What’s Helpful – And What Isn’t


A former member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints shared with Candice what was hurtful and what was helpful from family and friends as they navigated their faith journey.


  • Setting minimum standards of belief such as “as long as you still believe in God”
  • “Have you prayed about it?”
  • Giving apologist books with answers that don’t resonate
  • Labeling as “not diligent” or “lazy”
  • Ridiculing people who are not at church for their clothing choices or their intelligence, etc.
  • Only talking about church
  • Ignoring their experience as they leave the church
  • Failing to consider the actual impact of well-intended offers


  • Talking about things that are not church-related
  • Learning and honoring boundaries
  • Sincerely saying things like, “Thank you for telling me,” “I know this is hard for you,” “I want to support you,” etc.
  • Asking follow-up questions – with consent
  • Remember that, although someone else staying or leaving is outside of your control, you always get to decide how you behave
  • Expressing pride and respect in them as a person
  • Take a sincere interest. Don’t just tolerate them; embrace them


  1. Is there a difference between what I am trying to communicate and the actual effect it’s having?
  2. Is there a way for me to be more loving that would improve my experience and strengthen my relationship with my child so I can be a blessing in their life and not a painful burden?


Today we’re going to talk about what’s helpful and what isn’t when our kids are experiencing a faith transition.

Recently I spent over an hour on a call with a former member of my stake, who is also formally a former member of The Church [of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints]. They had seen my post about my local in-person support group for members in mixed-faith families and wanted to share their perspective with me so I could share it with others, anonymously, and I am going to share it with you today. I think it will be helpful to consider, and the things they shared are all things I have heard before from others in similar situations. It is certainly not unique.

I had thought my friend and I would talk for 30 minutes or so, but more than an hour later I had said only a few words. When we started the call I realized that they had prepared notes of their story and the things they found unhelpful or helpful, from their family and from their friends, but mostly from their parents. At that point I realized that my job was to listen, so I listened. And I took notes. So today I am sharing with you first some things that this former member of the Church found unhelpful in their journey, and then some things they found helpful and would recommend.

Before we drive into that, I’d like you to think about what you want from your children. Sometimes as parents we want our children to think, feel, and act in ways that validate our own worldview so that we can feel peaceful. We think that if our kids are doing all the “right“ things, then everything is going to be okay. And then when they stop going to seminary, we think, “Well, this is bad, but at least they’re going to church.” And then when they stop going to church, we think “Well, this is bad, but at least they’re still going to activities.” And then when they stop going to activities and don’t want to be around people from church anymore, we think, “Well, this is bad, but at least they still believe in God.” And we think all of those things because our human brains are looking for safety and predictability. We think we will find safety in conformity, our own conformity and our children’s conformity.

Good news! We don’t find safety and peace in rules or in controlling other people. We find safety and peace in the infinite Atonement of Jesus Christ, in loving God and loving others. We didn’t know how things were going to end up when our kids were attending seminary, and we have know idea how they’re going to end up now. So why not choose to believe that the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is indeed infinite and that we and our children are going to be okay? Today I want us to think about the thoughts and experiences my friend shared with me that I am going to share with you through the lens of confidence in the infinite power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, or even just the belief that the universe is conspiring in our favor–and in our children’s favor–always.

First, what was UNHELPFUL to my friend?

  1. As this person began to open up with their parents about their changing beliefs, one of their parents said, “As long as you still believe in God and Jesus, that’s what’s most important to me.” You might wonder what’s wrong with that. It can seem at first like it’s a way of reaching out for common ground. The problem is that people whose relationship with the Church is changing often also experience a change in their relationship with God. They may not have settled into a confident belief in Jesus or God, or they may be thinking that God isn’t real. My friend heard this statement from their parent as placing conditions on their acceptance by their parent that didn’t leave room for the evolving belief system they had under construction. They didn’t really know what they believed at this point, and this statement felt like a rejection in advance. Their parents were okay as long as they believed in God, but if at some point they didn’t, well, that was just unacceptable.
  2. Another thing the parents said to my friend that was not helpful was, “Have you prayed about it?” To a believing person, tools like prayer, scripture study, learning from church leaders, understanding doctrine and talking with faith-filled family and friends may be tools that have been integral to their own faith journey. But these tools are not always currently available to someone who is navigating their struggles with faith. Suggesting such tools or applying my life lens to their situation could be a huge negative for them. It can feel to them like I am judging them and their decisions. In my friend’s case, they had suspended formal prayer as a form of self-care while they worked through their conditioning to reject their internal voice in favor of deference to authority. This question from their parents about prayer felt like a lack of trust in their ability to make decisions for themselves.
  3. The next thing my friend mentioned as unhelpful was giving them a book of apologist answers to questions that mostly didn’t resonate with their experience. As parents sometimes we think we just need to explain things better because our kids aren’t getting it. We think we’re right and if we can find the right approach, or the right book, or the right podcast, our kids will suddenly understand and then everything will be okay. The problem with needing to be right is that it’s a losing relational strategy. It sets the other person up to be wrong, and ignores the fact that we are all filtering God and the world through our own human lens. We are all operating on the best of our understanding–even our children who believe differently than we do. It’s helpful to our relationships with other people if we can have some humility around that.
  4. In the same vein of needing to be right, another thing that is not helpful is labeling people moving away from the Church as not diligent or lazy. Just as we want our children to assume our positive intent, it’s helpful if we can give them the same benefit of our doubt that they are sincerely trying to find their way through this mortal experience with honesty and integrity. My friend described being labeled as not diligent or lazy as both offensive and painful.
  5. Even before my friend experienced a faith transition, they heard their parents repeatedly ridicule family members who were not at church. Their parents made critical comments about things like clothing choices and intelligence. And I have to tell you that when my friend mentioned this one, it stung. I know I have done this myself, many times, and sometimes I still do it. I had a flashback to sitting in a Panera with my children when my oldest daughter was a preteen. A bunch of high school students came in vibrantly laughing and talking and the thing I chose to say to my preteen daughter was, “In our family, we don’t wear jeans that tight.” I remember thinking that I was protecting her and teaching her how to be safe. Now I think I was reacting from fear and teaching her how to look down on other people. I sometimes feel embarrassed that I can go through the world finding fault with other people who are simply living their lives consistent with their own belief system, and not doing me or my family any harm. Comments like these from my friend’s parents made them feel unsafe in their relationship when their own faith shifted and their choices around clothing and other things changed. It gave them the sense, “That’s how my parents feel about me now.” I don’t get to go back to that Panera and say something about those teenagers’ liveliness and friendship to my children instead of judging them negatively, but I can notice when I am judging others now and make better choices going forward. And by the way, next time you find yourself condemning and disapproving of someone, notice how that feels in your body. Consider whether you want to keep creating that experience for yourself, or if love might feel better. Love is always an option, and love always feels good.
  6. Another thing that was challenging for my friend was family not finding ways to talk about things that aren’t church. This can be especially difficult in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it’s a religion that permeates all facets of our lives every day. Recognizing that church topics can be tender for people leaving the Church, especially at first, can motivate us to find common ground around other interests. Sometimes just finding different words to express our appreciation and enjoyment of nature, for example, or for other good things can be a way to include people with different beliefs without denying our own gratitude to God. We don’t always have to call something a blessing for it to be one.
  7. On the flip side, my friend wanted to talk about what they were experiencing with someone who could listen. Now, this doesn’t have to be you, and if it is you, it doesn’t have to be every time they want to share. It’s okay to set limits of what you’re willing to hear. But if you can hold space for the experience they are having, you can get to know who they really are and help them build their sense of safety. My friend shared that silence from people who had been close to them was painful.
  8. It’s important to recognize that someone who is leaving their religious community is likely to feel marginalized. It’s practically inherent to the process of a faith transition. So attempts to reach out to them can have an impact quite different from what we intend. For example, as my friend’s child approached age 8 and they were living several states away from extended family, their parents made a point to tell them they would be sure to make time and come out to visit if their grandchild was going to be baptized. This felt to my friend like there was a price for the grandparents’ attention, like they were only worth visiting if they were conforming to expectations. No baptism, no visit. What was meant as a loving gesture of generosity, actually felt like a rejection.

My friend has given us a lot to think about. Not everyone is the same, but my experience tells me my friend’s perceptions are not unique. And I’d like to point out that you can get a lot of benefit from simply stopping yourself from doing things that are unhelpful, even if you don’t know quite what to do instead. If you’re lucky, your child has shared with you what’s hard for them. Honor that sharing by respecting their challenges and making room for difference in your family.

Let’s move into a more positive, proactive mode now. You’ve thought about what things you do that might have an unintended negative impact, and decided what you’re no longer going to do. What can fill that space?

Here are a few things that my friend found HELPFUL

  1. The first thing they mentioned is finding things to talk about that are not church-related. This is the flipside of unhelpfully only talking about church. It’s worth noting that my friend brought it up in both contexts. It was meaningful to them when people were able to converse with ease and be interested in their rich, full life that does not include participating at church.
  2. Finding out the person’s boundaries and honoring them, such as not trying to change their mind or bring them back. If you’re not sure what someone is okay with, ask them. “Do you want to talk about your experience walking away from church?” “Are you okay hearing about my experiences at church, or would you prefer I avoid that topic altogether with you? I am happy to find topics we both feel comfortable with discussing.” Get someone’s consent before having a conversation.
  3. Here are a few things my friend appreciated hearing people say when they shared their faith transition with them
    1. “Thank you for telling me.”
    2. “I know this is hard for you.”
    3. “I want to support you” 
    4. It’s important to be sincere and follow through. If supporting them means agreeing not to talk about church, hold to that boundary. Apologize when you forget and then change the subject.
  4. It can also be helpful to express willingness to continue the conversation by asking follow-up questions. Bring your curiosity. People can tell whether you’re genuinely interested in them, or if you’re just trying to lay the foundation of your next argument or sermon.
  5. Know that it isn’t in your control whether someone stays or leaves. What is in your control is how you behave. If it doesn’t feel loving, it might not be loving. Be honest with yourself about why you’re doing what you’re doing.
  6. Express pride and respect in them as a person. My friend choked up as they described a moment where one of their parents did just that. I think we can use more of this and let go of the idea that the unhelpful things are serving some useful purpose. Our kids grew up with us. They know what we believe. Our best path is to support and trust them as they use their agency to navigate their lives. We can use our agency to choose love and kindness.
  7. We’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. It’s helpful to take interest in them rather than just tolerate them. Don’t just allow them to be who they are and where they are. The truth is they don’t need our permission. They simply ARE who they are and where they are. Choose to embrace who they are and where they are. Make them your teacher and you’ll find ways to grow and become more like our Heavenly Parents and Jesus Christ, who are the essence of love. Whenever I access humility around my children, I’ve found the Spirit teaching me how to be more Christlike. I don’t need to worry about my children; I just need to grow myself up.

The sentiments my friend shared with me are ones I’ve heard before. There are a lot of people around us experiencing the world and the Church differently than we are. I hope you find these ideas helpful as you consider your own family situation. I will leave you with a couple of questions you can ask yourself as you navigate your relationship with your children who don’t come to Church.

  1. Is there a difference between what I am trying to communicate and the actual effect it’s having?
  2. Is there a way for me to be more loving that would improve my experience and strengthen my relationship with my child so I can be a blessing in their life and not a painful burden?

Most of the time we mean well. If we’re thoughtful, we can do better for ourselves and for our children. Remember, there are no empty chairs.