As a parent we sometimes mourn for our children who deviate from the gospel path. We agonize over their obvious weaknesses and frailties, and we lament when their behavior takes on the appearance of ugly and unspeakable sins. We hold up the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet (don't get me started), and we wonder who this alien child is living under our roof. We long for their innocence and purity to be restored.
Sometimes, even when we are adults, married with children of our own, our even-older parents deviate and stray from their covenants. We agonize over their choices, we wish we could live their lives for them, and we wonder how they could have taught us the principles of the gospel so clearly then seemingly forsaken everything they once stood for.
Over the years I have participated in many disciplinary councils. I have never seen anyone subject themselves to that process who was thrilled to be there. Invariably, there are expressions of guilt and remorse, humility and sincere desires to begin afresh. Often people will express that they almost couldn't believe it was them who committed the sins, like they were actually having an "out of body" experience of some kind. When they came to their senses, of course, they knew they had to seek repentance, first from those they had wronged, then priesthood leaders in some serious cases, then the Lord, and finally themselves.
In all of these unhappy circumstances (and I have witnessed many), there has always been hope. I have come to the conclusion that Heavenly Father, knowing much more about the details of the sins of His children than we, does not wander around his celestial courts above wringing His hands and agonizing over the details. Instead, He knows His children, and He knows who they may become. He continues to feel after them with love unfeigned, and He exercises divine patience and long-suffering. Why can He do this? Because He has already made provision in the sacrifice of His Only Begotten Son for all the sins of the world.
In the scriptures we have a useful definition for "the world." It is defined nicely in this verse from the JST: "What is the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world, or the destruction of the wicked, which is the end of the world?" (Joseph Smith-Matthew 4).
I love another verse that underscores this meaning: "He doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world, for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation." (2 Nephi 26:24). Said in the positive: He commands everyone everywhere that they shall partake of his salvation.
The world will judge Christ to be a thing of naught. (1 Nephi 19:9). Who is the world? People.
The Lord will punish the world for evil. (Isaiah 13:11). Who does evil? People.
The Lord will show the world he is the same yesterday, today, and forever. (2 Nephi 27:23). Who will He show? People.
Christ is the light and life of the world. (Mosiah 16:9; Alma 38:9; 3 Nephi 9:18; 11:11; Ether 4:12; D&C 10:70; 11:38; 12:9; 34:2; 39:2). And where does His light and His life reside? Within people.
Spiritual gifts shall not be done away as long as the world stands. (Moroni 10:19). In whom do the spiritual gifts reside? People.
The world lies in sin. (D&C 49:20; 84:49). Who sins? People.
Those who are cut off by the church are overcome by the world. (D&C 50:8). But the corollary is the Lord has overcome the world. (D&C 50:41). Often sins are first introduced to us by friends who are living after the manner of the world, and we witness our children partaking of the very same sins as their friends.
We are commanded to forsake the world (D&C 53:2), and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world (D&C 59:9). When our children are confronted with choices to separate themselves from those who are drenched in the world's ways and praise, and they seem incapable of absenting themselves from the carnal desires that will swamp them, remember they are exactly who you think they are.
Their spirits were first children of heavenly parents, and they are on loan to you for a season of their eternal existence.
When venerated patriarchs have laid their hands upon the heads of your children and pronounced blessings greater than the imagination can contain or understand, remember they are exactly who Heavenly Father told you they were. Don't focus too long on what might have been -- those blessings are eternal in nature and will surely have their day of fulfillment on His timetable. The Lord never forsakes His promises to us.
Our lives here on earth are like a long marathon race. There will be peaks and valleys, there will be fast portions when you can sail along without interruption, then there will be steep portions where you'll feel like you cannot put one foot in front of another. When children slacken and fall out of the race of eternal life for a season, remember their stamina, exercise faith in the things you have taught them, believe that someday they will once again desire to taste the good fruit that is delicious beyond all that is precious. Do not doubt what you know about them, even when they stumble and fall down, scrape their knees, and blame you for their troubles.
They are exactly who you think they are.
Remember, be merciful, contemplate all the shortcomings you have, look back with some objective disdain on your own life when regrets and wishes for "do-overs" might have filled your heart once upon a time. Bask in the knowledge you are still standing in hope and faith for a better tomorrow, and remember, they are all looking for the same blessings you have realized, knowing you didn't do everything perfectly either.
They are exactly who you think they are. They are just like you.