Following a church meeting, I was approached by a father whose only son had gone from being a promising, obedient youth to engaging in rebellion and sin in young manhood through the influence of friends.
Tenderly, the father recalled the son’s youth; the boy had been quiet, happy, and a hard worker on the family farm. It had always been the boy’s intention to honor the priesthood, including serving a mission. He had faithfully saved his money toward that goal. But the money was all gone now, along with his good intentions—washed away by a flood of drugs, alcohol, and immorality.
The faithful mother and father had tried every possible way to help their wayward son—loving, teaching, cajoling, praying, soliciting the help of priesthood leaders. But the son defiantly refused to listen or obey. “It’s my life!” he stormed at them. “I’ll do what I want. I’m the only one who gets hurt.” His response seemed like the foolish attitude of some of the children of Adam and Eve, our first parents, who carefully taught their children gospel truths, “[making] all things known unto their sons and their daughters.
The distraught, desperate father who had sought me out told of climbing a wooded hill and kneeling to pour out a grieving heart to Heavenly Father, asking why his son could not see the damage he was doing to himself and others. “Can’t he see his mother’s anguish or understand our pain?” he had asked. “Please, Heavenly Father, help our precious son in his moment of critical need.”
“What can we do?” this father asked me, tears sliding down his cheeks. “Has he gone too far to come back? Is there hope for him?”
The words of an angel directed to another rebellious son, Alma the Younger, came to my mind: “Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers … of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth” (Mosiah 27:14). I assured the grieving father before me that his prayers had surely been heard, too, and that after he had done all he could do, there were some things that he must leave in the hands of a loving Heavenly Father. I told him that to the faithful all things are indeed possible and that he must continue in hope, never giving up.
We spoke of another father—that same Alma once confronted by the angel—who suffered because of the wickedness of one of his sons. Alma faced the distress of having his son, Corianton, forsake his mission to the Zoramites to follow “after the harlot Isabel” (Alma 39:3). This moral failing influenced the Zoramites to reject the gospel message, “for when they saw your conduct,” Alma told his son, “they would not believe in my words” (Alma 39:11).
The situation provided one of the greatest father-son teaching moments ever recorded. Alma focused on key doctrines concerning repentance. He exhorted Corianton to recognize his sin: “Acknowledge your faults and that wrong which ye have done” (Alma 39:13). He taught his son that “wickedness never was happiness” (Alma 41:10) and that the things which we make part of our lives in mortality will inevitably be part of our characters in the resurrection (see Alma 41:13–15). Alma taught that because of justice, “the law inflicteth the punishment” (Alma 42:22) unless “mercy claimeth the penitent” (Alma 42:23) through the great atonement of the Savior, Jesus Christ. The prophet admonished his son to remember the mercy of God “and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (Alma 42:30).
The Book of Mormon seems to indicate that Alma’s wayward son followed his father’s lovingly given counsel, repenting and returning to the mission field (see Alma 42:31; Alma 43:1–2; Alma 49:30). This inspiring story from the scriptures should give great hope, as well as doctrinal direction, to every parent and child in the Church.
It is important to remember that results like this were not confined to ancient times and are not limited to the children of prophets. As I visited with the father who sought me out, I told him of a boy I knew who had slipped into his own abyss and then found the way out through repentance.
This boy had been sent, at great sacrifice by his parents, to a university to acquire an education. He went with little aspiration or desire to succeed, seeking instead to “have a good time.” Shortly after he arrived, he became involved in a case of petty theft, “just for the excitement,” he said later. He was caught and put on probation. But when his search for good times exhausted the limited resources provided by his parents, he tried in desperation to steal a large sum of money—and was caught again. This time he went to the state penitentiary.
His bishop, knowing that I would be traveling in the vicinity of the prison, asked if I would visit the young man. I took a member of the stake high council with me. The large gate swung shut behind us, a guard searched us carefully, and then we were ushered into a small concrete building where those from the outside were allowed to spend time visiting with inmates.
I had in my mind a picture of a hardened criminal—mean, surly, dangerous, someone to be feared. Then the door opened, and one of the most handsome young men I had ever seen stepped into the room—neat, clean-shaven, hair nicely combed. He smiled at me in recognition and offered his hand in greeting. “President, what are you doing here? You have probably never seen me, but I heard you speak once at a stake conference,” he explained. Then he asked earnestly, “How is my family?”
After I reassured him about his parents, we talked about him: how soon he would be released and how he was being treated. He seemed in good spirits and cheerful despite the bleak surroundings. As we visited, I asked him if he had really done all the things he was accused of. His reply was prompt and direct: “Yes, and more. I deserve all of this.” The motion of his hand took in the confining room and its surroundings. “I have lost nearly everything—my self-respect, my friends, the confidence of my family—almost everything.” His chin quivered, and his face became anguished. He broke down crying. Sobs shook his body, and I held him in my arms just as I would have my own son.
When he regained his composure, we continued our visit. It proved to be a marvelous moment to teach him; he was humble and eager to learn. We talked about faith, repentance, and the divine mission of our Savior, Jesus Christ. I reminded the young man that Christ gave his own sweet life in holy sacrifice as payment for the sins of those who repent and obey. The Spirit touched each of us during those moments together. My young friend was contrite, filled with hope and a greater understanding of God’s love.
On the morning of his release from prison, a loving father and mother embraced their son and welcomed him to a new life. They visited at our home. The son was repentant and eager to start anew. He expressed his great love for the Savior and his gratitude for the opportunity to progress through blessings offered in the Church. I assured him of my respect, my confidence, and my love for him.
Over a period of several years, I received occasional telephone calls from him advising me of his progress. He was doing well; there were still difficulties and obstacles to overcome, but his progress was steady. The call that touched me most was the one in which he told me that he would be taking a young woman to the house of the Lord to be married. He had come full circle, from wickedness and despair to righteousness and joy. The Spirit of the Lord had led him to the Living Waters, and he had drunk deeply.
After hearing of this young man’s transformation, the father who had sought me out in anguish went away with renewed hope that one day his son would be touched by the Spirit to repent and return to the peace, happiness, and security found only in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Gratefully, the man expressed abiding faith in a loving, merciful Heavenly Father with whom all things are possible.
The examples mentioned here might reflect the soul-cry of thousands who suffer over the unrighteous behavior of loved ones. Many of these who mourn have come to the end of hope; in despair, they have given up.
Certainly there is no promise that all men and women will take advantage of the Lord’s plan for happiness, but we should never give up on someone who is in need of change. There is always room for hope.
It is absolutely essential that people embrace the saving principles of the gospel if they are to enter the presence of the Lord pure and clean. The catalyst which moves them to embrace these principles is always love—unconditional, unfeigned, felt to the very core by the giver and the receiver. It is the kind of love shown not by what people say, but by what they do. This kind of love has the power to melt the hardest heart, to create a change in the most vile sinner, to bring men and women to their knees in humble worship.
That is why fathers and mothers everywhere who weep for their disobedient children can always find hope. It is within their power to offer this deep, continuing love to the wayward ones. And after all else, they can rely on faith in “him who is mighty to save” (2 Ne. 31:19), who loved their children enough that he gave his own life as a sacrifice to redeem them.