Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Now Is the Time to Repent ... But Not Necessarily of Everything

Those of you who think I'm a raving lunatic would have loved to see my Elders' quorum meeting this week.  We talked about faith and repentance and we discussed the following passage from the manual:

Repentance is a gift of God. … It is not so easy for some people to repent, but the gift of repentance and faith will be given to every man who will seek for it. (Teaching of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith, p. 89)
 After reading this, I chose to speak about the difficulty of repenting; to acknowledge that it really isn't always an easy thing.  I made reference to a message from Elder Richard G. Scott to abuse victims in 2008 and used his comments to claim that we didn't have to repent of all of our sins right now.  If there was a sin we really struggled with, or one we just weren't prepared to give up yet, that was okay. We can work on other things until we are ready to repent.

The very next thing we read was "The time to repent is now."  Followed by "do not procrastinate
the day of your repentance until the end" (Alma 34:33).  If you think I need to be put in my place every now and again, you probably would have enjoyed that.

But I'm not yielding (I'm not that humble).  I still believe that it's okay not to repent right now.

Sort of.  To see why I claim this, we're going to have to look a little further than the sound bites.

The relevant portion from Elder Scott's talk is this:
As impossible as it may seem to you now, in time the healing you can receive from the Savior will allow you to truly forgive the abuser and even have feelings of sorrow for him or her. When you can forgive the offense, you will be relieved of the pain and heartache that Satan wants in your life by encouraging you to hate the abuser. As a result, you will enjoy greater peace. While an important part of healing, if the thought of forgiveness causes you yet more pain, set that step aside until you have more experience with the Savior’s healing power in your own life.
At the time I heard this, I was struck by both the challenge and the compassion in this one segment.  I have no doubt that forgiving one's abuser is a difficulty that I will never comprehend.  For some (perhaps for most) in may seem an impossible task.  And what is Elder Scott's advice if this is the case?  "set that step aside."

The Atonement has an infinite capacity to heal, but it doesn't heal all at once.  It doesn't haphazardly pick up the shards of a broken heart and tape them all together all rough at the seams.  Instead, it carefully gathers each piece and carefully, deliberately helps each piece and nurses the pieces to grow together, both minimizing the scars and restoring the original function.

Some pieces may not be ready to be grafted in yet.  Perhaps the heart isn't strong enough to mend in a certain part.  That's okay!  Mend in the pieces that the heart is strong enough to  mend.  Then, periodically, re-evaluate the heart and decide if it's strong enough to mend in that bigger piece.

When listening to Elder Scott speak I realized instantly that his advice didn't apply only to abuse survivors, but to all of us who struggle to repent.  We can piece together our repentance little by little.  There's no need to try to do it all at once (as nice as that would be).

Mostly, I think this principle applies: every time we rid ourselves of any one sin in our lives, we come closer to God.  Regardless of whatever other sins plague us.  It isn't like there is any one sin that is so grotesque that it prevents us from drawing nearer to God until it is resolved.  We can always draw nearer to God, in whatever little ways we choose.  The chasm that separates us from God is more like the sum total of our short comings than it is just the worst of our failings.

Having just put that last thought in writing, I realize that this notion is filled with both despair and hope.  This principle, if true, only widens the chasm between us and the Lord.  But I still think that is merciful.  Because it means that every little victory we accomplish--every small repentance--brings us a little bit closer to God.  And every time we get closer to God, we find more strength to vanquish the larger demons in our lives.

So if I were to put all of it into context, I would say this:

Now is the time to repent.....of something.  Anything.

Are you having trouble paying tithing?  Perhaps you can pay something less than 10%.  Sure, it won't satisfy the strict letter of the commandment, but it will bring you a little closer.  And perhaps a little closer is what you need to prepare yourself to go further.

Are you addicted to smoking/pornography/Facebook and can't find the strength to quit.  Fine.  Maybe you can focus on reading your scriptures, or controlling your temper, or paying more attention to those around you.  And by bringing yourself a little bit closer, you might find strength to kick your habit.

Do you find yourself frequently having unkind feelings toward your fellow saints and church leaders?  (hmmm...who does that sound like, I wonder).  And is your heart too callous to give them the benefit of the doubt, and try to help instead of quietly criticize?  (really, I know this reminds me of someone)  Try softening your  heart through other means first.

The key to this is to re-evaluate periodically.  When I say it's okay to delay your repentance of some sin for now, that grace has a shelf life.  And that grace expires if you neither reevaluate your preparedness to change nor strive to repent of something else in the meantime.  I can't think of anything worse than spoiled, rotting, unused grace.

So just do something.  And feel a little better.  And a little better. Before you know it, you'll feel a lot better.

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