In this final session, this Sunday afternoon, I am hopeful that somewhere there may be listening—even out of curiosity—a few of those who once were close to the Church, but who, for one reason or another, have drifted away. It is to these that I would like to speak, with an earnest prayer that I may do so by the power of the Holy Spirit.
First, let me read portions of a letter recently sent to Temple Square. It began, “Dear Sirs:
“I am not of the Mormon religion.
“I have never believed in God or Jesus Christ. I have never understood how to love a spirit that I don’t know. When I was baptized, I accepted Christ because I have always been told that if I wasn’t saved, I would go to hell. Being ‘saved’ has always been thrown at me. I haven’t gone to church in a very long time because I was always being pushed into something I didn’t, and still don’t, quite understand.
“[Someone] showed me a pamphlet, ‘Man’s Search for Happiness,’ and explained what it said. I opened my eyes then, because through the Mormon religion God made sense to me. …
“A ‘small voice’ inside of me told me to search for God. Before, it didn’t make any difference to me if God was there, or not. Now it does.
“Who is God? Why is God? Why does he need or want me? Why am I here? Why am I so lost? So very, very lost? There are thousands of questions in my head that I want so badly to fulfill with answers. And since I have no place to go, or I don’t know how to start searching, I’m asking you to give me some understanding of Him and the Mormon religion. Please help me find my way. Listen to my cry for help and give me sensible answers. Pamphlets, letters, notes, cards, anything, please.
“Thank you so much.”
I am satisfied that there are thousands across the world who in their loneliness and hunger for truth are crying out for help, as is the writer of that letter. And in addition to these there is another group who are members of the Church in name, but who have left, and who now in their hearts long to return, but do not know how and are too timid to try. They, too, in moments of quiet reflection, ask, “Why am I here? Why am I so lost? Please, please help me find my way.”
As I think of them I think also of one of the most beautiful stories ever told. May I recount it in the language of Him who first spoke it?
“A certain man had two sons:
“And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.
“And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.
“And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.
“And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.
“And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.
“And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
“I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,
“And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
“And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
“But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put his ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:
“And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:
“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11–24.)
To you, my brethren and sisters, who have taken your spiritual inheritance and left, and now find an emptiness in your lives, the way is open for your return.
Note the words of the parable of the Prodigal Son: “And when he came to himself.”
Have you not also reflected on your condition and circumstances, and longed to return?
The boy in the parable wanted only to be a servant in his father’s house, but his father, seeing him afar off, ran to meet him and kissed him, put a robe on his back, a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet, and had a feast prepared for him.
So it will be with you. If you will take the first timid step to return, you will find open arms to greet you and warm friends to make you welcome.
I think I know why some of you left. You were offended by a thoughtless individual who injured you, and you mistook his actions as representative of the Church. Or you may have moved from an area where you were known to an area where you were largely alone, and there grew up with only little knowledge of the Church.
Or you may have been drawn to other company or habits which you felt were incompatible with association in the Church. Or you may have felt yourself wiser in the wisdom of the world than those of your Church associates, and with some air of disdain, withdrawn yourself from their company.
I am not here to dwell on the reasons. I hope you will not. Put the past behind you. Said the prophet Isaiah in another age, with words that fit our own:
“Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;
“Learn to do well. …
“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord; though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.
“If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land.” (Isa. 1:16–19.)
This, my beloved friends, is what the gospel is all about—to make bad men good and good men better, as President McKay was wont to say. There is a process of change, a procedure in the Church by which even those who have sinned seriously may come back.
Do not let pride stand in your way. If that is a problem, there is a story from the Old Testament I should like to give you:
Naaman was captain of the host of the king of Syria, a great man, “a mighty man in valour, but he was a leper.” And Naaman’s wife had a little maid, a daughter of Israel, who said to her mistress: “Would God my lord [Naaman] were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy.”
When Naaman heard this he prepared rich gifts and a letter to the king of Israel. But the king, learning of the reason for Naaman’s coming, was frightened, for he had not the power to cleanse the leper. Then Elisha the prophet sent word to the king that he would deal with the captain.
“So Naaman came with his horses and with his chariot, and stood at the door of the house of Elisha.”
But Elisha did not even so much as go out to greet the captain. He sent a messenger to Naaman saying, “Go and wash in Jordan seven times, and thy flesh shall come again to thee, and thou shalt be clean.”
Naaman was insulted that he should be told to wash in Jordan when there were cleaner streams in his own land, and “he turned and went away in a rage.”
But his servants pleaded with him to do as Elisha had suggested. The proud captain finally relented, and the scripture records, “Then went he down, and dipped himself seven times in Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God: and his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.” (See 2 Kgs. 5:1–14.)
And so I repeat, do not let pride stand in your way. The way of the gospel is a simple way. Some of the requirements may appear to you as elementary and unnecessary. Do not spurn them. Humble yourselves and walk in obedience. I promise that the results that follow will be marvelous to behold and satisfying to experience.
Where do you begin? How do you get in touch? In every unit of the Church throughout the world there are two men who have been given responsibility for you. If you do not know them, call the bishop of the ward in which you live, or write a letter to the Church. There will come to you those who can help without embarrassment. In kindness and love and appreciation they will show you the way, and take you by the hand and walk with you.
Try it. There is everything to gain and nothing to lose. Come back, my friends. There is more of peace to be found in the Church than you have known in a long while. There are many whose friendship you will come to enjoy. There is reading to be done, instruction to be received, discussions in which to participate that will stretch your minds and feed your spirits.
The quiet longings of your heart will be fulfilled. The emptiness you have known for so long will be replaced with a fulness of joy.
I have a friend like you. More than forty years ago we were in the mission field together. In the years that followed he went off to war. In his loneliness he picked up with careless companions. He married out of the Church. He followed habits which had made him feel he would not be welcomed. He moved from one part of the country to another. His identity was lost.
One Sunday I found myself in a California city for a stake conference. My name and picture had been in the local newspaper. The phone rang at the stake center as the stake president and I entered the building that morning. The call was for me, and the caller identified himself. He wanted to see me. I excused myself from the meeting I was to have held early that morning and asked the stake president to carry on with it. I had something more important to do.
He came, this friend of mine, timidly and somewhat fearfully. He had been away for a long time. We embraced as brothers long separated. At first the conversation was awkward, but it soon warmed as we discussed together days spent in England many years ago. There were tears in the eyes of this strong man as he spoke of the Church of which he had once been so effective a part, and then told of the long, empty years that had followed. He dwelt upon them as a man speaks of nightmares. When he had described those wasted years, we talked of his returning. He thought it would be difficult, that it would be embarrassing, but he agreed to try.
I had a letter from him not long ago. He said, “I’m back. I’m back, and how wonderful it feels to be home again.”
And so to you, my friends, who, like him, long to return but are reluctant to take the first step, try. Let us meet you where you now stand, and take you by the hand and help you. I promise you it will feel good to be home again.
I bear you my witness that this is the work of the Lord. It is the kingdom of God in the earth. It bears the name of the Only Begotten of the Father. Here you will find happiness, and strength, and a reassuring peace you have not known for a long while, the peace that passeth all understanding. God bless you to try, I pray, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.