In October 2018, Elder Holland spoke on The Ministry of Reconciliation. In his address, he told the story of a father who had turned away from the Church after an interaction with a priesthood leader. Elder Holland recounted:
“Grant Morrell Bowen was a hardworking, devoted husband and father who, like many who made their living on the land, had an economic downturn when the local potato crop was poor. He and his wife, Norma, took other employment, eventually moved to another city, and started their climb back to economic stability. However, in a terribly unfortunate incident, Brother Bowen was deeply hurt when, in a temple recommend interview, the bishop was a little skeptical regarding Morrell’s declaration that he was a full tithe payer.
“I don’t know which of these men had the more accurate facts that day, but I do know Sister Bowen walked out of that interview with her temple recommend renewed, while Brother Bowen walked out with an anger that would take him away from the Church for 15 years.
“Regardless of who was right about the tithing, evidently both Morrell and the bishop forgot the Savior’s injunction to “agree with thine adversary quickly” and Paul’s counsel to “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” The fact is they didn’t agree and the sun did go down on Brother Bowen’s wrath for days, then weeks, then years.” (emphasis added)
Thankfully, Brother Bowen felt the urge to return after he was confronted by his children. Elder Holland continues:
“Brad [Brother Bowen’s Son] and his sister Pam asked for a private moment with their father. ‘You have been a wonderful dad,’ Brad began with some emotion, ‘and we have always known how much you loved us. But something is wrong, and it has been for a long time. Because you were hurt once, this whole family has been hurting for years. We are broken, and you are the only one who can fix us. Please, please, after all this time, can you find it in your heart to lay aside that unfortunate incident with that bishop and again lead this family in the gospel as you once did?'”(emphasis added)
Elder Holland editorialized:
“Surely each of us could cite an endless array of old scars and sorrows and painful memories that this very moment still corrode the peace in someone’s heart or family or neighborhood. Whether we have caused that pain or been the recipient of the pain, those wounds need to be healed so that life can be as rewarding as God intended it to be.” (emphasis added)
Arrays of Old Scars
It seems such a ludicrous thing, to let “old scars and sorrows and painful memories” keep us from the blessings God wants to give us, but it happens every day and in every ward in the Church. Let me share two examples from my own experience.
When I was a teenager, I was my father’s home teaching companion. We were assigned to visit an elderly couple, Hank* and Edna*. They had been inactive for more than two decades. They still lived at home, but Edna’s health had so declined that she was no longer able to attend church services. Hank, on the other hand, declined to attend for entirely different reasons.
Years earlier, in the Bay Area of California, Hank had been an active member of his ward. A skilled tradesman, he’d assisted with a painting project at the local meetinghouse. Afterward, a misunderstanding led to Hank’s bishop insinuating that Hank had stolen unused paint. (This, of course, we understood from Hank’s account of the disagreement.) One thing must have led to another, and Hank stepped away from activity in the Church for more than a quarter of a century. He allowed our visits, but discussions about the Church routinely turned bitter and angry as Hank re-lived, almost verbatim each time, the angst and resentment from that fateful accusation. Whatever the truth was, that offense had kept him and Edna from enjoying the blessings of the restored gospel in their lives, blessings they (like all of us) desperately needed.
I’ve lost contact with him, but I hope that he didn’t end his life with that bitterness intact. “What might have been” is a heartbreaking thought when I think about those many years lost, but even with that dark cloud there is a sweetness when someone returns to the Savior.
Just this week I reached out to a sister in my ward named Sandra*. I don’t quite understand the phenomenon myself, but I hear from those close to Sandra that she basically considers herself active despite not attending church. When I reached out to her, she expressed hesitation in meeting me – “There’s too much gossip in the ward.”
Worried I might have unknowingly contributed in some way, I asked if this was gossip I’d been a part of. She told me, no, it was a past priesthood leader who’d made some kind of accusation in a disagreement between Sandra and a son or daughter. She suggested this wasn’t an isolated case either, and that there had been “similar incidents.” Anticipating my comments, she added, “I realize that people, and leaders, are imperfect, but this is different” (emphasis added). Whatever those incidents were, they’ve affected her since before I graduated from high school over 15 years ago. I don’t know what her road to inactivity has looked like during that time, but she’s largely reached the end of it now, participating less and less. (I hadn’t met her once since moving into the ward four years ago.)
My heart hurts for men and women like this, not only because of the pain they’ve experienced, but because they’ve used that pain to further deprive themselves of invaluable blessings, eternal blessings. The influence of the Holy Ghost? Diminished, at best. The strength of covenant keeping? Dried up. Sustaining faith? Long since expired, for as President Eyring has taught, “great faith has a short shelf life.” All that to say nothing of eternity itself. In that regard, I say, as did President Nelson, “Thankfully, I am not this man’s judge. But I do question the efficacy of [past covenants] for a [person] who had the opportunity to [keep covenants] while here in mortality—but who made the conscious decision to reject that course.”
To those who have been offended by a past slight – I appreciate you are hurt, but is it worth it?
Choosing to Be Offended
Elder Bednar asked a similar question many years ago in the address And Nothing Shall Offend Them, where he outlined one of his practices when going to visit those “commonly…described as ‘less active’.”
“And at some point early in our conversation, I often would ask a question like this: “Will you please help us understand why you are not actively participating in the blessings and programs of the Church?”
“I made hundreds and hundreds of such visits. Each individual, each family, each home, and each answer was different. Over the years, however, I detected a common theme in many of the answers to my questions. Frequently responses like these were given:
“Several years ago a man said something in Sunday School that offended me, and I have not been back since.”
“No one in this branch greeted or reached out to me. I felt like an outsider. I was hurt by the unfriendliness of this branch.”
“I did not agree with the counsel the bishop gave me. I will not step foot in that building again as long as he is serving in that position.”
“Many other causes of offense were cited—from doctrinal differences among adults to taunting, teasing, and excluding by youth. But the recurring theme was: “I was offended by …”
“The bishop and I would listen intently and sincerely. One of us might next ask about their conversion to and testimony of the restored gospel. As we talked, eyes often were moist with tears as these good people recalled the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost and described their prior spiritual experiences. Most of the “less-active” people I have ever visited had a discernible and tender testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. However, they were not presently participating in Church activities and meetings.
“And then I would say something like this. “Let me make sure I understand what has happened to you. Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament. You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple. You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow. And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.” Many times people would think for a moment and then respond: “I have never thought about it that way.”
“The bishop and I would then extend an invitation: Dear friend, we are here today to counsel you that the time to stop being offended is now. Not only do we need you, but you need the blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Please come back—now.‘” (emphasis added)
Elder Bednar added,
“To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.” (emphasis added)
This talk struck me. I was serving a mission at the time, assigned to be the district leader of my district, and I took Elder Bednar’s second invitation – to share his talk with those who might not be participating because of offense – to heart and built a training around it for the other missionaries. It was particularly applicable in our district; one sister missionary companionship was then focusing almost exclusively on reactivating inactive members. That’s an interesting, if defensible, choice for those serving full-time missions, and I thought that as long as that was where they were focusing their work, they might as well be effective doing it.
In the middle of that training, one of the sisters serving in our district abruptly stood up and left the room. She stayed away for a few minutes before returning, clearly emotional. I learned that her own mother was not active in the Church, but had left for reasons similar to those identified by Elder Bednar. She had chosen her offense over “the ordinance of the sacrament, ….the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost, …priesthood ordinances and the holy temple, …[the] opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow,” consequently “leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.” She had chosen her offense over all of those blessings of the restored gospel, and her daughter felt it.
No Man is an Island
You may decide your offense is more important to you than the blessings of the Restored Gospel, but never forget the impact you have on others, particularly if you believe the Gospel is true.
Just like this sweet sister and her mother, just like Hank and Edna, just like Sandra and her husband and children, just like Brother Bowen and his wife and children, and just like countless others, there are people who care about you and depend on you for spiritual strength. There are people who love you and will miss you in the eternities.
The seventeenth-century poet John Donne wrote,
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
It’s not just a continent you are part of, but a great chain. President Gordon B. Hickley told a group of BYU students of a thought that came to his mind as he sat in the temple with his daughter, his granddaughter, and some of his grandchildren. He said:
“In the summer we lived on a farm. We had a little old tractor. There was a dead tree I wished to pull. I fastened one end of a chain to the tractor and the other end to the tree. As the tractor began to move, the tree shook a little, and then the chain broke.
“I looked at that broken link and wondered how it could have given way. I went to the hardware store and bought a repair link. I put it together again, but it was an awkward and ugly connection. The chain was never, never the same.
“As I sat in the celestial room of the temple pondering these things, I said to myself, “Never permit yourself to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.” It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and, if you please, faith and virtue untarnished to the generations who will come after us.” (emphasis added)
If you have stepped away over an offense, come back. Do whatever is required to reconcile, and allow the Savior to heal your wounds so that you may enjoy the eternal blessings of the Restored Gospel. Do it for yourself, and do it for the generational chain that preceded you and will follow you.
*You knew exactly what this asterisk was going to say, so why did you even scroll down here in the first place?
- “And Nothing Shall Offend Them” -Elder David A. Bednar, October 2006
- “The Greatest Among You” – President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, April 2017
- “Be a Strong Link” -Elder David B. Haight, October 2000