Behind this question lies the fundamental issue of agency. Sometimes when our loved ones stray from the gospel and the family, we feel so concerned that we may want to pressure or even force them to return. But this is not only impossible; it is contrary to the Lord’s plan.
When we try to compel someone to return to the gospel path, we are using the exact strategy Lucifer proposed in the premortal world to “redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost” (Moses 4:1). Agency may seem like a difficult principle because it allows for bad choices and for grief and pain. But forced obedience can never build a godlike character; only obedience freely chosen can lead to eternal life.
Understanding the need for agency, however, does not mean there is nothing we can do to try to bring back a lost brother or sister. The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son suggest there is much we can do (see Luke 15). First and always, we must love those who stray. We must love them enough to serve them selflessly and to reach out to them even when they withdraw from us. Selfless acts of love given freely can build bridges between straying souls and other family members. Sometimes, like the prodigal son, those who have turned away from the gospel and their families eventually wish for a way back, but they don’t know quite how to go about it. If you are patient and nonjudgmental, your love can be a bridge.
Don’t be afraid to bear your testimony, but don’t bear it in a condescending or accusing way. Be sensitive to the Spirit, and when appropriate share your feelings about the gospel, the Church, and your family. Show through your actions and attitude that living the gospel makes you happy.
Sometimes, though, a brother or sister may reject anything you say about the gospel. At these times all you can do is love him or her and make it clear that the choice not to go to church isn’t a choice not to be involved with the family. Try to include your brother or sister in family activities that would make him or her feel welcome and valued. Remember that your brother or sister is a child of God and that Heavenly Father is doing everything He can to bring all of His children back into His presence.
Instruments in His Hands
“All of us have family members or friends who need the gospel but are not now interested. To be effective, our efforts with them must be directed by the Lord so that we act in the way and at the time when they will be most receptive. We must pray for the Lord’s help and directions so we can be instruments in His hands for one who is now ready—one He would have us help today. Then, we must be alert to hear and heed the promptings of His Spirit in how we proceed.”
Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Sharing the Gospel,” Liahona, Jan. 2002, 8.
The first thing I would advise you to do is to pray for guidance. I would also advise you to get closer to your brother and earn his trust. He may tell you why he is not going to church. Then you can help him.
David C. Vallejo, 16,
Choloma Ward, Fesitranh Honduras Stake
You could tell your brother how you feel about his distance from the family. You might also try to talk to him about familiar subjects. If you leave the doors of communication open and help him feel loved and welcome, he may come back to the family and the Church.
Christine Whatcott, 15,
Salem Fourth Ward, Salem Utah Stake
Try to plan family activities your brother would enjoy. Take every opportunity to show him how much you love him. Pray for guidance, and ask Heavenly Father to soften your brother’s heart.
Bill Younkin, 17,
Huntington Beach Ninth Ward, Huntington Beach California North Stake
You cannot force anyone to go to church, but you can fast and pray for your brother. You can talk about the gospel and remind him that he is someone very special—a child of God. It might also help him if you share your testimony. You can do these things, but it is up to him to decide what he will do.
Madeleine Wahle, 13,
Dortmund Ward, Dortmund Germany Stake
My brother isolated himself from us. Before I tried to win his friendship, I prayed for support in this great battle. Then I made a gift for him and wrote a letter telling him how much I love him and how great a love Jesus Christ has for him.
Oscar L. Mackay López, 16,
Las Colinas Branch, San Isidro Panama Stake
Perhaps your brother is confused about who he wants to be and thinks he is satisfied with what he is doing, even though he is searching. The best thing for you to do is pray diligently and search for answers in the scriptures. Then show him how much you care. Try to spend time with him. Do good deeds for him. Even if he rejects your kindness, never give up. The Lord will bless you for your diligence.
Stephanie O’Brien, 18,
Wichita Falls Ward, Lawton Oklahoma Stake
Plan activities that will catch your brother’s attention, and encourage him to participate. Introduce him to Church members his age. When he starts feeling at ease with your family and the Church, tell him how much you enjoy being a member and how blessed you are.
Pamela Kay M. Gica, 18,
Pateros Second Ward, Pasig Philippines Stake
I used to be the brother who withdrew from the family. My sisters’ examples of service, love, and charity were some of the many ways they showed me what I was missing. Tell your brother you love and miss him. Those words are powerful from any family member.
Elder Franco B. Ciammachilli, 20,
South Africa Cape Town Mission
For more than six years I isolated myself from my family. I thought my friends were more interesting, and going to church was not in my plans. Finally the missionaries taught me about goals I could set, about how to grow closer to my family, and most of all about God. They helped me understand that I have great importance in God’s eyes.
Sister Samantha Seiko, 23,
Fiji Suva Mission
I know what it is like to have a family member isolate himself and not go to church anymore. The way to respond is with pure love, just as Christ loves each of us. You can reach out by sharing your testimony and telling him you love him. Pray for your family members and yourself to have the strength to love and forgive.
Alyssa Hansen, 17,
Ridgefield Ward, Vancouver Washington West Stake
The principal way to help someone like your brother who is not helping himself is to fast and pray for him. And the best scripture for someone who does not read the scriptures is your example. Ask leaders and friends who care about your brother for help. Sometimes a person outside the situation can see something your troubles do not allow you to see.
Guerta Zwirtes, 20,
Vitória Ward, Vitória Brazil Stake