I don’t like the word repent. Short and chopped at the end with the “t”, it makes it sound easy, as if it were an afternoon project like nap or cook.
Sin seems to grow on my skin like stubborn moss. Repentance is the process of using the atonement to scrub the moss off, but it’s not like a daily shower where my entire body is clean in a matter of moments. I focus on an area, let’s say my elbow, and scrub and rub, watching bits of black moss flow off me, circling the drain and disappearing. While I focus on my elbow there’s a spot on my back that itches, I know that’s next. I get distracted though, it’s hard to focus on my elbow while I see a spot on the back of the hand I’m scrubbing with, or a bit of mold grows on the end of my nose, asking me to go cross-eyed watching it. It feels like sin is all over me and always threatening to grow back.
I’ve been a mother for 18 years, and for all of those years I’ve struggled with my temper. Especially when I’m tired, it flares, and I yell and act irrationally. After it’s passed I feel like a fool with sin on the end of my nose, where everyone can see it. I scrubbed it off a week ago, but here it is again. It isn’t an isolated spot though, my temper is related to my anxiety about being a good mom, about doing everything right (ironically). I could say that I get my temper from my Dad, but it’s more accurate to say that I get my temper from not forgiving my Dad. It’s all connected and as long as I harbor anxiety and ugly feelings, the spots will grow back.
There’s another word I don’t like, forgive. Little tiny word, soul-achingly difficult to achieve. I like the second half of the word give; it’s like a gift to myself and the person I forgive, but it’s not so easy.
This is all tied up in that little word, repent, although it’s just one facet. I’ve got many other sins which are tied to other issues, all connected across the broad mossy garden of my mortal skin which should be washed clean with that little word that we throw around, so blasé. We have the gospel and have faith that it answers our questions, if not now then eventually. So we think, “this shouldn’t be so hard; it shouldn’t be such a mess to be mortal because of Christ.” He is perfect; His atonement is eternal; the gospel is true, so let’s get it together and repent. It’s that little word that distorts the complexity of this process.
God has given each of us an entire lifetime to repent; doesn’t that give us some clue of how difficult it must be to really utilize the atonement? Yet we torture ourselves and judge others because the moss grows so thick on our skins.
“And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God.” Alma 42:4
It’s not easy to repent. That little word undermines the complexity of the mammoth task we flawed mortals are presented with. In my death Christ will absolve me of my sins because I’ve uttered his name, crying for mercy and grace. Still, I want to know his saving power now, not wait until my bones wither with moss still growing in thick patches. But, there is space between the commandment and The Judgment, a space between the ideal and the temporal. That is the space where I need repentance, where it washes over me like a soothing bath, absolving me while not solving it for me. The sins grow back because I’m still working on repentance.
That’s the beauty of the atonement. And atonement is a word I love.