We’ve all seen before-and-after pictures. It could be a remodeled kitchen, a cosmetics and hair makeover, a weight-loss ad. First we see the bedraggled, seemingly hopeless “before.” Then, presto-change-o, it looks fantastic! It’s truly a dramatic “after.”
It gets us in the mood for a revamping. Whether it’s our home or our personal appearance, we want the “after.” We want improvement.
And this is usually a good thing—clean garages, landscaped yards, freshly painted homes. But then we look at the problems in our lives, and our own personal weaknesses. We wish we could wave a wand to make everything wonderful, to zip us ahead to the “after.”
And we do set goals and work to improve. We get extra education to advance our career. We see a counselor to overcome a personal issue. We exercise and eat right to improve our health. But all of these things are slow going. They require patience and devotion to the task. Some of them may never even be accomplished in this lifetime.
I often say that we’re in Act 2 of a play. This mortal sojourn is where all the trouble mounts, the suspense heightens, and we wonder how our hero will ever get out of his predicament. Act 3 is the next life, after death. This is sometimes where we finally see resolution, and a truly happy ending.
There is one area where your “after” can be immediate. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast. Another satanic sucker punch is that it takes years and years and eons and eons to repent. That’s just not true. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say, ‘I’ll change’ and mean it. Of course, there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make…but change, growth, renewal, and repentance can come to you as instantaneously as for Alma.”
But what if it isn’t repentance, and you don’t get instant results? Too often we give up. We get depressed. We question how a loving God could watch our problems and not intercede. We whine. We bargain. We become angry. We blame.
We need to remember that before-and-after pictures are usually selling something. Before and after in real life usually takes much longer than in advertisements. We have much to learn from the “before,” lessons we can’t learn from a quick “after.” So instead of cursing our fate, losing steam, or blaming our circumstances, let’s just remind ourselves that life is supposed to be hard. That’s by design. We need to reframe our “befores” as valuable lessons. Yes, this is difficult. But it’s the truth.
Sometimes our “before” can transform as we repent, putting off the old man and becoming new again. Sometimes we need to forgive. Sometimes we need to mature and stop selfish thinking. To get to the “after” we all want, we have to exercise faith. This isn’t something an interior designer, coach, or makeup artist can solve. It’s going to take grit, relentless determination, and prayer.
Along this road we need to give ourselves time, and forgive ourselves for the person we used to be. Elder Dale G. Renlund said, “God cares a lot more about who we are and about who we are becoming, than about who we once were.” As we work together with our Heavenly Father, we’ll feel His support and approval as we inch in the right direction.
None of us were sent here to remain the same. Change is the whole idea—becoming a better person, following Christ’s admonition to love and care for one another, learning obedience and being grateful for blessings. Ultimately we are to qualify for saving ordinances, and help our families do the same. It’s a lifetime-long exercise in change.
And isn’t it thrilling to see someone make dramatic improvements? As we turn our lives over to God, a refining process begins. Never think that “people don’t change.” They absolutely do if they want to. Elder Holland says Satan is behind the message that we can’t change, because he cannot change. He will always be miserable and wants us to be miserable, too.
Remember, there is no pause button in this life. You are changing every day, whether you like it or not. You can change for the worse and become apathetic, bitter, lazy, or cynical. Or you can consciously choose to change for the better, trying every day to improve and qualify for exaltation.
I’ll close with wonderful wisdom from our prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, who said, “We can change our behavior. Our very desires can change. How? There is only one way. True change—permanent change—can come only through the healing, cleansing, and enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. He loves you—each of you! He allows you to access His power as you keep His commandments, eagerly, earnestly, and exactly. It is that simple and certain. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a gospel of change!”
That’s how we can have an “after” every day.
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.