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by Elder Brent H. Nielson
What is a prodigal? I decided to look this word up. The word Prodigal can be used as an adjective- as in "THE PRODIGAL SON" to mean spending money or resources freely and recklessly; wasteful extravagance. It can also be used as a noun to refer to a person who leaves home and behaves recklessly, but later makes a repentant return.
Most of this talk is a beautiful story about Elder Nielson's sister, Susan. He tells how Susan became disenchanted with the Church and the events that led her to come back. His story illustrates and teaches us what we can do and how we can respond when a family member or someone close to us loses his or her way.
Here's what I learned:
1. Lovingly let them make their own choices, but not without them knowing and feeling your sincere love for them.
"Please note that in the Savior's parable (Luke 15) the father lovingly responds by giving the son his inheritance. Certainly the Father must have done everything he could to convince the son to stay. However, once the adult son makes his choice, the wise father lets him go."
2. Never stop loving or caring for them.
"Susan had made her choice, and we had to figuratively let her go, but not without her knowing and feeling our sincere love for her."
Several years ago, when my oldest son became 'lost', the whole situation was so heart-breaking and frustrating. I was so mad and angry at my child for going against everything he knew to be right and all that he had been taught. I was at a total loss for what to do. A friend of mine gave me John Lund's talk "How to Hug a Teenage Porcupine." In his talk, he makes the suggestion to give our love to our child and our frustrations to God. This has made a huge difference. I stopped getting mad at my child, and instead I kneel down in my room and tell God how mad and frustrated I am with him. Once I get out all my frustrations, I set to work loving him more- baking him his favorite cookies, writing him a love note, etc. I'll admit that sometimes this is hard for me to do this, but I've seen the difference love makes.
3. Pray for them and place their name often on the temple prayer roll.
4. Never Lose Hope- trust in Heavenly Father's plan for them.
"My mother never stopped loving and caring for Susan. Every time my mother attended the temple, she placed Susan's name on the prayer role and never lot hope."
"We love, watched, and we waited."
5. Continue to reach out to them; invite them to family events and parties.
6. Continually try your hardest to reach out and keep in touch with them.
"My older brother and his wife, who lived closest to Susan in California, invited her to all family events. They prepared dinner in their home each year on Susan's birthday. They made sure they were always in touch with her and that she knew of their genuine love for her."
"We tried diligently to create family events so that Susan and her children could be with us and they would know that we loved them and that they were part of our family."
7. Reach out to their family and friends.
"My younger brother and his wife reached out to Susan's children in Utah and cared for them and loved them. They made sure that her children were always invited to family gatherings, and when it came time for Susan's granddaughters to be baptized, my brother was there to perform the ordinance."
8. Support them in the things that you can.
"As Susan received an advanced degree at a California university, we were all there to support her at her graduation. Although we could not embrace all of her choices, we could certainly embrace her."
9. Listen for and Obey Promptings
10. Don't Judge- We all fall short.
At the closing of his talk, Elder Nielson shares with us the most important lesson the Lord taught him during this process with his sister. He tells about reading the story of the Prodigal Son in the scriptures with his family and having the realization that "in some ways I was the prodigal son. All of us fall short of the glory of the Father (see Romans 3:23). All of us need the Savior's Atonement to heal us. All of us are lost and need to be found. This revelation that day helped me to know that my sister and I both needed the Savior's love and His Atonement. Susan and I were actually on the same path back home."