Almost five years ago, we moved to a new ward. I was called as the class president in our ward’s young women organization. Among the first few assignments I had, was to list down all of the young women under my responsibility. On the list, thirteen names were written and most of them were unfamiliar to me. I recognized only six names, including myself. I remember someone hovering behind me, and sliding her fingers down the unfamiliar names, “those are our less-active friends.”
I couldn’t help but feel an urgent desire to know who these girls were, and bring them back. Having never been less active myself, I wondered a lot. What words could I say, to help convince them to return? What phrases did they really need to hear?
I’ve asked some of my friends who have been less active at some time in their lives. These are the phrases they feel they needed to hear at the time, when they, like the Prodigal son, took their spiritual inheritance and left.
1. “Hey! How have you been?”
When someone asks me how I have been, it instantly puts a smile not only on my face, but on my heart. It means that the person who asked is interested and wants to know simply how I am. It works the same for everyone, I realized, especially our less-active friends who might’ve lost the feeling that somebody genuinely wants to see how they are. Bringing that feeling back just by asking this simple question soften and touch the hearts of those around you.
2. “Is everything okay with you? You know you can always tell me.”
If you aren’t already, become their shoulder to lean on. Ask them the cause of their choice to step away from the church. Never let them feel that their feelings are not justified, but instead reason with them that there is everything to gain and nothing to lose by returning back to church.
Peter once asked Jesus Christ, “To whom shall we go?” If we choose to “walk no more” with Him, where would we go? It cannot always be seen at the beginning, but when someone chooses to walk away, it puts them at odds with their faith. We can become instruments of the Lord in bringing souls back to Him through simply lifting each other up.
3. “Don’t forget to come, it wouldn’t be fun without you!”
We have many opportunities to reach out to those who have chosen not to attend church, and one is including them in church activities. Visiting our less-active friends and inviting them to go to church events is a great way to let them know that we want them to be involved, and that it would be fun to have them around. As Elder Dieter F. Utchdorf reasoned, “love is really spelt t-i-m-e.” Spending time with people and creating bonds with them harbours feelings of love and care among the people who put effort into doing it.
4. “We need you, and know that you’re never alone.”
“In this church, there are no strangers or outcasts. Only brothers and sisters.” This counsel from Bishop Gerald Causse can be a driving force toward strengthening the church community. With the youth, most of their reasons for drifting away from the church revolve around feeling like they’re strangers, outcasts or alone. As members of the church, we have the responsibility and choice to help our less-active friends feel otherwise, that we are truly brothers and sisters. Consistently make that choice, and it will surely make a difference in someone’s life.
As Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson has invited us, we should “not only love each other more, but love each other better.”
5.“Heavenly Father loves you. He is always waiting for your return.”
Most importantly, let them be reminded of just how much Heavenly Father loves them. No matter how much the opposition tries to convince them otherwise, the doors are open for their return and He is always waiting. His love will be enough, if we become His hands and help our prodigal friends feel it through our effort, sincerity and time.
Ultimately, our words are just words if they are said without love and sincerity. The people I asked had one answer in common: No matter how beautiful or sweet the words you say, it will ultimately be what they feel through your words that will convince them of your genuine love for them.
As President Thomas S. Monson counseled, “Ours is the sacred privilege to brighten, to touch, to save those precious souls entrusted to our care.” May we always choose to exercise that privilege.