Rose Throne. She also has published a memoir of her experiences in loss and triathlon called Ironmom and has an adult mystery coming out with Soho Press in December called The Bishop’s Wife. You can find her at www.metteivieharrison.com or on Twitter (@metteharrison), Facebook, and tumblr.