How do we change, repent and turn to the Lord? Alma sets forth a formula for all of us to follow that can help us change and avoid mistakes.
It took Winston just a few hours to change his life and finally do what he has tried to do for many years.
Before college, he thought he would go to law school, like his father. But while in school, he worked as an editor of his college magazine at the University of Alabama and found his talent—to write. His dream was to someday write a book that would attract millions of readers.
After college however, before he could get started, he was whisked off to Vietnam. There he served in the fourth infantry division fighting in the mountains along the border between Cambodia and Vietnam.
Upon returning from Vietnam and travelling through San Francisco, he and a fellow soldier wanted to meet some girls, so they went shopping for civilian clothes at a department store called Gumps.
Soon thereafter, Winston started work as a reporter in D.C. at the Washington Star. Still, his desire to be an author called to him. So, he quit reporting and dedicated himself to writing full-time. Over the years, he wrote a number of books and was recognized for his prowess, but still the best seller eluded him.
His mother had passed away years earlier and he felt inspired to go home and visit his father in Mobile, Alabama. While there he and his father had lunch in a downtown restaurant. That lunch lasted a few hours.
As they spoke, his father reminisced about his childhood. In his father’s neighborhood there had been a boy who was slow witted. The other children would often tease and throw rocks at him. Then one day a truck showed up in front of his house and a big piano was unloaded.
A few weeks later, beautiful music was coming from his home. The boy was a musical savant of sort, and that changed the boy’s life.
Winston and his father talked about a recent news story on savants and how they could hardly do basic tasks like tying their shoes but could perform remarkable things, including advanced math problems.
That night Winston couldn’t get the discussion out of his head and started to make some notes. The notes turned into a story… and the story’s character was named Forrest Gump. The story consumed his thinking. He wrote without stopping. In 6 short weeks, he was done. He said it was like the book wrote itself. Like his thoughts were connected to his fingers. No notes. No research. It was the most fun he ever had writing.
He sent his book entitled Gump & Co. to one of the best editors he knew. He waited two weeks and got a phone call. The editor said, “Don’t change a word.” It sold immediately and would eventually be made into the Oscar winning movie Forrest Gump.
Winston Groom had tried for years to write the story he was meant to write. But there in Mobile, in a lunch discussion with his father; he found the inspiration and wherewithal to write the story that would change is life.
In assembling the Book of Mormon, the prophet Mormon includes the story of Corianton. You can’t help but wonder if that discussion with his father Alma changed the course of his life. That discussion is recorded in Alma 39-42. There, Alma speaks to his son about the need to repent, change and fulfill his calling. While we don’t know the entire story, it seems clear that Corianton did in fact change and repent. It seems that this father-son talk enabled Corianton to return to the Lord. Can. Alma’s words help us do the same?
We all need to repent and change. What change would make the biggest difference in your life at this time? A change in your thinking, your behavior, your feelings? A change in living the commandments of God more fully? A change in the way you see yourself? A change in your abilities, your qualities? Or do you most desire a change in your nature?
Corianton had, while a missionary, strayed from his ministry and made mistakes. Alma his father, in some very direct words, turned his son from his sins and helped him repent. Among other things Alma, speaking as one who himself had repented and changed, tells his son:
Now my son, I would that ye should repent and forsake your sins, and go no more after the lusts of your eyes, but cross yourself in all these things; for except ye do this ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God. Oh, remember, and take it upon you, and cross yourself in these things. (Alma 39:9).
In the last sentence of verse 9, Alma says three important things to Corianton that may help any of us to change and repent:
- Take it upon you
- Cross yourself in these things
The covenant to “always remember Him” is part of our sacrament prayers. Remembering is an essential part to change. When I remember the feelings I felt as a young man when I first received a witness of the truth of the Book of Mormon, I am infused with faith. More importantly, when I remember the mercy and love I’ve felt from the Lord as I have repented of wrong doings, I feel indebted to him. This feeling helps me to obey.
Elder Ulisses Soares said, “The word remember comes from the Latin word memor and means “to be mindful of,” and re- means “again”.…There is a strong correlation between the emotion felt and the resulting memory. Thus. the stronger the emotion, the more vivid and influential is the memory.[i]
Remembering often allows the Holy Ghost’s influence into our life. To be mindful of Christ is to invite the influence of His spirit into our thinking. That power, that feeling can empower us to change.
Remembering may be so important because forgetting is so easy. Helaman 12:2 says,
“Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One—yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.”
Remembering is essential to change. This doesn’t mean dwelling on our mistakes, but remembering Christ. Turning to him with a broken heart and contrite spirit. Helaman also said, “My sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation” (Helaman 5:12)
Take It Upon You
The first question is: What is “it?” What are we supposed to take upon us?
I have learned that in life, we each carry a burden. For some, this burden is heavier than others. Often this burden came to us by no fault of our own, at other times the burden is a collection of the lingering habits and weaknesses we have acquired through our poor choices in life.
And when carrying a burden of sin, it’s easy to be overwhelmed and discouraged by the load we carry.
Then, as if we weren’t carrying enough weight already, we compare our load with what we perceive is the load of our friends and neighbors. They don’t seem as heavily weighed down. Then, we add to our burden discouragement, disappointment and lack of hope.
The Savior said, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30).
The Savior asks that we trade our burden for his. We give our burden to him, relying on the merits of Him who is mighty to save. And in return, we take on us his yoke, the yoke to be kind, forgiving and obedient. In comparison to the burdens we carry, his burden in light.
Perhaps the “it” that Alma speaks of is the name and yoke of Christ. The people of Alma were in bondage and turned to the Lord. In return, the Lord lightened their load: “the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (Mosiah 24:15).
Elder Paul V. Johnson wrote:
“The Apostle Paul suffered with an unnamed problem he described as ‘a thorn in the flesh’ (2 Cor. 12:7). This infirmity was not taken away even after he petitioned the Lord, but his faith is manifest in his declaration:
‘For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong” (2 Cor 12:8-10).
Sometimes our burdens don’t disappear. But we carry them relying on the merits of Christ and those burdens become lighter. During the Last Supper the Savior told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you” (John 14:27).[ii]
There is something else we take upon us—we often displace the burden with a higher more powerful influence—a higher emotional sense of purpose that can help us if we let it.
In their book “Willpower is Not Enough: Why We Don’t Succeed at Change,” A. Dean Byrd and Mark D. Chamberlain teach a powerful lesson: “you can do anything when your heart is in it.”
“Every day we do difficult things with little or no reliance on willpower. Consider: How much willpower does it take for a fly-fisherman to get up at 5:30 A.M. so he or she can get to the stream before daybreak? How much willpower does it take for a child to run from ride to ride at an amusement park, from early in the morning until late at night? How much willpower does it take for a group of young kids to sweep off the patio so that they can play basketball? How much willpower does it take for a teenager to spend four focused hours preparing for the prom?
“…Problems of self-control can be conceptualized as battles between the mind and the heart. The heart feels like doing one thing, but the mind thinks better of it. Consider the following examples: ‘I know I should study, but I just can’t bring myself to sit down and do it.’ ‘When I get mad, I’m always sorry later about the things I said and did.’ ‘I really want to lose weight; it’s just next to impossible to discipline myself.’ ‘I believe pornography is wrong, but I just can’t control myself…’
“We lack self-control because our hearts and minds can’t agree on what we’re trying to do. One way to bring them to agreement is to find another, higher motivation, something that will engage your heart so thoroughly it will supersede the bad habit or attitude you’re trying to control.” (p. 23). [iii]
The yoke of Christ can supersede bad habits and temper circumstances. The Holy Ghost can purify us, allowing us to see ourselves as God sees us. The authors continue:
“Certainly it is true that good can displace the bad in our lives. When we are deeply involved in a positive purpose, our souls, and even our bodies it seems, resonate with the power and energy of God. Just as precious ore that has been purged of imperfections is more pure, we are more fully ourselves when we are in the midst of doing good rather than evil. In essence, the process of gaining more self-control and increasing in righteousness is not one of changing from who we are. Rather, we are changing to who we are. Changing is a process of becoming more fully ourselves.” (pp. 33-34).[iv]
Too often as we try to change, the start stops us. The sheer magnitude of what we need to change discourages us from even starting.
In helping married couples who struggle to change, David S. King writes, “…Changing behavior can start with very simple acts. My experience with hundreds of couples and individuals has taught me that even simple solutions can have far-reaching, positive effects and that every couple can do something different today that will improve themselves and their marriage. A kind gesture, an unexpected kiss on the cheek, a thoughtful word of appreciation can have a ripple effect that will invite and encourage goodwill throughout the week. In fact, it is often through some of our simplest actions that some of the greatest changes occur (see 1 Nephi 16:29).
While solutions to long-standing problems may initially seem impossible to achieve, we can do something today that will move us along the right path. Cultivating new ways of dealing with seemingly complex issues—instead of ignoring them and hoping they will somehow disappear on their own—can kindle feelings of new hope and create a sense of moving ahead toward better times. The very acts of making lists, setting goals, and doing something different often help dispel discouragement.”[v]
Doing something today is such a powerful concept. No matter what happened yesterday. No matter how much I failed in overcoming my bad habit, I can do something today. I can’t let my past dictate my future, even if it is my recent past.
The Lord taught that we should “agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him” (Matthew 5:25). This includes the adversary called mistakes. Don’t let mistakes of the past, or even the present, guide our actions for the rest of the day, week or year. We can forgive ourselves quickly despite our weakness and resolve to do better.
One of Satan’s most powerful tools is to cause us to dwell on our past defeats. Satan is “the father of all lies, to deceive, and to blind men, and to lead them captive at his will” (Genesis 3:5). He rejoices in our failures. He hates those who turn quickly from their mistakes. Turning quickly may seem to some as grossly hypocritical—it’s like sinning one minute and repenting the next.
But to those who have carried a burden for years, who are trying to re-gain their spiritual capacity, who desire change and whose capabilities have not yet developed, turning quickly is essential. It doesn’t mean forgetting, it just means turning quickly.
Even if we have made wrong choices in the past, every right choice begins to turn us into the person we can and should become. We should never let the fact that we have made a wrong choice in the past keep us from making a right choice today. C.S. Lewis wrote, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature.”[vi]
When we take Christ’s yoke upon us, even in small ways, we can find peace. Oftentimes this peace comes from the success we achieve as we come to accept that “there is no other way or means whereby man can be saved, only in and through Christ” (Alma 38:9).
There is no other way. There is no scapegoat upon which to place our burdens. However, there is one who understands our burdens, who has suffered for them, and who can lift those burdens as we learn to overcome and travel a direct course.
The Lord cannot redeem us in our sins. He only can redeem us from our sins. When we turn to him and offer a broken heart and contrite spirit and do everything in our power to repent, then, His grace is sufficient. “O remember, remember…that there is no other way nor means whereby man can be saved, only through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who shall come; yea, remember that he cometh to redeem the world. And remember…the Lord surely should come to redeem his people, but that he should not come to redeem them in their sins, but to redeem them from their sins.” (Helaman 5:9).
“Peace cannot be imposed. It must come from the lives and hearts of men. There is no other way.”[vii]
Cross Yourself in These Things
As we first ponder on the meaning of the words “cross yourself,” our minds likely turn to other scriptures in the Book of Mormon. 3 Nephi 12:30 says, “For it is better that ye should deny yourselves of these things, wherein ye will take up your cross, than that ye should be cast into hell.”
Just as Christ took upon him the cross on the way to Calvary, so we carry a cross of the world when we deny ourselves. Yes, the natural man would rather disobey and follow the world, but when we deny ourselves these things and follow the Lord, we carry a cross made of his will—similar to the cross the Savior carried in being obedient to the will of God to die for our sins.
Jesus told his disciples, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt. 16:24).
Curiously, these scriptures use the word cross as a noun. However, Alma in speaking to his son Corianton uses the word “cross” as a verb. Could it be that Alma is speaking of something more?
In the dictionary, the word cross is defined as:
- To go or extend to the other side (a path, road or stretch of water)
- When two lines cross at 90 degrees (move in an opposite or different direction)
It’s almost as if you were travelling in one direction and turn to travel in a new direction. In Helaman 13:11 the Lord says, “…blessed are they who will repent and turn unto me.” In my mind, to cross yourself is not only to deny worldly sins but also to turn to Christ. In my own experience as I have strived to keep the commandments, I have noticed that there is a space in time when I am tempted when I can turn immediately to Christ.
Elder Theodore M. Burton taught that the Old Testament concept of repentance is Shube meaning “turn back to him.”[viii] Nothing is more powerful in the moment of temptation than turning to remember Christ. Sometimes in moments of temptation, I need to pray and other times to recite in my mind words that cause me to remember.
So, cross may mean to not only carry your burden, denying yourself, but also to repent by turning to the Lord.
A Final Thought on Change
We cannot always command change. Sometimes we must stay faithful and keep trying. A powerful lesson of dealing with change is found in Job 14:14: “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.”
I think Job is talking of the spiritual as well as the physical. If we sin and sin again (or spiritually die), shall we ever be able to live again free of our behavior? Yes. Perhaps, we are to keep trying, waiting patiently, faithfully, and prayerfully on the Lord; and when we do we find the grace to overcome.
Job understood how it feels to carry a burden when he said, “I have sinned; what shall I do unto thee, O thou preserver of men? Why hast thou set me as a mark against thee, so that I am a burden to myself?job 7:21 And why dost thou not pardon my transgression, and take away mine iniquity?” (Job 7:20-21).
If you can’t overcome quickly, do not give up. I am confident and certain that for those who wait upon the Lord, there sufficient grace. I have seen it and I have experienced it myself. There is an appointed time for us to learn from our affliction and for us to overcome. Our job is to keep trying.
Business author Jim Collins wrote of change, “Picture an egg. Day after day, it sits there. No one pays attention to it. No one notices it. Certainly no one takes a picture of it or puts it on the cover of a celebrity-focused business magazine. Then one day, the shell cracks and out jumps a chicken. All of a sudden, the major magazines and newspapers jump on the story: ‘Stunning Turnaround at Egg!’ and ‘The Chick Who Led the Breakthrough at Egg!’ From the outside, the story always reads like an overnight sensation — as if the egg had suddenly and radically altered itself into a chicken.
Now picture the egg from the chicken’s point of view. While the outside world was ignoring this seemingly dormant egg, the chicken within was evolving, growing, developing — changing. From the chicken’s point of view, the moment of breakthrough, of cracking the egg, was simply one more step in a long chain of steps that had led up to that moment. Granted, it was a big step — but it was hardly the radical transformation that it looked like from the outside.”[ix]
We can adopt the attitude of Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (Job 13:15). After waiting on the Lord, Job 42:10 says that “the Lord turned the captivity of Job…the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.”
This same principle is recorded in Ether 12:27 “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
As Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wisely instructed us in a conference address: “The path you are to walk through life may be very different from others. You may not always know why [Heavenly Father] does what He does, but you can know that He is perfectly just and perfectly merciful. …Trust Him, even when in eternal perspective it temporarily hurts very much. Have patience when you are asked to wait when you want immediate action.”[x]
Orson F. Whitney said: “No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God … and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we came here to acquire and which will make us more like our Father and Mother in heaven.”[xi]
A few years ago, I taught a youth class and I chose one of the smaller girls in the class to help in a demonstration. I asked her to put a bag on her shoulder and then I asked one of the stronger boys in the class to come forward and begin putting very large rocks in her bag. Each rock weighed her down more and more. After a dozen or so large heavy rocks, the boy stopped when he saw the load was beginning to hurt the girl. I asked him to add one more rock and then another. She began to tremble under the load. Then I asked if another girl would come forward to shoulder the load. Out of compassion each girl came forward to take a turn under the burden. Then, I told them about the burden Christ carries for us. As I talked about the Lord’s burden, you could see the tears swell up in the eyes of the first girl. She had much more appreciation for the burden and love for him who carried it for her because she had felt—even for a little while—the weight of the burden.
So it is with us. The great creator knew that we must experience his chastening so we could properly value and seek his peace. There is a purpose in our overcoming and repenting. It is to help us be like him. What a wonderful calling: to be called to carry his yoke, to bear a burden that will help us be like him!
[i] Ulisses Soares, Always Remember Him, BYU Speeches, Feb. 5, 2019.
[ii] Paul V. Johnson, My Burden is Light, Ensign, March 2007.
1 A. Dean Byrd and Mark D. Chamberlain, Willpower Is Not Enough: Why We Don’t Succeed at Change [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1995], 23.
3 Ibid., 33-34.
[v] Dealing Successfully with Change, Ensign, Feb. 1981, 21.
5 Lewis, Mere Christianity, [New York: Macmillan, 1943], 86.
[vii] Path To Peace Found in Savior’s Teachings , LDS Church News, April 9, 1994.
[viii] Theadore M. Burton, The Meaning of Repentance, Ensign, Aug 1988.
7 Jim Collins, From the Essay Built to Flip, March 2000 issue of Fast Company, Issue 32, 131.
[x] Richard G. Scott, Obtaining Help from the Lord, Ensign, Nov. 1991, 84
[xi] Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 98.