Dear [insert name here],
I imagine you’ve heard something like this before:
I’m sure you’ve heard it all — everything up there and worse. I’m sure you’ve seen it in people’s faces as you told them you were struggling to believe and be constant. I’m sure that hearing those things doesn’t really make you want to come back any more than hearing a German Shepherd growling would make you want to climb the fence and jump back into the yard that you just got out of. I’m sorry, I really am, if I have ever been the one casting my glances your way. I’ve certainly thought some of the cliché criticisms, but I’ve tried not to say them out loud. I’m sorry for what I’ve thought though. There’s no excuse for that.
Let me share with you some thoughts that I have about you leaving.
First of all, you had faith, ooh I promise you that. The scriptures say that you must endure to the end via faith in Christ, we all know that. But there’s an important part that a lot of people miss, even me up until last week. 2 Nephi 31:19 tells you that “ye have not come thus far” — and that means however far you got —”save it were by the word of Christ with unshaken faith in him, relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.”
Unshaken faith in Christ. Yes, you. You who have not yet endured to the end (because you left the Church ad the end came while you were gone?). However far you got, it was on faith in Christ. I don’t care if anyone says you lost your faith, your faith is what brought you as far forward as you ever got, and if it was far enough to be baptized in the Church of Jesus Christ and take His name upon you, that faith brought you incredibly far. Your previous faith should not be discounted because you’ve left now.
Sin may have been part of the reason you left, I can’t discount that. There’s no need to disclose any details, but I know what it’s like to sin. It’s no fun. It is not any fun at all to feel like you can’t sit next to your family at church because you’re “unclean”. It’s not any fun to feel like a leper as you tell a 12-year-old boy in a white shirt and tie with the collar sticking up in the back that you won’t be taking the sacrament. It’s embarrassing and shameful.
In my experience, it’s supposed to be. The biggest problem with sin is that it makes you want to leave. It made me want to hide. It made me want to disappear and never reappear, or maybe just reappear somewhere else where there were less perfect people (you can read that as people who are less than perfect or less people who are perfect). You’re on your path, and I’m on mine, but I want you to know what it’s been like for me. Confessing to a terrifying bishop is the best thing I have ever done. I’m not saying all bishops are perfect, or even that every single bishop out there is great. What I can say is that all those bishops who are worthy and who keep the commandments have authority and power from God to empower you to make the changes you want to make. Maybe you don’t want to make those changes just yet. I’m not going to patronize you, but I will say that I feel better for making the changes in my life. If you look up that scripture again, it says that you got to where you were by “relying wholly upon the merits of him who is mighty to save.” You can do it. You did it before. I believe in you.
I want you to know that I was born in the Church, but I didn’t really know 100% for sure with that “burning in the bosom” testimony that the Book of Mormon was true until I was already on my mission. I’d been in the Missionary Training Center for about 6 weeks when it suddenly hit me like a sack of bricks that in a couple weeks more I would be in South America, and I did not know enough Spanish to survive more than a month. I needed a darn good reason to be there, on the other side of the world, setting aside family, college, girls, and careers for two years. I told God that I needed to know if the Book of Mormon was true or not, because if it wasn’t true, then logically, I had no reason to go. I needed to stay at home and find the truth. If it were true, however, I needed to be there in Chile and I needed to trust that God would pick up the slack. He answered in a way that is very personal to me, and I know that He can answer in a way that is personal to you. He loves you, and He wants you to know if it’s true, but He wants you to know for yourself. I invite you to ask again. I’ve been home from my mission for over two years, and I still ask if the Book is true. There’s no shame in asking again. There’s no shame in doubting. There’s no shame in not being 100% sure.
I also didn’t know if Thomas S. Monson was a prophet until halfway through my mission, but I’ll save that story for another time.
About a week ago, an acquaintance of mine decided to leave the Church (We’ll call him John Doe). He had become very involved in pagan and idolatrous rituals, declared himself an atheist, and openly supported groups whose teachings and motives were not only contrary to the Church, but went directly against the teachings of the Church. John was asked to meet with the Stake President who, according to John’s account, was less than helpful, compared John to Korihor (an anti-Christ who convinced people that there was no good and no bad, but that this life was all we had and there was no moral compass to guide us), and urged his speedy repentance.
This was the last straw for John. He’d already been considering leaving the Church, but being compared to Korihor was just too much.
Being compared to Korihor was too much, and this is exactly what gives me hope for John and anyone else who has left. There is still so much good in all of you. Korihor was a wise man, a powerful, influential, rich man who could do whatever he wanted. To some, this would be a compliment, but to John, it was still a bad thing. There’s good in him, and I’m sure there’s good in you.
We need that good. I need that good in you. When I get too caught up thinking about the “10%” aspect of tithing, I need you to remind me that it should be about giving. When I haven’t finished my home teaching, I need you to call me and ask me why I haven’t come to visit you yet. When you make the sacrifice to go to the temple, even though working a 60-hour week makes it hard, I need your example so that I can get my unemployed student butt of the couch and get there with you. I need you to teach the youth; they have a lot to learn from you. I need you to be there to help me bless my children. I need to call you when my wife is sick so you can help me give her a priesthood blessing.
I need you to remind me that the gospel’s not about what others say, it’s about Jesus, and that He died so that we can be free from our sins. I need you to remind me that He will forgive us, even if we’ve been away for a while.
I need you to come get me if I ever leave.
[insert name here], I invite you to come back. Do it or not, I want you to know that the invitation is out there for you. Come back to church, come back to Tuesday night activities, come back to the Ward Christmas Party. Just come back to something. Find me and say, “Hey, I’ve been gone for a while, but I think I want to come back. Can you help me out?”
I want you to come back, because I need you here. I need the good that you have. Can you help me out?