Returning


“The only thing I had to give my father on his birthday was the news that I had been excommunicated from the Church.”

Not long ago, as I prepared a lesson on the priesthood and its ordinances, I thought about the many times I had listened to a similar lesson. I wanted to add something to that lesson that would be helpful to my quorum, so I decided to share with them how it feels to lose the priesthood and to struggle to get it back.

I wanted them to realize that it is a serious mistake to believe that one must gain valuable experience by “trying everything for himself.” I wanted to help them understand that it is much better never to pay the terrible price I have paid.

As a young man, I committed a serious sin, a sin for which I knew excommunication would follow just as surely as I knew the sun would rise the next day. But I had convinced myself that no price was too great to pay for “true love,” and I was sure that this love would justify me in the end.

Later, I knew that I must go to my priesthood leader and tell him the heavy secret that weighed down my mind and soul. Just as I had known, this loving man immediately took the steps necessary to excommunicate me from the Church. He did so with all the love and compassion of an understanding, gentle man who knew what must be done.

The reality and pain of my excommunication did not hit me until I returned to my family’s home with the news. I was sullen as I sought the right words to tell my father that the only thing I had to give him on his birthday was the news that I had been excommunicated from the Church he had loved and served so faithfully all his life.

For the next several months, time seemed to stand still for me; it seemed as though my life was a continual nightmare. No one seemed to understand my situation. There was no organization or group to support me or offer understanding. My life lost all direction and meaning. I was listless, tossed like a ship without sails, rudder, or anchor. Because I lost sight of all my former goals, my feelings were almost totally dead.

After spending some time at home, I met my childhood sweetheart and we began dating. Several months later we were married, but only after a very bad courtship. Because I had no priesthood, we could not enter the temple to be married, so we settled for a civil wedding. From the beginning our relationship was unstable.

I realized that attending church was a necessary part of the repentance process I had committed myself to, but I found it an almost overwhelmingly painful experience. Over and over again I reminded myself of my condition. Many times unknowing friends called on me to say a prayer or answer a question about the lesson and I knew that the only thing I was allowed to say was, “I’m sorry—I can’t.” In many ways I was reminded of my serious transgression.

As painful as these and other situations were, I was able to bear all but one. Each week as the sacrament was blessed and passed, in my heart I grieved and wept and prayed. But, because of my transgression and excommunication, I could not seal the holy baptismal contract by partaking of the sacrament. I had broken my contract. I longed to be one with the Lord and to be freed from my mountain of guilt.

Years earlier I had experienced the powers of Satan and his followers. Now I soon learned with great clarity the divine power contained in the righteous exercise of the priesthood. I could no longer exert this power to ward off these evil influences. Over the next several months, I called on my father many times to bless both me and my house and to cast out the darkness.

Later, my wife gave birth to our first child, a son. This was a major turning point for us. How lonely I felt as I watched my son being blessed, unable to speak or participate in that special ordinance. I also felt that his birth added a big financial burden and that this angered me. I became bitter, accusing God of adding more trials to my life than I could bear. I withdrew totally from the Church and the light of the gospel.

The next several years were total misery. As more children came, they were blessed by their grandfather. Refusing to let this hurt so much any longer, I became numb inside. Gone were the yearnings to rejoin the Church—or so I said. Gradually I slipped into more sin, each time in effect crying louder to the Lord and to my family, “See! I don’t need the Church!” The louder I yelled, the more I knew inside that I was wrong. In public I gloried in the disgrace and the hurt I was inflicting on my family, hoping this would justify me and stop my feelings of guilt. Throughout the entire experience I knew in my heart the truth. Perhaps that’s why I fought so hard. The more guilty I felt, the more deeply involved I became in sinful acts. Always I was trying to show the world that I was in charge of my life. I didn’t need anyone else.

Eventually, completely worn down from the internal conflicts, my wife had no choice but to leave me. This made me happy, I thought—freedom at last! The next two weeks were the loneliest of my life. I had no other true friends, and I would not seek comfort at my parents’ home.

Finally I was able to acknowledge that my family meant more to me than anything else. I yearned for my wife to come back. Though many problems remained, we agreed to reunite. I began removing myself from sinful associations and situations. But I still had no real desire to rejoin the Church—this desire came only gradually.

When my first daughter was born, I realized that I must make a decision. With three children I knew that I could no longer go on living for just today; I had to make a choice and live by it. For months my soul was in conflict. I wanted to choose the right, but I also wanted to be sure that my choice was not based on ulterior motives. I felt I couldn’t return just to make my wife, children, and parents happy. I knew that real happiness for all of us would come only if I actually regained a testimony of my own.

After much prayer and study and struggle, I began to feel a small spark inside me that brought with it memories of earlier spiritual experiences that I could no longer deny. The feeling slowly grew. And finally I felt that the Lord still loved me, even though I had been excommunicated. There was hope! I felt I was moving again!

However, knowing I was on the right path didn’t make anything easier. In fact, for a while, the harder I worked the worse things got. I struggled with great tests and hardships. It seemed that when a blessing was near, my life would start to come apart again and I would start to feel despair once more.

But I held on, and, true to his promise, Heavenly Father poured out a blessing. After much effort and great help and support from friends and leaders in the Church, I was able to reenter the waters of baptism. What joy I felt!

But the tests did not stop there. For the next year and a half I worked hard to prepare myself to receive the priesthood. My desire for restitution had returned in full. I was glad to be a member once again, but I longed for full fellowship. My struggle finally ended when I received a call from a General Authority asking me to bring my family and meet with him. With great anticipation, fears, and joy, my family and I drove to that memorable meeting. The children were excited because they were going to see an apostle of the Lord. I was thrilled at the thought of being able to bless the child my wife was expecting.

After a thorough and loving interview, this kind man of God asked my wife to join us, and then he placed his hands on my head and made me a whole man. He “restored me wholly as I was before with all the rights and powers of the priesthood.” My wife and I wept.

Then the Apostle turned to my wife and asked her if she would like a blessing. After she said yes, he turned to me and told me that the only way I would know that my priesthood was restored would be for me to use it. He asked me to bless my wife and offered to stand with me. During the next few minutes, I learned more about the priesthood than I could ever have learned from reading volumes of books.

The battle is not over. Some of my most severe challenges have raised their heads since that day, and many more will come, but I now can call upon the Holy Ghost to guide me.

I have been able to bless my second daughter and have exercised my priesthood in many other ways. My wife and I are now preparing for one of the most important days of our lives—the day we take our children dressed in white into the holy room of the temple to be sealed for time and all eternity.

My greatest regret is that I rejected these blessings years ago; the price I have paid to regain them has been a terrible one. I am so grateful to be back, but oh! how much wiser I would have been never to have strayed.

[photos] Photos by Steve Bunderson

[photo] Photo of Salt Lake Temple by George Oates