Lost Sheep: Blessing the Wayward and Struggling

Mormon Church Children

Since the beginning of time there have been those who have lost their way through poor choices, not paying attention, failing to participate, neglecting their duties, apathy, ignoring their family and friends, spurning their leaders and teachers, by being offended or taking offense when none was intended, getting in adverse situations that could lead to trouble, yielding to temptation and all of the devil’s snares, stumbling because of misunderstanding or lack of knowledge, willfully going against God’s commandments, loving the world and Satan more than God, a hardened heart, a blinded mind, and a deaf ear to the things of the Lord, all forms and expressions of pride, greed and selfishness including the seeking of power, the list goes on and on. These people separate themselves from Heavenly Father, our Savior, and the Holy Spirit, and often their precious families—and become lost. Our duty is to find and feed the sheep (see John 21:15–17) and especially to seek after the lost sheep (see Luke 15).

 “So when they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs. He saith to him again the second time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? He saith unto him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee. He saith unto him, Feed my sheep. He saith unto him the third time, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he said unto him the third time, Lovest thou me? And he said unto him, Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee. Jesus saith unto him, Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17).

Prior to the Savior’s ascension, His last instructions were to feed His lambs and His sheep. When the Savior was giving these instructions to Peter, He was using the highest form of love called agape or agapao, which refers to perfect, godlike, unconditional, and unfailing love (see The Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, Samuel Bagster and Sons Ltd, Basingstoke, Hants, UK,1987, p. 460). Peter responded with a form of love called philia, which refers to brotherly, friendly or reciprocating love, which is not fully adequate in order to truly feed the Lord’s sheep—hence the Lord inquires of Peter three times. The lesson and application seem to be that in order to truly feed the Lord’s sheep we must love with the pure love of Christ, which will never fail, for Christ and charity never fail.  

 “What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” (Luke 15:4–7).

Each and every soul is precious to our Heavenly Father and our Savior as it should be to us. Every effort needs to be made to find and reclaim, through love, our brothers and sisters who have strayed (see Matthew 18:14).

“That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it” (1 Corinthians 12:25–26).

Paul, the Apostle, describes the body of Christ as being “one” and how each member is an important part (see 1 Corinthians 12:12–24). Verses 25–26 emphasize the oneness and unity that our Savior seeks for us in His Kingdom. We should not be separated in the body of Christ, but rather we should care for each other, and when one is suffering or struggling, we too suffer and sorrow because of our true love for their well-being and likewise rejoice when there is cause to rejoice.

“Why does Christ welcome back those who have been lost? Why does he call upon us to go out into the wilderness of the world to find and bring back those in whom the fire of faith has grown cold? The answer is both simple and profound. He does so because he loves us, seeing in each eternal worth as the sons and daughters of God” (Alexander B. Morrison, “Fire Where Once Were Ashes,” Ensign, Aug. 1990,7).

Parents of wayward children should remember eight helpful thoughts

“First, such a father or mother is not alone. Our first parents knew the pain and suffering of seeing some of their children reject the teachings of eternal life. Centuries later Jacob came to know of the jealousy and ill feelings of his older sons toward his beloved Joseph. . . . Our Father in Heaven has also lost many of his spirit children to the world; he knows the feelings of your heart.

“Second, we should remember that errors of judgment are generally less serious than errors of intent.

“Third, even if there was a mistake made with full knowledge and understanding, there is the principle of repentance for release and comfort . . . correct or rectify the consequences, to whatever extent possible. We should look forward with renewed faith.

“Fourth, don’t give up hope for a boy or a girl who has strayed. Many who have appeared to be completely lost have returned. We must be prayerful and, if possible, let our children know of our love and concern.

“Fifth, remember that ours was not the only influence that contributed to the actions of our children, whether those actions were good or bad.

“Sixth, know that our Heavenly Father will recognize the love and the sacrifice, the worry and the concern, even though our great effort has been unsuccessful. Parents’ hearts are ofttimes broken, yet they must realize that the ultimate responsibility lies with the child after parents have taught correct principles.

“Seventh, whatever the sorrow, whatever the concern, whatever the pain and anguish, look for a way to turn it to beneficial use—perhaps in helping others to avoid the same problems, or perhaps by developing a greater insight into the feelings of others who are struggling in a similar way. Surely we will have a deeper understanding of the love of our Heavenly Father when, through prayer, we finally come to know that he understands and wants us to look forward.

“The eighth and final point of reminder is that everyone is different. . . . Each child is unique. . . . each child is blessed with his own special set of characteristics. We must not assume that the Lord will judge the success of one in precisely the same way as another. . . . We should be careful in our judgments” (Howard W. Hunter, The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, edited by Clyde J. Williams [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1997], 148).

Here are some ideas to consider as we strive to bless and serve those who are lost, wayward, or struggling:

1. Love everyone.

  • The pure love of Christ is necessary in order to love with a perfect unfailing love.
  • Find those who are lost.
  • Understand their situation. Each person comes with different perceptions and challenges.
  • Be careful not to judge.
  • Determine and clarify their needs.
  • Seek counsel and strength from the Lord and the Spirit. Seek direction through prayer. Remember, God is always there to help us and strengthen us in all things.

2. Seek to strengthen their faith in Christ. The Savior is their rock. Let us do all we can to increase their faith in Him (see Luke 17:5) so that their faith might become perfect in Him. This helps them become spiritually sufficient in the Lord.

  • One-on-one contact can be very effective.
  • Never give up, never give in. Patience and time are our allies.

 “Let the father and mother . . . take a righteous course, and strive with all their might never to do a wrong, but to do good all their lives; if they have one child or one hundred children, if they conduct themselves towards them as they should, binding them to the Lord by their faith and prayers, I care not where those children go, they are bound up to their parents by an everlasting tie, and no power of earth or hell can separate them from their parents in eternity; they will return again to the fountain from whence they sprang” (Brigham Young, quoted in Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, comp. Bruce R. McConkie, 3 vols. [1954-56], 2:90–91).

 “The measure of our success as parents . . . will not rest solely on how our children turn out. That judgment would be just only if we could raise our families in a perfectly moral environment, and that now is not possible.

“It is not uncommon for responsible parents to lose one of their children, for a time, to influences over which they have no control. They agonize over rebellious sons or daughters. They are puzzled over why they are so helpless when they have tried so hard to do what they should.

“It is my conviction that those wicked influences one day will be overruled. . . .

(Boyd K. Packer, “Our Moral Environment,” Ensign, May 1992, 68).

Souls are precious. Each is a divine child of God. There can be no limit to our effort and desire to help everyone return to the presence of our Heavenly Father. This is our Savior’s goal: to redeem all of God’s children. We are the under-shepherds to find and bless those who have lost their way. This mission becomes our work and our glory, and we should never lose faith or hope in this endeavor.

This article has been adapted from What We Need to Know and Do, by Ed J. Pinegar and Richard J. Allen.

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