Celebrating Repentance

[ 12 ] Comments

by Paul

(cc) Ian Sane

One of the themes of this past conference washed over me like a waterfall. It seemed talk after talk, session after session preached the beauty of repentance.

Not the “Repent of the evil you are doing!” repentance, but the “Repentance is part of our regular process as Latter-day Saints” repentance.
Not the “Love others who are repenting” repentance, but the “You, repent; it’s ok; really” repentance.

  • Elder Cook’s re-asking of Alma’s question, “Can ye feel so now?” suggests the possibility of repentance.  In fact, he said repentance is the only panacea for the world’s problems.  He reminded us what Elder Packer has repeatedly taught: through repentance we can overcome all sin.
  • Sister Dibb also reminded us that we all sin, and that we all can be clean again.  I did not hear her say we all sin except lifelong members who serve on general boards or in high callings in the church.  Or we all sin but those who go to the temple every week.  We all sin.  And we can all repent.
  • President Monson spoke beautifully in the Priesthood session about the reality that people can change.  Both he and President Eyring taught us to look at people not as they are but as they could become.  Elder Uchtdorf taught that the blessings of the priesthood are available even if we stumble on our way, because we can repent.
  • Elder Clarke spoke about the blessing of the sacrament, and one of the blessings that he outlined was the opportunity to feel forgiven, if we had repented.  We can do that every week (well, except for General Conference weekend, I suppose).
  • Elder Bednar spoke of the role of repentance in our becoming truly converted – after believing and exercising faith in Jesus Christ, we will repent.
  • Elder Packer spoke on Sunday of how we can help others in the repentance process by lighting the lower lamps to guide them safely into the harbor in a storm.
  • Elder Holland taught one of my favorite scripture stories of the reconversion of Peter to his calling as he turned once again to the Savior and His work.  Elder Nash continued the discussion of Peter, reminding us that even Peter needed to learn to overcome fear through repentance.
  • Even Elder Whiting’s extended metaphor on temple standards suggests the possibility of repentance, as the contractor was able to go back and repair the shortcomings in the temple construction he described.  Similarly, we can seek the Lord’s merciful help in repairing our shortcomings.

I’m thrilled by this emphasis on the second principle of the gospel.  Once we confess and recognize our faith in Jesus Christ, of course we begin to recognize ways in which we do not reflect Him in our own lives, and that recognition brings us to the sweet process of repentance.  As my lovely wife and I discussed the many references to repentance, she observed that it seems like it’s ok to have been wrong.  And she’s right: It’s ok to repent.  Repentance is what we do.  It’s part of who we are as Latter-day Saints.

I know this is not a seismic shift in the real teachings of the gospel, but it is a shift for those of us of a certain generation who were taught never to sin, never to err, never to do wrong but always to choose the right.  In that world of Like Unto Us and Tom Trails, we learned to live the ideal and felt guilt when we fell short, not understanding that we all fall short.

The call to repent is not new; it is at the core of the doctrine missionaries have taught since the restoration.  But for too many years for me it was reserved for others who committed serious sin.  I was grateful in this conference to be reminded again that it is also for those like me who try to do our best, but who do not always succeed at being the best we can be.  It is for those of us who need to align ourselves with God again (and again).

Indeed, we will assuredly not always choose the right.  And when we don’t, we can exercise faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice, and we can repent.

  • What did you learn about repentance at this conference?
  • Are there other basic truths that touched you in new ways?

About Paul

Paul was a convert to the church with his parents and siblings when he was a child, and therefore has the great blessing of having some of his formative years in the church while still remembering his family’s conversion experience. He is the father of seven and husband to his lovely wife. He served an LDS mission in Germany and has lived in Latin America and twice in Asia for his employer; now he lives with his lovely wife and youngest two children in the Midwestern US. Prior to earning his MBA, Paul also earned degrees in English and Theatre History. He also blogs at A Latter-day Voice (see the link below -- in "Our Authors Elsewhere" section at the bottom of the page) where he writes, as he does here, of his own experience as a Latter-day Saint. He does not speak for the church but will speak in favor of it.

12 Responses to Celebrating Repentance

  1. Lisa says:

    I seemed to take away the message of service. Perhaps I need to repent because I am not serving the Lord enough.

  2. jendoop says:

    Paul I appreciated this post, I felt the subtle change too. Last night while watching Gladys Knight and the SUV choir I thought about how African-american gospel music had more of this tone as well – ‘I’m a sinner please save me Jesus.’ Coming from traditional Mormon background the music was a shift for me, as I listened I thought about this post. There is something immensely freeing about openly admitting our inadequacy. The bands of outward perfection fall away and we can live our lives fully, without shame or fear. Much like the gospel music belts out the message of redemption without sedate tones. It really is a game changer, where the real game changer should be the atonement but for too many LDS people it is not because perfection is held in higher esteem than repentance (Christ). We’re too busy saving ourselves to let Christ save us, an insidious form of pride.

  3. Paul says:

    jemdoop, you raise a great point. There is a natural tension in our doctrine. On the one hand, salvation is free. On the other, I’m saved by grace after all I can do (see Marsha’s recent post on Enough). I think there is a place for the tension in the doctrine because it is that tension that causes us to ask ourselves tough questions.

    That said, there is no place for shame and blame. Alma makes that clear in his discussion with Corianton (which we happen to be reading as a family right now): we ought to feel only enough guilt to change, and then move on. And of course the Savior makes that point repeatedly in the Gospels (“Neither do I condemn thee; go thy way and sin no more”).

    “Perfection is held in higher esteem than repentance.” Interesting thought. I need to chew on that a while, but I think that for some (including me) it is true.

  4. loraine says:

    In our household we have come to view and discuss repentance as change. That’s all, no angst, no fuss, just daily change. We mess up because we are human, we learn, and we change. I think we are sometimes in danger of overwhelming our children with the enormity of what is required of them. I find it more helpful to look it as an ongoing spiritual process. We come here to grow. I don’t think our Father wants us to live in anguish, and I don’t want to hand this to my kids. Life is a joy.

    One of the ways that I have come to experience my relationship with the Spirit is that of a prompter of change that would otherwise not have been conceived. That to me is incredibly beautiful, and helps me understand that things can happen that I cannot yet conceive in both myself and my family’s development. It helps me remain excited about the prospect of our progress when I would otherwise despair.

    • jendoop says:

      Loraine, I’d love to hear more about how you create this kind of family culture. What does that look like in your daily life? How do you deal with having this kind of family culture when the world (at least in suburbia where I am) expects perfection? What does your discipline look like because of this idea?

      I have a daughter who is overwhelmed, and I feel overwhelmed at times, even though I have a deep abiding testimony of the atonement. I like your concept of the Spirit as a prompter of change also. We really can get caught in a rut and the Spirit bumps us out of it in such a kind and loving way. It would be wonderful if I could grasp this sentiment more: “Excited about the prospect of our progress when I would otherwise despair.”

      • templegoer says:

        I’m sorry to have taken so very long to respond Jendoop. Your questions are great.And I’m not going to be very helpful I’m afraid, because I don’t have a system. I think the other contributors here have done a great job in elaborating. I really underdstand the pressure though, and I am frequently knocked off course by the expectations of others. I do fear that we can be particularly perfectionistic in the church, and that we need to do more forgiving of one another.
        I try to emphasisie compassion over punishment in my interactions with my kids, and try to offer that to myself, but it’s always a challenge. I am not a person who has been able to gain perfection in any part of my life, and I accept that whilst also mourning it. I do try to make my home out of joy rather than other’s expectations, and what I am able to do through the Spirit is to accept my children for who they are, more or less. So each day I am challenged to embrace failure as part of the learning process, and prioritise the process over the product.
        After thirty years of parenting I’m very much more with the love than the discipline, I think this may have helped my children be more accepting of their process, but they feel the pressure too. The longer I live the more ways I see that we mess up, and the more accepting I am of the mess of the human condition. Flat cakes, missed appointments, snapping at my kids and all. I love the journal entry of Samuel Becket. ‘Feb11th-failed. Feb 12th-Failed better’
        I think the Spirit can whisper of God’s love and grace to us, when we can silence the angry, attacking parts of ourselves that do nothing to help us grow in anything but despair. The challenge is that God’s grace is inconcieveable to most of us most of the time, and we have to allow ourselves to have our ideas about family, and the universe,quite changed. This often involves us questioning our core beliefs about who does what for whom in a family-and I think that process is different for each family. I love that we can all change all the time,and I think it’s very important for me to remember this.
        Thanks for your important post.

        • templegoer says:

          PS! I also find it important that mu husband and I model this way of being in our relationship. Of course we don’t manage that all the time, but we do aspire to it.

  5. Ruth says:

    What makes me happy is the realisation that I was never expected to get it (life) right first time. More and more I am coming to understand the concept of learning by experience, and just as learning a new skill in sport takes many attempts and rehearsals before it is ‘safe’, so does living the gospel. Repentance does two things, first it frees us from the eternal consequences of our failures and lifts from us the weight of guilt that we feel, knowing that we have let somebody down, or failed to live up to the perfection we are aiming for; secondly through it we recommit ourselves to our ultimate goal of perfection and try again with renewed hope and determination. Repentance through the atonement truly allows us to be free.

  6. Hedgehog says:

    It was a big element in the General Relief Society Meeting as well Paul.
    I love this way of looking at repentance. My lovely, teenage son has Aspergers and is so forgiving to others, yet so so hard on himself when he does something wrong (usually inadvertant and something small). Then I have to talk him down from hysterical and alarming threats of self-punishment. And it is the atonement I use to do that: everyone making mistakes, repentance being an ongoing part of all our lives, and not having to punish ourselves because Christ suffered that punishment for us. We acknowledge our mistakes, put them behind us, keep trying and move on…

  7. Paul says:

    Loraine, Ruth & Hedgehog, thanks for the insightful comments. I still remember as a kid thinking everyone else had “it” figured out but me. I was sure I was the only weird geeky awkward Jr. High Schooled out there. As adults it’s too easy to feel that way at church, too. The Lord doesn’t want that for us. Good for you for figuring out how to help your kid learn that lesson.

  8. tabitha says:

    Thank you! This is helping me write a talk on Repentance for Sacrament Meeting.

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