Repentance is one of those heavy topics that seems laden with guilt and sorrow. When there’s a lesson or a talk about it, we squirm as a virtual sigh that hangs over us. But this is exactly the opposite of how we should approach this essential subject.
The opportunity to repent has not been marketed properly. It comes across as extremely difficult. Cringey. Agonizing. Embarrassing. We read of leaders who’ve been told to preach nothing but repentance, and our hearts do not leap for joy.
Yet this is one of the most amazing, incredible, miraculous gifts God has given us. Imagine if we couldn’t repent, and we had to wear all our mistakes like heavy yokes on our shoulders FOREVER. Talk about torture. Repentance is the incredible opportunity to remake ourselves. It’s the chance to start over and leave shame behind. It’s the path back home to live with our Heavenly Father. It acknowledges the immense sacrifice of the Savior’s atonement. It leads to instant happiness here and happiness in the eternities. It’s actually one of the coolest things ever.
I think the main reason people attach a negative connotation to repentance is because they don’t fully understand how it works. Repentance is not being whipped with a set number of stripes. It is not public humiliation. It is not being punished for a prescribed amount of time. It is not just mumbling an apology.
Elder Neil L. Anderson said, “The invitation to repent is rarely a voice of chastisement but rather a loving appeal to turn around and to “re-turn” toward God. It is the beckoning of a loving Father and His Only Begotten Son to be more than we are, to reach up to a higher way of life, to change, and to feel the happiness of keeping the commandments.”
And I like what Elder Dale G. Renlund said: “Without the Redeemer, [our] inherent hope and joy evaporate, and repentance becomes simply miserable behavior modification. But by exercising faith in Him, we become converted to His ability and willingness to forgive sin.”
When we repent, we become new. Reborn. Changed for the better. We no longer desire to repeat our previous wrong behavior, and are even repulsed at the thought. We haven’t just stopped doing xyz; we’ve eradicated its appeal. We feel smarter. Cleaner. As Oliver says in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, “T’was I, but ‘tis not I.”Then he expresses no shame of who he used to be, because of the sweet taste of his conversion. What joyous freedom, what personal power, what humble gratitude we feel as God forgives us.
To truly remake ourselves we need to draw closer to Christ. And President Russell M. Nelson explained that process this way: “When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do. When you spiritually stretch beyond anything you have ever done before, then His power will flow into you.”
When the Lord knows we desperately want to leave the “old man” behind, He celebrates! He rushes to help us, prompt us, and comfort us. And this is a process every single mortal needs to experience because every single one of us has sinned. Not one of us is perfect and can cross “repentance” off our list. In fact, we should repent weekly as we take the Sacrament, which should indicate how often we sin!
Hugh Nibley understood the joyous aspect of repentance. He said, “Who is righteous? Anyone who is repenting. No matter how bad he has been, if he is repenting he is a righteous man. There is hope for him. And no matter how good he has been all his life, if he is not repenting, he is a wicked man. The difference is which way you are facing. The man on the top of the stairs facing down is much worse off than the man on the bottom step who is facing up.”
Repentance is not beyond anyone’s reach. It’s available to all. However, we make it more difficult by procrastinating. When we rationalize our sins or point to others who are worse, we compound the complexity and make it harder to take the necessary steps to heal.
We also need to forgive those around us. President Henry B. Eyring said, “We are to forgive to be forgiven. To wait for [others] to repent before we forgive and repent is to allow them to choose for us a delay which could cost us happiness here and hereafter.” We need to avoid the hypocritical stance of asking God to forgive us while we refuse to forgive one another.
Many on the path to repentance wonder how they can know when they’ve been truly forgiven. It’s when you have peace of conscience (Mosiah 4:3). And many have attained this, yet will not forgive themselves. This second step is essential; we are not to continue to berate ourselves, nor should we berate others. If you know you’ve honestly changed, embrace and own that.
Finally, think of the rush of joy and love you feel when someone comes to you truly sorry for an injustice they inflicted upon you. That gives you just a tiny taste of what God feels when we come to him, penitent and determined to cleanse the inner vessel. Let’s always remember Elder Jeffrey R Holland’s words when he said, “The thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful.” Let’s grant Him that opportunity.
Hilton’s books, humor blog, and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Inter-Faith Specialist for Church Communications.