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When Your Friend Leaves the Church: 7 Ways to Cope and Comfort

When one of my friends announced on social media that she no longer had a testimony of the Church, I was shocked and saddened. A few months later I met up with another good friend who told me that she and her entire family had left the Church. I felt profound grief, confusion, and loss for these friends, and I struggled to understand and reconcile my feelings. How would their choices affect the future of our friendship?

These experiences have opened up several talking points with my family about personal testimony and how we can be an example to others. I have learned more about tolerance, love, and the welcoming arms our Savior extends to all, no matter their beliefs. It’s normal to feel sadness and grief when someone chooses to leave the gospel path, but because of the gift of the Atonement, we can be assured that there is still happiness to be found in our daily struggles.

►You’ll also like: When a Loved One Leaves the Church: 4 Mistakes to Avoid

7 Ways to Cope and Comfort

1. Don’t judge.

It can be earth-shaking when your friend or loved one leaves the Church. Suddenly, everything you thought you knew about them is turned upside down, and you’re not sure how to interact with them. First, stop and remember why this person became your friend. What do you love about them? Has that changed? Will it change? Hold tight to the core of the person you know and love and it will help you to treat them accordingly. 

2. Pray for them (and you).

Invoke the divine help that has been so freely offered to all of us to aid you in this difficult time. Pray for your friend. Pray for comfort, strength, and inspiration to walk alongside your friend while holding to the iron rod. Pray for words to be put in your mouth so that you will say the best things to support your friend. Ask for hearts to be softened—yours and your friend’s—so that you can better understand and love one another. Pray that your testimony might be stronger to aid you and protect you from confusion and misunderstanding. You can pray specifically for unwavering faith in the principles of the gospel. It is powerful to concentrate on the foundations of your faith—those things you never question, the solid parts of your testimony—and feel the Holy Spirit confirm that knowledge to you. Then you can ask for increased faith in areas where you don’t feel as firm. Continuing to build your own foundation will help you move forward through your sadness from other’s choices.

3. Ask how you can help.

When people lose their faith, they often have symptoms of depression, anxiety, and other stresses that can be hard to deal with. Even if they are adamant in their choice, they might find it difficult to traverse uncharted waters. Remembering that you can still be a friend, no matter what their beliefs are, plays an important part in helping them. Ask them specifically what you can do to help them in this period of transition. Offer support to them while staying firm in your beliefs and continuing forward with unwavering faith.

4. Be honest.

 Just because your friend changed their mind about the Church doesn’t mean you have to hide your faith. Be honest about where you stand and how you live your life. Stick to your standards and the gospel guidelines. Don’t miss a chance to be a good example. It may be appropriate to share with your friend how difficult it is for you to process their choice. Creating awareness through honesty can help bridge the gap in a changing relationship.

5. Set boundaries.

Let your friend know up front how you feel about their choice and set a firm boundary. For example, you could say, “I’m really sad that you’ve made that choice, but I love you. I respect you, and I want you to know that I have a testimony that isn’t up for debate.” Continuing the friendship is the best route as long as your friend honors your beliefs and standards. If the relationship changes to one of debate, argument, or negativity about the Church, you may have to create distance in your friendship. Restate your boundaries, and if they refuse to respect you, offer your love and step away from communication with them.

6. Don’t argue.

Most of us will have the urge to change our loved one's mind, but arguing is never the answer. When you feel yourself stepping into that role of judgment or contention, stop. Reevaluate the situation and listen for the promptings that will come to guide you in how best to communicate with your friend or family member. If you feel yourself mentally starting to point your finger at someone with too much advice, turn your finger back around and point at yourself. How would you feel if someone were communicating in the same way with you? Instead of trying to change someone else, identify what this situation is teaching you. Trials are never easy, but they teach us powerful ways of living if we seek out guidance from our Heavenly Father.

7. Love them.

Amidst the storms, think of Christ. How would He react to one of His sheep leaving the fold? With love. We can continue to love our friends, support them, and pray for them. Often when perspectives shift due to the choices of others, a new view is opened before us. If we take the chance to view the world through this new lens, we can learn more about how the Savior wants us to treat others. We can learn more about the depth of His love for us, no matter how we manage our trials in life.

Our agency guarantees that at some time in our lives, we will feel sad or hurt by someone else’s choices or actions. If your friend leaves the Church, it will change your friendship, but hopefully by following these steps you can maintain the relationship and keep a firm testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.

►You’ll also like: When Your Spouse Leaves the Church: How to Strengthen Your Marriage Without Weakening Your Faith

Additional Resources: 

Rachelle J. Christensen is the author of over 20 books. She graduated with a degree in psychology and lives with her family on a farm in Idaho.

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