Help for Life Challenges

If you’re worried about a loved one’s testimony, this Book of Mormon chapter will guide you

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Alma chapter 8 is a well of wisdom for ministering to loved ones struggling with their faith. Jared Halverson highlights 7 principles from the chapter.
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If you are a parent or loved one of someone who has left the Church, Alma chapter 8 holds comforting, directing insights.

In a recent episode of his podcast Unshaken, Brigham Young University Professor Jared Halverson detailed how Alma’s approach to the people of Ammonihah can serve as a helpful model for us today when a loved one leaves the Church. Here are seven guiding principles he shared.

1. Labor with the Lord

We read in Alma chapter 8 that Satan had great hold over the hearts of the people in Ammonihah. Alma arrives to try and soften their hearts, but the people will not listen to him. So what does Alma do next? The scriptures say he “labored much in the spirit, wrestling with God in mighty prayer, that he would pour out his Spirit upon the people who were in the city.”

Jared points out an important distinction: Alma is wrestling with God—not with the people.

“I honestly fear sometimes if we are concerned [or] worried about a loved one [and] the decisions that they’re making … [and] we’re seeing their heart begin to harden, I think too often we labor, not with the Lord, we labor on the person,” Jared says. “And that’s completely the wrong way to go about it. They will sense when we perceive them … as a project. [They will perceive if our thoughts are,] ‘I’ve just got to work on it. Or I’ve just got to wrestle with her.’ The only real solution is going to be the Spirit of God softening the heart.

“And so what can we do? We can wrestle with God. We can pour out our heart to Him in hopes that He will pour out His Spirit upon that person. It’s going to be an indirect approach.”

2. Embrace Influence, Don’t Force Authority  

Next in the chapter, we read that the people of Ammonihah tell Alma they don’t have to listen to him because he is no longer the chief judge. Jared wonders if Alma perhaps wished in that moment that he hadn’t given up his authority as chief judge so that he could command the people to keep the commandments.

But Jared acknowledges that Alma knows better than that.

“I’m sure he realizes, no, that would not have any good long-term [effects]. If it is not persuasion, and gentleness, and meekness, and love unfeigned—everything that section 121 of the Doctrine and Covenants teaches us—if it’s not that, then ‘[no] power or influence can or ought to be maintained,’” Jared says.

He continues, “I want us to remember this because, honestly, when our children grow [up], especially when they get to the point of adulting—being on their own, living outside the house—in a way, we’ve taken off the ‘chief judge’ hat. We’ve taken away any kind of parental pressure. …

“The challenge for us, then, is how do we still exert any kind of influence when we have no authority? Influence and authority are two very different things. And what we’re going to see in Alma’s attempt here in chapter eight is a beautiful example of ‘What do I do when I have no authority?’”

3. Let Your Actions Be Driven by Love  

After his first attempt at preaching to the people, Alma is kicked out of the city. Verse 14 tells us that he was “weighed down with sorrow” and felt “anguish of soul, because of the wickedness of the people.”

“I know many of you feel that exact emotion as you worry about those people who might be struggling,” Jared says. “But notice—he’s weighed down … because of the wickedness of the people who were in the city of Ammonihah. He’s not feeling sorry for himself. He’s not kicking himself with regret that he wasn’t a better person. This is not guilt-driven on his part. This is driven by love.”

▶You may also like: This important line from general conference might help you worry less about your adult children

4. Rejoice in Your Own Spiritual Experiences 

Alma is then visited by an angel who tells him he has “great cause to rejoice.” In this hard situation, what does Alma have to rejoice over? The angel says to him, “Thou hast been faithful in keeping the commandments of God.”

“If you’re doing all that you can and trying to raise righteous children [or] trying to influence family members or friends in a positive way, and they just don’t listen—well, there’s still power in being true to your own spiritual experiences,” Jared says. “[You may not] influence them in a positive direction yet, but [you don’t] let them influence [you] in a negative one.”

5. Look for the Loose Brick  

The angel tells Alma to go back to the land of Ammonihah. When he does, Jared points out that Alma enters the city “by another way.” Jared suggests we, too, can be intentional in exploring other approaches.

“If we’re still beating our heads against the same wall with the same child or the same loved one and nothing’s happening, then try something different. Don’t give up. But look for another way,” Jared says. “Often, I’ve heard it said that when people put up a wall between us, there’s usually at least one loose brick. So gently start pressing on bricks. Look for ways. Pray for help in discerning other ways to reach people. And then, try.”

6. Always Recognize the Good in Everyone 

When Alma reenters the city, he asks a man named Amulek for help. Jared points out that Alma’s approach with Amulek also holds a lesson for us.

“Instead of [Alma] coming in from a superior stance, he comes in lowly, humble, meek, hungry,” Jared says. “I worry sometimes that when we approach someone that we consider having strayed from the path, we look down on them, and they feel it. We come in almost this patronizing, condescending kind of way. Like, ‘You’ve missed some things, and I have a lot that you need, so listen up and let me give it.’”

To follow Alma’s example, Jared suggests we remember that no matter who someone is or where they’ve been, they have something to contribute to the kingdom of God.

“Typically, they will be much more open [if] we recognize their inherent goodness,” Jared says.

7. Rely on God’s Power 

Amulek invites Alma into his home, where Alma teaches him the gospel. After Amulek learns, he and Alma go out to teach and testify to the people. And when they do, their focus is on the Lord showing His power to the people.

“They pray that the Lord might show forth His power in them. They’re not saying, ‘Help us show our power over the people.’ No, God, this is about you. Will you show forth your power through us? … And honestly, that’s the only hope we have. God’s spirit, God’s power.”

▶You may also like: 6 genius ways to study scripture that anyone can do (from one of our favorite scholars)

Learn how to study the scriptures in a personal, applicable way with Jared Halverson’s Seek course How to Make Scripture Study More Meaningful.”

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