Growing Sin

[ 11 ] Comments

by jendoop

repent sinnerI 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.

Photo credit: Lance McCord via Compfight,

 

About jendoop

Jen writes, reads, paints, walks, prays, eats and sleeps. Paul is her co-conspirator in teaching these skills to 4 children.

11 Responses to Growing Sin

  1. Becky L. Rose says:

    my favorite quote about repentance is not from one of the 12 or 1st presidency, but Hugh Nibley. He says this: The righteous are who ever are repenting. What do you repent of and how do you repent? It’s all a matter of seeking. When you repent you turn from seeking something to seeking others. What you seek are the desires of your heart and as Alma says by that alone with you be judged (Alma 41: 3).

    I think that idea also goes along with John 15:2 about purging the tree to bring forth more fruit!

    Also- repentance in Greek mean change- goes with Nibley’s “turn” idea. This turning, changing is what activates the atonement.

  2. Becca says:

    I absolutely loved SilverRain’s take on repentance, or the atonement, in her post Repenting after Sexual Assault. It’s not what it sounds like, and I recommend it as required reading on the atonement.

    Repentance is so much more than getting rid of sins. I like the idea of turning to God, and I love the connection to the atonement – which is about much more than getting rid of sins. The atonement is the way whereby we become like God. In every way – not just by being “more perfect” (i.e., sinning less). The atonement helps us become more compassionate, more charitable, stronger emotionally, it helps us heal from pain, and endure sorrow.

    We miss out on a lot when we focus on repentance as a four step process with some ABC’s and when we’re done we’re done. When we focus on repentance as the way we access the atonement, we can see that repentance is not just getting rid of our sins, but changing, a change of heart, becoming like God.

    Atonement. I like that word, too.

  3. Bonnie says:

    This is lyrical prose. Loved it. Found myself in it, comfortably and uncomfortably. One of my favorite quotes from Hugh Nibley: “We’re just sort of dabbling around, playing around, being tested for our moral qualities, and above all the two things we can be good at, and no two other things can we do: We can forgive and we can repent. It’s the gospel of repentance. We’re told that the angels envy men their ability both to forgive and to repent, because they can’t do either, you see. But nobody’s very clever, nobody’s very brave, nobody’s very strong, nobody’s very wise. We’re all pretty stupid, you see. Nobody’s very anything.”
    (“The Faith of an Observer,” 2) I’ve recently had some encounters with my father through the veil, and I’m beginning to wonder if he has been assigned to me to try to make restitution. What makes me realize it’s him is the intense frustration I feel someone is having with me, a frustration that is instantly recognizable as his. It’s been a lot easier for me to come to terms with him on this side of the veil than it seems to be for him to come to terms with me on that side. It’s sure given me a lot to ponder.

    • Jendoop says:

      Thank you Bonnie, your compliment means a lot. (How’s that for lyrical: “a lot.”)

      Your descriptions of interactions with your father even after his passing has me thinking about what I need to do with my father before it comes to that- He is very much alive. It’s hard to think about how to be honest and respectful of my feelings and the situations they emanate from, while moving towards forgiveness. It isn’t just letting it go, but working for a better relationship. It takes two functioning people for that to happen. Can a relationship only go as far as the most resistant person allows?

      • Bonnie says:

        I have often wondered that precise thought. I think the atonement removes the apparent need for final resolution between parties, because we all become indebted to Christ. We can no longer hold anything over each other, because he has paid. Because of that, I sometimes think reconciliation is an extra opportunity offered us. The ability to move forward is freely our own, at our pace, hand-in-hand with Christ, no matter what choice someone else makes. The better relationship, which is a really good thing, is icing.

  4. Ray says:

    jendoop, we focus so much on reactive repentance (ceasing to do bad things – eliminating the bad) that we forget too often about proactive repentance (change through acquisition). I’ve come to believe that the only complete repentance occurs when we become someone who ceases to act in opposition to individual understanding – and that, imo, is more a process of acquisition than of elimination.

    I wrote about it on my personal blog a few years ago. Here is the url, if you are interested:

    “A Fresh View” of Repentance (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2008/01/rethinking-repentance.html)

  5. Jendoop says:

    What wonderful additional thoughts from you all! Thank you. And after those inspiring repentance quotes from Nibley I need suggestions of which one of his books to get first :)

    • Bonnie says:

      Just go to FAIR and read articles here and there! Temple and Cosmos is my favorite of his collections, but Work We Must But The Lunch Is Free is my favorite address. Have fun!

  6. templegoer says:

    I’d like to echo Ray’s comments. For some years I laboured to rid myself of parts of myself which I found unacceptable. I set goals,I remonstrated with myself, I read scriptures and listened to talks and generally made myself miserable at my failure to be the person I aspired to be.I used my faults as a flail with which to flog myself. Eventually I realised that by focusing on these things-amongst which was forgiveness towards abusive parents-I was allowing these weaknesses to have a hold on my life which was defining and limiting. I learnt that , as long as I could learn to trust in the earnest desires of my heart to be at peace with my brethren,remembering that the Lord looketh on the heart, I could grow in an organic way to a less troubled life through the acquisition of the gifts of the Spirit.I guess I eventually learnt to trust in grace, amazing grace that sweetens our souls and can turn our affliction into a greater capacity to understand our brethren and our Father.
    Tomorrow I will bury my mother knowing that whatever ill she did in her life towards me is being worked upon by God to make me a sweeter and more compassionate soul as I allow that work to take place, and with an understanding that we will meet as sisters beyond the veil and accept together our walk. I know she is now free to choose whether to repent or not, but it does not trouble me whatever her choice may be other than for herself. I find that I have grown into forgiveness because the intent of my heart was to do so. The gift of grace is that I have.

    • jendoop says:

      Templegoer, your comment touched me as I walked out the door for church. I’ve been thinking throughout the day about your last few sentences. It gives me a sweet understanding of how to move forward. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. My condolences and love as you lay your mom to rest <3

  7. Paul says:

    You always catch me, Jen. While you don’t like the word repent, I love it. I love it for what it stands for and what it has come to mean to me — a turning (thinking about how the church translates that word into German). Less about specific acts (though it encompasses those) and more about reorienting myself to the Savior’s path for me.

    I think about Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life and those who have wandered off the path. If I were wandering in the woods, and lost my way, the first thing I would do is stop. And then I would think about how to get back on the path I was on. And I might call for help. Repentance, for me, is that process of stopping, turning and returning to the path, calling on the Savior for His help in finding my way back.

    I agree that forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves more than anything else. It is for me so tied up with a softening of my heart that they two are difficult to distinguish for me (as in, which comes first?). It seems to me, like repentance, a turning, but in this case a turing away from past wrongs, again looking to the blessings of the atonement for healing.

    What a great thing to think about.
    (My willingness to stop is not instinct — I was carefully taught that lesson by a wise Deacon’s quorum advisor, that when lost the first thing to do is to stop, soas not to get further lost.)

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