So this past Sunday, I gave a talk in Sacrament Meeting; the first in 15 years. To say I was nervous doesn’t do the word justice. But I think it went well. At least that’s what I was told.
The topic given to me was the Atonement which is a pretty big topic so I narrowed it down to what I learned about the Atonement and repentance from my experience in coming back into the fold. So while it was personal, I think I laid out some doctrinal points worth thinking about.
The nice thing, though, was that there was a surprise visit from a past group leader from the ARP program; the one who had to be the most patient with me because I really treated him pretty bad. But I was quite pleased to show him how I’ve changed and what I learned. So his patience really did make a different to me.
I tried to record it but it didn’t take. I didn’t push the correct button out of nervousness. So I give you the text of my talk. I wasn’t able to give it word for word and I had to cut out a few lines because of time but I got in all my points and was able to deliver 90% of it. So I post it as I had it in front of me:
THREE OVERALL LESSONS I LEARNED ON THE ROAD OF REPENTANCE
Brothers and sisters, good afternoon. It’s good to be here and share some thoughts with you. I’ve been asked to speak to you about the Atonement so I decided to take a personal approach. This past June, I was rebaptised back into the fold so I kind-of have a bit of an understanding about the Atonement as it applies to some major repenting. But what really mattered was how I applied the Atonement in my daily struggles. But within those struggles are some key moments and lessons that I’d like to share. So today, my talk is titled “Three Overall Lessons I Learned on the Road of Repentance.”
Quite frankly, I think that as I give this talk that many of you will look at me and say “well, no duh!” because of the basicness of what I learned, but while I may have been taught all these things in the past, I really never integrated them into my being so in reality, these really are things I learned for the first time. So I beg your patience and I hope that at least these thoughts I’m going to share would, at a minimum, be a reminder or a trigger for some personal thoughts of your own.
Lesson 1: Repentance is a Choice – Towards the beginning of my journey, I came to a fork in the road. I either turned left to continue down the road I was very familiar with, or turn right down a road I’ve never traveled. On the left was hardness, darkness and destruction; all the things that I was quite comfortable with and good at. Conversely, on the right was light, goodness and life; all the things I was severely lacking in. With me standing here, my choice is pretty obvious, but I believe we are all constantly being nudged towards God just by nature of having the Light of Christ and one really has to do a severe about face to get away from that nudging. But once that choice is made to turn right, our Father in Heaven stands ready and willing to do what He feel is necessary to help us keep our eye on the ball.
I’ll illustrate with this with one experience: I was in a church interview where, in an attempt to encourage me and help me understand where I was going wrong, the church leader bore his testimony to me. Now I was sitting there feeling the spirit and I was even having that burning bosom experience. But I decided to become obstinate, let my frustration and anger over-ride the spirit and I shoved it out of me. I then shot back at the interviewer and shot him down. I left the building with that same contentious spirit until I knelt down and started to say my prayer for the evening. Well, as I was kneeling there, I got spiritually chastised and I felt a prompting telling me that I was going to be without God’s spirit until I apologized and then it was gone. One would think I would be on the phone that moment but my pride wouldn’t let me even think of apologizing for days. But every time I knelt down to pray, I got that spiritual “I don’t think so.” It wasn’t until that next Sunday morning that I finally changed my attitude. I then apologized to that person and immediately at humbling myself and begging forgiveness, I felt the spirit return. Did the spirit really leave me? I think it may have but I definitely left him. I chose to surround myself with the spirit of contention and rebelliousness. It wasn’t until I humbled myself and chose to repent that I was able to, once again, enjoy the movements of the Spirit.
So it really did become what Moses asked the Israelites which is “whom will ye serve?”
Lesson 2: A Godlike People Seriously Repent Often; Seriously Learn to Obey – One of my jobs in the church is to be a Facilitator in the Addiction Recovery Program (ARP). As such, I’ve often heard too many people tell me that they have lost hope because they cannot stop the behavior they’re addicted to and they’re nigh unto give up. But, I can’t help but wonder, “Who told them to stop? Who told them there is a limit on God’s love and mercy?” The difficult answer is family, other people or members. The easy answer is Satan. This is one of the weapons in his arsenal; to tell the children of God that they cannot achieve perfection if they have to repent of something more than once. That they should have learned and stopped the first time, but they made a mockery of God by repeating the same offence.
How destructive this line of thinking is! I believe it to be totally un-doctrinal. We can pull scripture after scripture of how the Nephites and, Lamanites became righteous, fell, and became righteous again and enjoyed the blessings of their repentance.
But I’ve come to understand that the goal of repentance is not necessarily to rid us of sin. There is no way now or ever that we can gather up all our sins and dispose of them. We pretty much lost that ability the first time we did something wrong. This is why we needed Christ to answer and pay the demands of justice for all our wrong doings and he has done just that with the Atonement. This grace is given to us by what Elder Gene R Cook defines as the “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.” He further states that “If we can obtain the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that divine enabling power to assist us, we will triumph in this life and be exalted in the life to come.” (April 1993 Gen Conf)
That being said, the goal of repentance is for us to learn, practice and get better at being obedient to God. It’s what Elder Christopherson says that “repentance means not only abandoning sin but also committing to obedience.” He also states that “Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul” (Oct 2011, The Divine Gift of Repentance)
In other words, Congratulations! We’re human! We will need to make repeated attempts to change a behavior in able to enact real change, real repentance and real obedience with the outcome being real forgiveness and refining.
But we need to be careful that we don’t turn the repentance process into a checklist of ‘do’s and don’ts. I’ll explain this with another experience I had which became a pivotal moment in my journey. During the time when I was preparing to, once again, go back before the High Council but this time to petition for reinstatement, I was reading in Alma 41, where Corianton was being taught about the resurrection and being restored to who we are. But there were a few verses that really caught my attention. I’ll read a couple of them:
Alma 41: 5 (speaking of the resurrection) The one raised to happiness according to his desires of happiness, or good according to his desires of good; and the other to evil according to his desires of evil;….
That was easy enough to understand, good to good, bad to bad. But then I read the next verse:
6 And so it is on the other hand. If he hath repented of his sins, and desired righteousness until the end of his days, even so he shall be rewarded unto righteousness.
This verse hit me hard because I didn’t fully comprehend what it was saying. It bothered me so much that after a fireside (that happened to be the next evening) I grabbed one of the Stake Presidency to explain this to me. Once we got into his office and I read these verses to him, I asked “What does the High Council want? What does the Lord want? What am I supposed to do? I don’t understand!?” Then came the lesson; I learned that we’re not going to leave mortality, walk up to the pearly gates and hand Saint Peter out resume. That’s not the way it works. Life is not about going down a checklist of deeds such as church, prayer, temple, mutual, home or visiting teaching, etc. It’s about developing the attitude of what King Benjamin described as a “disposition to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2).
Elder Spencer J. Condie taught that “The seeds of our disposition toward good or evil are largely sown by our desires.” He goes on to say that “In teaching the wayward Zoramites how they could gain a knowledge of the truth, Alma admonished them to “exercise a particle of faith,” and if they could “no more than desire to believe, [to] let this desire work in [them]” (Alma 32:27). What begins as a fleeting desire, when cultivated and pursued long enough, becomes a habitual form of thought or behavior.” (Aug 2001, Ensign, A Disposition To Do Good Continually)
This then circles back to what instigated my question in the first place, that how this “particle of faith” then turns into a desire for happiness through Christ and the Atonement, which then leads to a change of attitude, outlook and perspective leading to the reward of righteousness, a closer communion with God and eventually, eternal life.
Lesson 3: Forgive Others, Forgive Myself, Move Forward and Be Happy – One of my favorite talks is “Remember Lot’s Wife” given by Jeffrey R. Holland at a BYU devotional. One passage from his talk has always struck me as parallel with the admonition to “concider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.” (Mosiah 2: 41) President Holland states:
“Perhaps at this beginning of a new year there is no greater requirement for us than to do as the Lord Himself said He does: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).”
“The proviso, of course, is that repentance has to be sincere, but when it is and when honest effort is being made to progress, we are guilty of the greater sin if we keep remembering and recalling and rebashing someone with their earlier mistakes—and that ‘someone’ might be ourselves. We can be so hard on ourselves, often much more so than with others!”
He goes on to tell us that we need to not only forgive [ourselves] but to also “do that which is harder than to forgive: Forget…” He continues: “You can remember just enough to avoid repeating the mistake, but then put the rest of it all on the dung heap Paul spoke of to those Philippians. Dismiss the destructive and keep dismissing it until the beauty of the Atonement of Christ has revealed to you your bright future and the bright future of your family and your friends and your neighbors. God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you have been as He does about where you are and, with His help, where you are willing to go…”
And if you’re wondering about that “dung heap” scripture, it’s in Philippians 3: 8.
In my experience, the one biggest factor getting in the way of letting sins go is a type of pride. We’re all familiar with pride being where one thinks they’re better than another, but I have found that there is a pride where one thinks they’re worse than others; a reverse type pride. Instead of a person artificially putting themself above others, this person artificially puts themself beneath others. It is, in a sense, a competition of who’s the worst sinner along the line of what President Benson has told us that “Pride is essentially competitive in nature. We put our will against God’s… It is in the spirit of ‘my will and not thine be done.” He goes on: “The proud cannot accept the authority of God giving direction to their lives. (See Hel. 12:6.) They pit their perceptions of truth against God’s great knowledge, their abilities versus God’s priesthood power, their accomplishments against His mighty works.” (April 1989 Gen Conf)
When we refuse to let go of our sins or when we look around and tell ourselves that “no one has sinned worse than me” or when we wallow in how bad a person we are, we are running contrary to God’s will to repent and allow God to heal us. This is pitting our will to be miserable against God will to give us joy. And thus, we refuse to forgive ourselves when our Father in Heaven already has.
In closing: Bear Testimony and Witness
- Repentance is a Choice
- A Godlike People Seriously Repent Often Seriously Learn to Obey
- Forgive Others, Forgive Myself, Move Forward and Be Happy
These are three big topics with a lot of little experiences, moments, lessons and episodes nestled within each one. As each one of us are unique and different, so are our approaches and experiences. But understanding these lessons has been a miracle to me and only proves to me that I am loved by my Father in Heaven and it still boggles my mind that it is the will of Him who created countless worlds, this world and all that is on it and created me, both spiritual and physical, that it is His will to so richly bless me in such an intimate and personal way.
- I am a witness of the power of the Atonement to change people.
- I Love the church, I love this gospel, I love God and Christ and the Atonement. It has changed me, it has saved my live in more ways than one.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen