Thomas McConkie stopped attending church at age 13 and did not return until he was 32 years old. However, on this week’s episode of All In, McConkie shared with host Morgan Jones an experience he had in his early 20s when his grandfather, Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, who at the time was a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, asked him to come visit him at his office and how he believes his grandfather’s perspective reflected God’s love for him and impacted his life.
Read Thomas’s experience below or listen to the entire episode here.
The following excerpt has been edited for clarity.
Morgan Jones: It was interesting to me knowing your parents to hear you talk about, you know, being a young boy and not wanting to go to church. And I think that that's something that a lot of parents deal with. And they want to do it right. They want to like answer in the right way. They don't want to force their kids to go to church. But what would your message be to the loved ones of those who may be struggling with their faith?
Thomas McConkie: Yeah, you know, I haven't raised a stubborn like 13-year-old version of myself yet.
MJ: Karma. It's gonna come back around Thomas.
TM: Give it to me, God, give it to me. I'll accept this challenge. I'll come back to a brief story that people who know me have heard me tell in different ways, but it's related to what you said about my like, 20 year kind of walkabout, just like trying to heal and find myself and find God again. And that, you know, somehow has proven to be kind of useful for people in the community as I can like, show them the ropes a little bit, at least what I saw out there in the wilderness.
For parents who are working with a child who's struggling and seems lost, and they're really concerned—I mean, of course, you need to do what you can to help them not make mistakes that would cause irrevocable damage, right—but in terms of like, let me speak to like addressing the life of faith in your child and the role of the gospel. One of the most life-changing moments I've ever experienced came when I had been in China for a little while. And my hair was close to down to my shoulders, actually I'm currently wearing a similar do. My hair looked . . . t was long and shaggy and hippie and I've been out of the Church about eight years, and my Granddad Wirthlin, who was in Quorum at the time, he just called me down to his office one day to chat, like real friendly-like, and I was excited because I always had an amazing relationship with him and was like, "Cool, Granddad wants to hang out with me in the office, boom, I'm there." And, you know, I sat down across his desk that day, and he looked at me. And this is, I'm 21, the mission years have passed. I look like a total hippie, I'm half Buddhist now. He just looked at me and just said, "I know you're going to serve a mission." And in my mind, I just thought, like, "What does that . . . I mean that's gone, that window closed."
And the way I make sense of that moment, now many years later, is that he wasn't looking at me anxiously as a really concerned parent would look at me and say, "Oh 21, I think the cut off is 25, you can still get to the MTC." He wasn't looking at me in human years. It felt like he was looking at me across the eons. It's hard to get through this, so just have to bear with me. I believe, in that moment, that was so life-changing. He was looking at me much the way God looks at His children. Because when you can only see, like, a couple of years of your kid's life, it's like you're going to freak out. And you have good reason to freak out if you have a kid like me at 13 years old, but all of a sudden, if you look at that same child across 10,000 years, and you imagine, like, how luminous that being is going to be in 10,000 years. When you play the long game with human beings, it's like, "Oh, their path is a little different. But wow, I can just feel the holiness in this person," and my granddad gave me that gift. He gave me the gift of sitting across from me as a family member, and not being so anxious about like, you know, the next couple weeks, and he gave me a glimpse into something much bigger.
And I believe God wants us all to see each other that way. I think C.S. Lewis said something . . . everybody quotes C.S. Lewis in this church. Here I go, C.S. Lewis! But something to the effect of if we could see people through these eyes, if we could see people the way they'll be 10,000 years from now, we would have a strong urge to worship them. It's that sense of like, here we are, you know, recording a conversation, and you and I, we're actually that divine, and we're that holy. And if we remember that, back to remembrance, if we remember that, we treat each other very differently. And I believe our children will pick up on that awesome love, that divine love that we're extending to them. And it will bless and change the lives as it did for me. I know that.
Listen to the entire episode here.