Counted among the many popular courses at the recent BYU Campus Education Week was Larry W. Barkdull’s four-day series on rescuing wayward souls.
It’s no surprise so many participants were drawn to Brother Barkdull’s classes. Like the prodigal son’s patient father, almost everyone has a loved one (a child, a spouse, a dear friend, even a parent) that has wandered from the gospel’s safe and secure path.
“It’s pandemic — it touches everybody in the Church,” said Brother Barkdull, a Utah author and businessman.
Each of his 55-minute sessions focused on elements key to rescuing wayward souls — including the importance of personal sanctification, following the Lord’s rescue patterns and harnessing the lifesaving powers of the priesthood.
Some participants attended each of Brother Barkdull’s four sessions. Others, perhaps one or two. But each session offered a common message for folks who grieve for a loved one who has strayed: First, there is always hope. And, second, there is much a person can do to help a wayward soul by following the Lord’s pattern of personal sanctification.
“You can’t take away another’s agency, but you can align yourself with a plan of personal sanctification that is already in place,” he said.
Brother Barkdull said Jesus Christ established that pattern of personal sanctification through His actions leading up to the Garden of Gethsemane and the Atonement. The Savior was obedient to the commandments. He had demonstrated charity and served others. He was prayerful and observed the law of the fast. And He had renewed His own covenants by partaking of the sacrament.
Those who grieve for a wayward soul can invoke blessings — for themselves and for others — by following Christ’s pattern of sanctification.
Brother Barkdull said much could be learned from Father Alma, who faithfully followed the Lord’s divine pattern of personal sanctification by fasting and praying for his wayward son, serving others and following the commandments.
Father Alma loved his son unconditionally without giving unconditional support to his sinful actions. He could not remove Alma the Younger’s agency, but he could ask God to provide his son with opportunities that could bring about change.
In the end, the Lord intervened and Alma the Younger was forever changed.
“The Lord had the ability to reach out and rescue Alma, and within [about] eight years he was the president of the Church,” said Brother Barkdull.
Christ’s parables recorded in Luke 15 reveal other key truths in rescuing wayward souls. Sometimes we can play an active role, as illustrated in the parables of the lost sheep and the lost piece of silver. Other times, we must follow the example of the patient and prayerful father who waited for his prodigal son to come “to himself” and return to righteousness.
No matter how far a loved one has wandered, he or she can return, assured Brother Barkdull. They remain spiritually tethered to God, to parents and to covenants they have made. “There is always that tug pulling them back,” he said.