“How often they . . . made him feel hurt.”—PS. 78:40.
SONG 102 “Assist Those Who Are Weak”
1. How might the disfellowshipping of a loved one affect some?
HAS one of your loved ones been disfellowshipped from the congregation? That can be heartbreaking! “When my faithful spouse died after 41 years of marriage,” says a sister named Hilda, “I thought it was the worst thing I could ever experience.* But when my son left the congregation, his wife, and his children, it was far, far worse for me.”
2-3. According to Psalm 78:40, 41, how does Jehovah feel when his servants leave him?
2 Think how heartbroken Jehovah must have been when members of his own angelic family turned their back on him! (Jude 6) And imagine how hurt he was at seeing his beloved people, the Israelites, rebel against him time and again. (Read Psalm 78:40, 41.) Be assured that our loving heavenly Father is also hurt when someone you love leaves him. He understands the grief you are experiencing. He will compassionately provide you with the encouragement and the support you need.
3 In this article, we will discuss what we can do to receive Jehovah’s help when we are coping with such a loss. We will also examine how we can help others in the congregation who are facing this challenge. But first, let us consider a negative pattern of thinking that we must avoid.
AVOID BLAMING YOURSELF
4. How do many parents feel when a son or a daughter leaves Jehovah?
4 When a precious son or daughter leaves Jehovah, it is common for the parents to wonder what more they could have done to help their young one stay in the truth. After his son was disfellowshipped, a brother named Luke admitted: “I blamed myself. I had nightmares about it. Sometimes I would cry and my heart ached.” Elizabeth, a sister who faced a similar situation, agonized: “What did I do wrong as a mother? I felt that I must have failed to inculcate the truth in my son.”
5. Who is responsible when a person leaves Jehovah?
5 We need to remember that Jehovah has given each of us the gift of free will. This means that we can choose whether we will obey him or not. Some young ones whose upbringing was far from ideal choose to serve Jehovah, and they make a success of their service. Others whose parents did their very best to bring them up in harmony with Scriptural principles turn their back on the truth once they get older. In the final analysis, we must personally decide whether we will serve Jehovah. (Josh. 24:15) So, grieving parents, fight the tendency to think that this tragedy must be your fault!
6. How might a young person be affected when a parent leaves God?
6 At times, a parent abandons the truth and even the family. (Ps. 27:10) This can be devastating for children who had looked up to the parent as a role model. Esther, whose father was disfellowshipped, says: “I cried often because I realized that he was not just drifting away from the truth. He was making a deliberate choice to leave Jehovah altogether. I love my father, so when he was disfellowshipped, I constantly worried about his well-being. I even had panic attacks.”
7. What are Jehovah’s feelings toward a young person whose parent is disfellowshipped?
7 Young ones, if one of your parents has been disfellowshipped, our heart aches for you! Please be assured that Jehovah is also keenly aware of your pain. He loves you and appreciates your loyalty, and so do we—your brothers and sisters. Remember, too, that you are not responsible for your parent’s decisions. As mentioned earlier, Jehovah has put a choice before every human. And each dedicated and baptized individual must “carry his own load of responsibility.”—Gal. 6:5, ftn.
8. What can faithful family members do while waiting for their loved one to return to Jehovah? (See also the box “Return to Jehovah.”)
8 When someone you love leaves Jehovah, you understandably hold on to the hope that one day he will return to Him. What can you do in the meantime? You can look after your own spiritual health. By doing so, you will set a good example for other family members and perhaps even for the disfellowshipped one. You will also gain the needed strength to cope with your painful emotions. Let us discuss some practical steps you can take.
WHAT YOU CAN DO TO STAY SPIRITUALLY STRONG
9. In what ways can you draw strength from Jehovah? (See also the box “Comforting Scriptures if Your Loved One Has Left Jehovah.”)
9 Stick to a good spiritual routine. It is vital that you continue strengthening yourself and other family members. How can you do so? Draw strength from Jehovah by maintaining a routine of reading God’s Word and meditating on it as well as attending Christian meetings. Joanna, whose father and sister left the truth, says: “I feel a calm come over me when I read about such Bible characters as Abigail, Esther, Job, Joseph, and Jesus. Their examples feed my heart and mind with positive thoughts that soothe the pain. I have also found our original songs to be very encouraging.”
10. What does Psalm 32:6-8 reveal about how to cope with distressing feelings?
10 Pour out your concerns to Jehovah. When you experience distressing feelings, do not stop praying to him. Beg our loving God to help you view the situation from his perspective and to “give you insight and instruct you in the way you should go.” (Read Psalm 32:6-8.) Of course, it may be very painful to tell Jehovah how you really feel. But Jehovah fully understands your pain of heart. He loves you very much and urges you to pour out your heart to him.—Ex. 34:6; Ps. 62:7, 8.
11. According to Hebrews 12:11, why should we trust in Jehovah’s loving discipline? (See also the box “Disfellowshipping—Jehovah’s Loving Discipline at Work.”)
11 Support the decision. Disfellowshipping is part of Jehovah’s arrangement. His loving correction is in the best interests of everyone, including the wrongdoer. (Read Hebrews 12:11.) Any negative comments about the way a disciplinary matter was handled by the elders have likely been initiated by someone who did not mention details that would put the wrongdoer in a bad light. We simply do not have all the facts. It is wise, then, to trust that the elders who took judicial action made every effort to follow Scriptural principles and to judge “for Jehovah.”—2 Chron. 19:6.
12. What benefits have some experienced because they supported Jehovah’s arrangement for discipline?
12 By supporting the elders’ decision to disfellowship your loved one, you may actually help him to return to Jehovah. “Severing family association with our adult son was extremely difficult,” admits Elizabeth, quoted earlier. “But after he returned to Jehovah, he admitted that he deserved to be disfellowshipped. In time, he expressed appreciation for the lessons he learned. I came to value Jehovah’s discipline,” she says. Her husband, Mark, adds: “Much later, our son told me that he wanted to come back in part because we did exactly what we had to do. I’m so glad Jehovah helped us to be obedient.”
13. What can help you to deal with painful emotions?
13 Confide in understanding friends. Associate with mature Christians who can help you to maintain a positive attitude. (Prov. 12:25; 17:17) Joanna, mentioned earlier, says: “In my heart, I felt alone. But talking to trustworthy friends helped me to cope.” What, though, if it seems that some in the congregation say things to you that make you feel worse?
14. Why do we need to “continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely”?
14 Be patient with your brothers and sisters. Realistically, not everyone will respond in an ideal way. (Jas. 3:2) We are all imperfect, so do not be surprised if some struggle with what to say or even unintentionally make comments that cause you pain. Remember the apostle Paul’s admonition: “Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely even if anyone has a cause for complaint against another.” (Col. 3:13) One sister whose relative was disfellowshipped explains: “Jehovah has helped me to forgive brothers who tried to do the right thing in an imperfect way.” What can the congregation do to help faithful family members?
THE CONGREGATION CAN HELP
15. What can help family members whose loved one was recently disfellowshipped?
15 Warmly welcome faithful family members. A sister named Miriam admits that she was anxious about going to the meetings after her brother was disfellowshipped. “I was afraid of what people would say. But there were wonderful friends who shared my sadness without showing resentment toward my disfellowshipped brother. Thanks to them, I did not feel alone in my grief.” Another sister recalls: “After our son was disfellowshipped, dear friends came to comfort us. Some admitted that they did not know what to say. They shed a tear with me or wrote me a note. What they did helped me tremendously!”
16. How can the congregation provide ongoing support?
16 Continue to support faithful family members. They need your love and encouragement now more than ever. (Heb. 10:24, 25) At times, family members of disfellowshipped ones have felt that they too have been excluded from association with the congregation. Do not let that happen! Young people whose parents have left the truth especially need commendation and encouragement. Maria, whose husband was disfellowshipped and left the family, says: “Some of my friends came to my house and cooked food and helped us with the family study. They felt my pain and cried with me. They defended me when false rumors circulated. They really lifted my spirits!”—Rom. 12:13, 15.
17. How can elders provide compassionate support?
17 Elders, use opportunities available to strengthen faithful family members. You have a special responsibility to console fellow worshippers whose loved ones have left Jehovah. (1 Thess. 5:14) Take the initiative to encourage them before and after Christian meetings. Visit them and pray for them. Work with them in the ministry, or at times invite them to join you for family worship. Spiritual shepherds need to show Jehovah’s grieving sheep the compassion, love, and attention they need.—1 Thess. 2:7, 8.
REMAIN HOPEFUL AND CONTINUE TO TRUST IN JEHOVAH
18. According to 2 Peter 3:9, what does God desire for wrongdoers?
18 Jehovah “does not desire anyone to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.” (Read 2 Peter 3:9.) Although a person may commit a serious sin, his life is still precious to God. Think of the high price Jehovah has paid—the ransom sacrifice of his own beloved Son—for the lives of sinners. Jehovah compassionately reaches out to help such ones return to him. He hopes they will choose to do so, as we can see from Jesus’ illustration of the lost son. (Luke 15:11-32) Many who left the truth returned later to their loving heavenly Father. And the congregation welcomed them with open arms. Elizabeth, quoted earlier, experienced the joy of seeing her son reinstated. Thinking back, she says, “I really appreciated those who encouraged us not to give up hope.”
19. Why can we continue to trust in Jehovah?
19 We can always trust in Jehovah. He never gives us direction that will cause us harm. He is a generous and compassionate Father who has deep love for all who love and worship him. Be assured that Jehovah will not abandon you in your time of anguish. (Heb. 13:5, 6) “Jehovah never abandoned us,” says Mark, mentioned earlier. “He is never far from us when we go through difficulties.” Jehovah will continue to give you “the power beyond what is normal.” (2 Cor. 4:7) Yes, you can remain faithful and hopeful even when a loved one leaves Jehovah.
SONG 44 A Prayer of the Lowly One
How distressing it is when a loved one leaves Jehovah! This article considers how our God feels when this happens. It discusses practical things faithful family members can do to cope with the pain and to remain spiritually strong. This article will also discuss how all in the congregation can offer comfort and support to the family.
Some names in this article have been changed.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: When a brother abandons his family and Jehovah, his wife and their children suffer.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: Two elders come to provide spiritual encouragement to a family in the congregation.