I’d like to explore some ideas related to healing, both spiritual and physical and what the Lord offers us through his atonement that we may not be taking him up on.
In his address, “Wilt Thou Be Made Whole?” Elder Matthew L. Carpenter shared the following:
A few months into his mission, our youngest son and his missionary companion were completing their study when our son felt a dull pain in his head. He felt very strange; at first he lost control of his left arm; then his tongue went numb. The left side of his face began to droop. He had difficulty speaking. He knew something was wrong. What he didn’t know was that he was in the middle of a massive stroke in three areas of his brain. Fear began to set in as he became partially paralyzed. How quickly a stroke victim receives care can have a dramatic effect on the extent of his healing. His faithful missionary companion acted decisively. After calling 911, he gave him a blessing. Miraculously, the ambulance was only five minutes away.
After our son was rushed to the hospital, the medical personnel quickly assessed the situation and determined they should administer a medicine to our son that could potentially reverse the stroke’s paralyzing effects over time. However, if our son was not having a stroke, the medicine could have severe consequences, such as bleeding in the brain. Our son had to choose. He chose to accept the medication. While full recovery required more operations and many months, our son eventually returned and completed his mission after the effects of the stroke were substantially reversed.
Now in the case of Elder Carpenter’s missionary son, he had an immediate medical need and intervention was quite obviously necessary. He was given the option of a potentially life-changing drug and took it. When we are going through life and have a spiritual need, it’s not always quite so obvious when we need intervention to save our spiritual lives.
When you hear the word, “repentance”, what comes to mind? I’m sure the answer is very different for each of us. A memorable image that stuck with me was from spending the summer in England with my family as a teenager. We were doing family history, so instead of a set itinerary, we would do research and follow leads and go wherever it took us. Between that, driving on the opposite side of the road, and trying to find small rural towns that lay at the end of narrow roads with tall hedges on both sides, we had to turn around A LOT. But something that’s much more common in England than it is here is a roundabout. Whenever we came to a roundabout that made it so convenient to turn completely back around my parents would call it a “repentance roundabout”. It seemed nearly painless to make that complete turn back around when we had gone the wrong way.
As such, I’ve often felt fairly lighthearted toward the idea of repentance, though it doesn’t mean I’ve used it nearly as often or as deeply as I should.
On the other hand, we may have a heavy, even stressful view of repentance. Maybe we fear the pain of coming clean to our loved ones or to our leaders; that perhaps their love for us will shrink if they knew what we’ve done. We may look on it with thoughts of only the anxiety that surrounds the starting of it rather than with an eye to the peace that we will feel when it is finished.
So, why do we do it?
First, I think it’s important to draw the distinction between repentance the way we talk about it in the gospel and just general self-improvement, self-help, self-care.
In that same address from Elder Carpenter, he explores the implication of a story of healing from the scriptures:
The Gospel of John recounts the story of a certain man who had endured a debilitating infirmity for 38 years.
“When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?”
The impotent man responded that no one was around to help him when he needed it most.
“Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
“And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked.”4
Please note the juxtaposition of how long this man suffered on his own—38 years—and how quickly the healing came once the Savior became involved. The healing was “immediate.”
Now, we don’t know how actively that man had tried to help himself, but we know that he didn’t get very far with it. The difference between repentance and regular self-improvement is Jesus Christ. And He makes all the difference.
Christ not only knew us for millennia before this life, but he came to earth and paid the ultimate price to know us in a completely different way. Because of the atonement, he knows our griefs, our foibles, our temptations, our sorrows, our sins. When you are feeling something that it seems no one in your life could possibly understand, he does. Because he knew us there, he knows all that we can be. Because he knows us here through the atonement, he has compassion for how hard it is to get there.
When we are in need of repentance, it is because we are making choices that are taking us away from following the commandments. So, being motivated to repent comes back to understanding the purpose of the commandments. They are not a set of arbitrary hurdles to jump over to slow us down or stop us from picking up any real speed. No, they are a set of divine guidelines given to us by a Creator who knows exactly what kind of behaviors and choices will maximize our joy.
He made us—not the way a manufacturer pushes a button on a machine and make a thousand copies of something, but the way a painter sits at a canvas putting thought and investment and interest into every color and line. What does someone call a project that’s extremely important to another person? It’s their baby. And we are literally his babies. Heavenly Father cares deeply about the outcomes of our lives, probably much more deeply than we ourselves care. And he gave us commandments to guide us towards our greatest ends. Or rather the greatest beginnings to our endless days with Him.
What are our spiritual infirmities that need curing right now? Usually, spiritual infirmities won’t have obvious, outside visible symptoms. They won’t make one side of our face droop or make our tongue go numb or make one leg stop working. We may not fully realize the infirmities that are hampering us day to day, let alone know how to cure them, but we do know who the master physician is. And he sent the Holy Ghost to help enlighten our minds with the discernment to begin to recognize our own infirmities so that we can bring them to the Lord to be healed.
In the Church’s gospel topics essay on repentance, the very first element discussed is faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ. That is the crucial first step in the repentance process. So, what if we don’t even know if we have that?
This is truly a tricky thing, because testimony comes from the witness of the Holy Ghost, but chronic, sinful behavior is something that drives the Holy Ghost away so how do we develop the faith to leave those habits, addictions, shortcomings behind when the chief witness of faith can’t be with us to testify because we keep driving him away?
That is when we can turn to Alma’s seminal talk on faith in which he says (and this in Alma 32:27): “yea, even if ye can no more than adesire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words.”
That isn’t a huge request. He just says, ‘even if you don’t believe yet, but you want to,’ that’s a start. I had a friend recently tell me, “I don’t understand everything, but I am happiest as a person of faith so I’m going to keep trying.” That’s a great place to start.
Maybe you just want to want it. That’s also a good place to start.
And a great way to bring the spirit in to begin to build or rebuild testimony is by saying out loud the things you do believe. Or even just listening to the testimony of others. One night, as I was assembling articles for Meridian’s line-up, I found a video of every single missionary currently serving in the Hawaii Honolulu mission just bearing a five word testimony as a thank you to their mission presidents before the mission split to make the new Hawaii Laie mission. They were saying things like “Christ has compassion on me”, “The Gospel provides pure joy”, “Through Christ, we are enough”.
I wasn’t even fully listening to the video, I just had it playing in the background of my computer so I could screen it for use on the magazine, but I keep finding myself welling up and not knowing why and I realized it’s because they were speaking truth and the Holy Ghost’s job is to testify of truth. So, if you want to invite the Holy Ghost to attend you to help grow that desire you have into something substantial, start by testifying of truth. If all you know that you know is “I am a child of God” or even “I have had good experiences in the Church.” “I have known in the past that this was true”. Whatever it is, the Holy Ghost will attend if the truth is the topic of discussion.
So, whether you have unshakable faith in the promises of the atonement or whether you’re unsure and don’t know where to begin, it’s important to recognize that –unlike that drug that Elder Carpenter’s son was offered that—if it turned out to be the wrong diagnosis could have damaging effects—the healing that Christ offers us through the repentance process can only help, not hurt. And there is no spiritual infirmity that is outside of the scope of his healing. So even if your faith is small, there is no harm in starting on the path to repentance even if it just means beginning to express out loud to the Lord that you want to change something and don’t think you can do it without his help.
I want to bear my testimony that the commandments are in place for our joy, not our headache; and that wherever your testimony is at now, there is not only room for it grow, but specific tools readily available to help you get there; and most importantly, that real, lasting change is only possible through Jesus Christ’s atonement. He wants that for you and He’s waiting for you to want it too.