A long time ago a good friend saved my life. No, my physical life was not in danger, although I have no doubt he would have jumped in to save me if I were drowning or otherwise threatened. I was in danger of slipping away from church because of life’s circumstances. Gratefully, my friend stepped in to save me.
When I returned from my mission, I immersed myself in getting an education. I chose a vocational path and became a computer programmer. Anxious to get out into the world, I jumped at a couple of opportunities to practice my trade just as soon as I completed enough computer programming classes to make a living.
While going to school, I worked two part-time jobs as a computer operator at two different local businesses. When I graduated, I took on yet another part-time job as a computer programmer at one of the companies. So for the better part of a year, I worked three part-time jobs that left me little time for socializing or anything else.
Life forces us to make decisions
So there’s the situation – I’m busy during the week putting my new computer programming skills to work and then working the weekend graveyard shift as a computer operator. The weekend shift was twelve hours at a time. I did not get home until 7am Sunday morning and had to leave for work again at 5pm that night.
Can you see the problem? This was the year the new three-hour block schedule started and our ward met at 11am. I just couldn’t see a way to get the rest I felt I needed, get to church for my meetings and then get back to work all within twelve hours. So I chose to sleep as soon as I got home from work on Sunday morning.
When I woke up in the early afternoon, church was over and I had just a couple of hours to do anything else I needed to do before leaving again for work. I never felt good about my decision, but rationalized it by telling myself that I was saving up money to get married, buy a home and start a family – all desirable goals, right?
It’s so easy to go inactive
Right about this time, I moved out of my parent’s home and into an apartment with another returned missionary. He helped me keep in touch with friends in church and did everything in his power to get me to go out with him to ward Young Adult social activities. Because I worked so many hours, I was tired and often declined.
As long as I worked that extra weekend shift Mike was patient and understanding. Later that year I dropped all three part-time jobs to take on a new career in retail computer sales. I became the store manager for one of the newest Apple Computer stores in Southern California. Mike was then all over me to come back to church.
I now had no excuse but found it so difficult to go back. You see, I had gotten out of the habit. Not only did I not attend church, I also did not read the scriptures or pray on a regular basis. It was so easy to say to myself that I was too busy. As you can imagine I also did not pay my tithing, and let my temple recommend expire.
Results of church inactivity
In less than two years after having been a fired-up zone leader while serving as a missionary in Central America, I was now an inactive member of the church. How quickly things can change without intending them to do so. I did not plan on going inactive. I did not wake up one day and say, “That’s it – no more church for me.”
Carol has an analogy that she used while on her mission to teach investigators and new members about the importance of regular church attendance. When a hot coal is in the midst of a fire, surrounded by other live coals, it is on fire. If it gets moved onto the hearth and sits by itself, it soon grows cold and develops a film of ash.
Likewise, when we are actively involved in the church, attending our meetings and accepting callings, we have a tendency to remain fired up in the gospel. It is easier to keep a testimony strong while bearing it to others at church. Our desire to pray and to obey the commandments is strengthened while associating with the saints.
The call to repentance
Mike would not take no for an answer. I wrote in my journal about an occasion where we were talking after he returned from a trip to Utah to attend General Conference. He was excitedly telling me all about what he had seen and heard when he suddenly became very quiet and still. He then did something wonderful.
In a way that only two priesthood bearers who have spent two years of their lives testifying to the truths of the gospel can do, he looked me in the eye and bore his witness to me that the Lord needed me to serve in His church. What’s more, he reached into my heart and testified that I needed to return to church that Sunday.
I could not resist the power of that testimony. The spirit came into my heart and I expressed back to him that I knew he had spoken the truth and that he did it as a servant of the Lord. He had called me to repentance. My heart was softened and tears were shed. I told him that I would be in church that next Sunday and I was.
The hard road back to church
Mike must have planned something with the bishop because as soon as I showed up in church that Sunday, a counselor in the Bishopric called me into his office and asked me to serve as the assistant to Mike as the ward young adult representative. I started to attend planning meetings for the Young Adult activities for our ward.
It was not easy to return to full activity. I had been gone for almost a year. I still did not make it back to church every Sunday. In fact, you couldn’t say I was a fully active member again until almost a year later when I had received my temple recommend and accepted a new calling to teach the Elder’s quorum each Sunday.
Paying tithing became a habit again as did scripture reading, prayer, regular fasting and full participation in the temple. I found myself smiling and happy again and did not even realize that I had been gone. I felt like my old self and was excited to start dating LDS girls again just as my bride to be returned from her own mission.
Summary and conclusion
I will be forever grateful to my friend Mike who later became the best man at my wedding. He did something for me that changed my life and saved my soul. He called me to repentance. He acted on behalf of the Lord and helped me feel the spirit of the Holy Ghost again in great abundance, which I hadn’t felt in awhile.
You might say I was lucky. Not everyone has a friend like I had who was willing to reach out in love and speak on behalf of the Lord to my soul. It wasn’t luck. It was evidence to me of the tender mercies of the Lord. I would hope and pray that anyone who has left the church has someone come after them to bring them back.
Of course the Lord will not force anyone to rejoin his kingdom on the earth. He will always honor our agency. He does not love us any less if we choose to remain outside the fire, alone and cold on the hearth. But I shudder to think of what I would have missed had I not come in from the cold when invited in love to do so.