The journey back

For some people in the Church, the longest trip is the one from their home to the door of their ward or branch meetinghouse. They are the members who have slipped into inactivity, or who never became truly active in the affairs of the Church. They should know that the Church is filled with people who were once as they are, and who made that trip. It can be a surprisingly easy journey.

It's not difficult to drift into inactivity. Hundreds of reasons cause it. A change in a work schedule can make it difficult to attend meetings, a move to another town can leave people wondering where the ward is, a chance remark may discourage someone. Society offers many enticing diversions.So it's easy to skip first one meeting, then another. And then, unexpectedly, they are truly less-active. After awhile, many begin to worry about coming back. Will they be accepted as they once were? Will they know anybody, and how will they pick up on things that others seem to know?

For all those questions there are reassuring answers. The first is that they won't be loved any less. They have Christ's word for that. Luke's 15th chapter contains three great parables touching this. As it opens, Christ is criticized by the Pharisees and scribes because He received so many sinners and ate with them. In reply, He tells about the man who had a hundred sheep and lost one in the wilderness. What man, He asked, wouldn't leave the 99 and go after that which was lost? And having found it, he would call his friends and neighbors and tell them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost."

To make the point more clear, He spoke of a woman who lost one of her 10 coins. She lit a candle and swept the house, seeking diligently until she found it. She called her friends and neighbors together, saying, "Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth."

And finally, Christ related the great parable of the Prodigal Son, one of the most beloved stories in all literature.

The story, of course, is known to all of us. A man had two sons. The younger wanted his inheritance early; receiving it, he left home for a far country where he wasted his substance in riotous living. A famine came and he found himself in servitude, feeding swine and starving. When he came to himself, related Jesus, he realized that his father's servants lived better than he did, and he resolved to return home and be a servant, not a son, in his father's home. To his astonishment, the father ran to greet him, brushed aside his confession that he was not worthy, and instead clothed him in the best robe, put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet and offered a fatted calf to celebrate his son's return.

When the elder son protested because he had never been shown such elaborate gratitude, the father said, "It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found."

Hearing this, nobody should doubt that they will be accepted joyfully into the fold if they have stayed away too long for whatever reason. The Church is full of kind hearts and generous spirits, the real essentials that anyone can bring with him into activity.

President David O. McKay found lessons for members in these parables. The sheep, he said, wandered away from negligence, not necessarily from rebellion, seeking better pastures. True success, he said, involves keeping in touch with the organization in which you can serve your fellow man, in which you can live to your best level. The coin wasn't responsible for being lost. Someone entrusted with it mislaid or dropped it. Similarly, members of the Church are placed in situations that make us to responsible others.

As for the Prodigal Son, President McKay said, his was a deliberate choice by someone intent on indulging his appetites. "In such cases there is little we can do but warn and plead until the recreant . . . `comes to himself.' " The obvious lesson is that "indulgence does not strengthen youth or manhood, restraint and self-control do." (Gospel Ideals, pp. 220-221.)

In any event, those who want to come back into activity within the Church shouldn't hesitate because of embarrassment or a concern that they won't be welcome.

President Ezra Taft Benson told a regional representatives seminar on April 3, 1987: "The principles to activate souls do not change. The lost or less-active must be found and contacted. Loving concern must be demonstrated. They must feel of our love. They must be taught the gospel. They must feel the power of the Holy Ghost through the teachers. They must be included in our fellowship. They must have meaningful Church responsibilities . . . . They must be welcomed with open arms."

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