6 Things “Repentance” does NOT Mean

Repentance

I do not think the word means what you think it means

I think most people don’t repent because they don’t really know what that word means. Well, here are 6 things that repentance does NOT mean. Too many people never experience the happiness that comes from repentance because they think THIS is what it DOES mean. With Inigo Montoya I say: “I do not think it means what you think it means.”

1. Unending Suffering

Pit of Despair

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Repentance doesn’t mean that we will be suffering lashes forever. One of Satan’s big lies is that to repent of something, we will have to suffer and dig and gnash for an endless amount of time before we will finally be worthy.

This is NOT true!

How was Alma the older a wicked priest of Noah who spent his strength with harlots and taught that which was contrary to the law one day, and then 5 chapters later he was baptizing hundreds of people at the waters of Mormon? How was it that Ammon and the sons of Mosiah converted thousands of wicked Lamanites after being “the vilest of sinners” who were going about trying to destroy the church? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland clarifies this:

“You can change anything you want to change, and you can do it very fast. That’s another satanic suckerpunch—that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say, “I’ll change”—and mean it.1

That’s it. If you want to change, you can do it as fast as you decide to (and truly mean it). And if you truly mean it, you WILL spend the rest of your life as a different person. No suffering for an eternity of pains-taken “repentance mess” but constantly experiencing the happiness of a new life, forever. Indeed, Ammon and the sons of Mosiah spent the rest of their lives proving that their moment of “I change” was really what they meant. And they also spent the rest of their lives experiencing TRUE JOY. Just read Alma chapter 26 for an example.

Repentance doesn’t mean guilt and suffering forever. Repentance means choosing joy.

2. Isolation

This is what Satan wants. What does he say after Adam and Eve realize their nakedness? To isolate ourselves from God. To hide from Him. Why would we want to hide from God? If our heavenly Father is truly all-loving (which He is), then we NEVER need to isolate ourselves from Him. We only lose power when we withdraw from God. But He is there for the woman caught in adultery as well as for the Nephi. For Moses as well as for the vilest of sinners. We must come boldly to him whether we are tromping deep in the mud or high upon the mountain top of holiness. As Paul says:

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“Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” 2

We are not to shrink and isolate ourselves in a time of need, but to go BOLDLY to the throne of grace in our time of sin – our time of need. Grace is not earned. Grace exists for those who DO NOT deserve it.

When you feel like isolating yourself from God…Go boldly to His throne.

3. Self Loathing

We are NOT to do what these silly monks did. No self flagellation. No self loathing. This is NOT repentance.

President Uchtdorf teaches this masterfully:

“The Apostle Paul taught that ‘godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation … but the sorrow of the world worketh death.’ Godly sorrow inspires change and hope through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Worldly sorrow pulls us down, extinguishes hope, and persuades us to give in to further temptation.

“Godly sorrow leads to conversion and a change of heart. It causes us to hate sin and love goodness. It encourages us to stand up and walk in the light of Christ’s love. True repentance is about transformation, not torture or torment. Yes, heartfelt regret and true remorse for disobedience are often painful and very important steps in the sacred process of repentance. But when guilt leads to self-loathing or prevents us from rising up again, it is impeding rather than promoting our repentance.3

Remember who you really are. Remember where you came from. Love yourself first, then you will naturally change what you are doing.

4. Shame

BOO! Queen of Rubbish - Princess Bride

Why is there so much shame in being honest about our imperfections? Why is it scary? Why can’t we be more open? Why is there shame in sharing about our eternal progress. If angels rejoice when we decide to repent, then why not everyone else?

In my elder’s quorum last week our lesson was on overcoming addiction. We were all given a copy of the 12 Step Addiction Recovery Program. We started reading it together as a quorum. At the end the teacher asked if anyone had ever used this program and would like to share an experience.

 

Silence…

Even more silence…

You know the feeling. No one wants to admit that they aren’t perfect or that they have ever had any problem with anything ever… Because everyone in every elder’s quorum and relief society is perfect. Especially returned missionaries. Right? Wrong.

Finally, a bold brother voluntarily shared his experience with this program. He wasn’t ashamed one bit. He had been addicted to pornography but had gone through the 12-step program to over come it. He powerfully testified how actually being honest with himself and going through the steps changed his life forever. It saved his marriage and it saved his life. The feeling in the room completely changed. The Spirit was so strong it was tangible. You could slice it with a knife. Then others started sharing and it became a brotherhood of love. It was a sacred experience that I will never forget. It was because one bold brother decided that it was not shameful to share the truth.

Don’t be ashamed to do something that will bring you closer to God. Don’t be one of those poor souls who taste the fruit and then walk away because they are ashamed from the pointers in the great and spacious building. Coming closer to God is NEVER something to be ashamed of.

There is no fear in love. For perfect love casteth out all fear. 4

For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. 5

 

5. Giving Sin all the Attention

there will be no survivors

There will be no survivors amongst those who constantly focus on the sin to get rid of it.

Imagine yourself swimming in the ocean saying to yourself:

Don’t think about sharks.

Don’t think about sharks.

Don’t think about sharks.

What are you thinking about? SHARKS! And it is probably paralyzing you from actually focusing on swimming to safety. Even if the sharks are all around you, you still need to focus on the way out, not the sharks themselves.

Focus on the highest in you. Don’t focus on the sin. What has your attention, has you. True Repentance does NOT mean focusing on the sin.

Elder Packer said that instead of focusing our attention on the sin or the unwanted behavior, you focus the attention on doctrine and truth:

“The study of doctrines of the gospel will improve behavior quicker than a study of behavior will improve behavior. Preoccupation with unworthy behavior can lead to unworthy behavior.6

Let us follow Gordon B. Hinckley’s advice and “stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.” 7

6. Lack of true Conversion

CS Lewis Quote - Eggs Fly

It’s like Mr. Lewis says. We can’t go on being eggs forever. In his words:

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being an ordinary decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” 8

Without true conversion, we stay at the egg level. We must be hatched. We must progress. We must learn to fly. We weren’t born to stay eggs. We were born to fly. Elder Marion G. Romney taught about true conversion:

“Converted means to turn from one belief or course of action to another. Conversion is a spiritual and moral change. Converted implies not merely mental acceptance of Jesus and his teachings but also a motivating faith in him and his gospel. A faith which works a transformation, an actual change in one’s understanding of life’s meaning and in his allegiance to God in interest, in thought, and in conduct. In one who is really wholly converted, desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually died. And substituted therefore is a love of God, with a fixed and controlling determination to keep his commandments.9

Desire for things contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ has actually DIED. Wow. You not only want to discontinue any misdeeds you have been doing, but you desire to completely eradicate from your life all other things contrary to the gospel.

Take flight with true conversion. Take flight with true repentance.

 

 

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  1. Jeffrey R. Holland. BYU Devotionals, “For Times of Trouble.” March 18, 1980.
  2. Hebrews 4:16
  3. Dieter F. Uchtdorf. “You Can Do It Now.” Click here for the full talk.
  4. 1 John 4:18
  5. 2 Tim 1:7
  6. CR Oct 1986, 20
  7. Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled. BYU Devotional, Oct 1974.
  8. Mere Christianity p. 198 – 199.
  9. Marion G. Romney. Conference Report, Guatemala Area Conference 1977, 8–9.

avatar Andy Proctor (42 Posts)

Andy is the creator of T​he Returned Missionary (this blog)​, encouraging the tens of thousands of LDS missionaries who come home every year to continue to be productive, hardworking, faithful, and happy long after their full-time mission has ended. His goal with this blog is to help people know how they can live the gospel while living their dreams. He just launched his first book for RMs, called ​Live Your Mission: 21 Powerful Principles to Discover Your Life Mission after Your Mission, which is the first book in the L​ive My Gospel​ book series. He also owns and manages the LDSmissionaries.com blog. He is a regular contributor to Meridian Magazine and has been featured on the Mormon.org blog as well as LDS Living and Deseret News.


64 Comments

  1. Very insightful !! Thanks for sharing

    • Repentance comes from the Greek word “Metanoia” it simply means to change one’s mind. It’s been said by many Christian theologians as one of the most poorly transliterated word from Greek to English. The biblical contextual meaning of the word as it pertains to eternal life in the New Testament is to simply change your mind (repent/metanoia) from unbelief to belief that Jesus is who says He is and that He died on the cross and rose again as a ransom for sinners. It’s churches scattered throughout the USA that have perpetuated a false and shackling definition that Repentance means overcoming all your sinful ways in order to obtain salvation/justification. I know this will be lost on most of anyone who visits the page, being that it’s an LDS blog but I thought i’d layout the argument that is within the Christian worldview.

  2. avatar Maria Micciolo says:

    I actually laughed out loud when I read, “Don’t think about sharks, don’t think about sharks, don’t think about sharks”.

    This was an amazing article that highlighted so much of what people do not understand about the myths surrounding the gospel principle of repentance. Thank you for a simply, humourous and yet so spot on lesson.

    We need more clear thinking individuals in the church like you.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Thank you for your kind words Maria. I hope people understand the intent of the article. And these are things that I have personally had to overcome in my own repentance processes throughout my life. I’m still learning. And these are true.

      • awesome andy!

      • avatar Melissa Ludlow says:

        Question for you….
        My son died at age 19, two months ago now. He grew up in the church, but due to his social anxiety and depression and other reasons, didn’t stay active past the age of 15. Some tell me that he only had this life time to prepare (note Alma) to meet God, I am, of course, wanting to know that he can indeed repent and believe and progress on the other side, and not after ‘an eternally long’ suffering process. (He already suffered more in his h.s. years than most others suffer in their whole lifetime.) What is your opinion? Thanks

        • avatar Andy Proctor says:

          Melissa, I will tell you my opinion. I believe that 99% of what we will be judged by in the final judgement already happened before we came to this life, and if we are here, all of that is really good. We couldn’t be neutral then, we couldn’t passively say that we kinda sorta want to come to mortality. We had to choose it. And I think that this is kind of a “final drop” of a vast ocean of eternal progress that we have already started. In the Bible Dictionary, it mentions something really interesting under the entry for War in Heaven: “The warfare is continued in mortality in the conflict between right and wrong, between the gospel and false principles, etc. The same contestants and the same issues are doing battle, and the same salvation is at stake. Although one-third of the spirits became devils, the remaining two-thirds were not all equally valiant, there being every degree of devotion to Christ and the Father among them. The most diligent were chosen to be rulers in the kingdom. The nature of the conflict, however, is such that there could be no neutrals, then or now.” He chose to come here. So I believe that there was progress and the use of agency in the pre-mortal existence just as there is progress and agency in the mortal existence. If agency existed in pre-mortal spheres, then incorrect choices existed also and if those existed, then sin existed, and repentance existed too, and the atonement was in effect then as well as now. There is no reason for me to believe that Agency, choices, the atonement and progress (through repentance) will not exist in the hereafter. I have heard a lot of quotes (from people quoting Brigham Young) about the speed of progress (through repentance) being slower while our bodies are separated from our spirits. That is deeper than I want to get for this response. What I do believe is that progress and repentance does NOT end in this life. You referred to Alma 34 (I’m assuming you mean Alma 34:32-34) where he says this is the time to prepare to meet God and to “perform our labors” and “if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed.”

          In my opinion, your son can still progress, if HE wants to. But just like all of us, he had, and will still have agency. He will still be able to choose then. There are always consequences. We can still choose, but we may not be able to choose the consequences of certain choices we have made. And I believe that in the end, we will have the final say of how far we want to progress. (Study Alma 40 and 41 about the law of restoration and that “they are their own judges.” as well as D&C 88:15-32). We ultimately determine our destiny and the atonement makes it possible for us to progress as far as we choose (despite our lack of wisdom and constant mistakes and incorrect choosing). If we want to choose good in the end, we will be able to. I’m not a fan of the LDS counter-culture notion that we will have to suffer for our sins if we don’t use the atonement. The only suffering we will be doing (in my opinion) is seeing untapped potential inside. We will all ultimately be given a fullness of joy (including your son). However WE determine how full our fullness will be, and our choosing in this life does help determine how big the cup is that will be filled. Some may have a thimble-sized cup, and they will be filled. Others will have a big-gulp-sized cup and it will be filled. And others will have a Pacific Ocean-sized cup that will also be filled. We determine the size of the fullness, but we will all be given a fullness.

          You should watch this talk and read the accompanying book called The Continuous Atonement. This has helped me form these opinions.

          These are hard questions that ultimately will be answered by the perfect Judge. Jesus knows your son better than he knows himself. Neal A Maxwell said “God, a loving Father, is mercifully willing to give all that we are willing to receive.” (From Whom the Lord Loveth – p.11) Also, I am a huge fan of what J Reuben Clark said about this: “I believe that in his justice and mercy he will give us the maximum reward for our acts, give us all that he can give, and in the reverse, I believe that he will impose upon us the minimum penalty which is possible for him to impose.” (CR Oct. 1953, p.84).

          I hope this helps!

  3. I wouldn’t have put shame on the list. If you do something you know is wrong, you should feel some shame over it until you have received forgiveness.

    It shouldn’t be a destructive shame that pushes you to hide what you did and avoid repentance, but a healthy shame that motivates you to repent and become free of that shame. Perhaps that is what you meant.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Paul, thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree with you. We need to feel godly sorrow (as the quote by President Uchtdorf says under #3), but not sorrow or “shame” to the point of self-loathing. Godly sorrow allows repentance without forgetting and forfeiting our identity. Worldly sorrow creates confusion about our identity as we repent. So when we feel horrible over and over about the sin that has been committed and feel constant guilt to the point where we actual alter what we believe about our identity (we believe we are actually a bad person deep inside) – this is the kind of shame that is NOT good. This is what Satan wants. He wants us to feel the “worldly guilt” and shame that alters what we believe about our identity. If Satan can get us to believe that we are actually inherently evil, he has won the battle.
      I guess it all depends on what the word “shame” means to a person. That is what I think at least.

      • avatar Dave Holliday says:

        I think when the scriptures talk about the natural man being an enemy to God people get confused, and it makes it easier to believe what you said about Satan wanting us to feel inherently evil.
        I always say, that natural man is not who we really are. The true natural man, is the potential man that we are. We are sons, and daughters of the Almighty. We have endless potential. That’s the natural man I want to focus on.

    • Paul,

      As someone who has been through the repentance process, shame is not a Godly principle. Regret and sorrow are. All shame does is lower self esteem and in turn puts us at risk of having the strength to change and move forward. Shame is Satan’s tool.

      Knowing what you’ve done wrong, knowing that you don’t want to do it and you regret it and ultimately feeling sorry/sorrow over are appropriate tools for turning away from those things we do wrong.

      Shame and sorrow are not synonymous.

      For example: Synonyms for sorrow: sadness, unhappiness, misery, despondency, regret, depression, despair, desolation, dejection, wretchedness, gloom, dolefulness, melancholy, woe, heartache, grief.

      On the other hand synonyms for Shame: disgrace, dishonor, discredit, degradation, ignominy, disrepute, infamy, scandal, opprobrium, contempt.

      Shame or anything associated with it, is not what our Father in Heaven wants us to feel as they tell us that we are not his children. Particularly, contempt. Our father does not want us to feel that way about ourselves.

      Let us remember why we came here and who we are and to also remember that we are not the sum of our mistakes. We are divine beings with a purpose to learn so that we might teach others.

      • avatar Ralph Howland says:

        Another example of the right kind of Godly sorrow is a broken heart and contrite spirit. In the Old Testament many sacrifices of animal were performed which was a example of what was to come. The Savior’s atoning for our sins. Many stories in the old testament point to the Savoir. Now what is required is repentance the sacrifice is to come unto him with a broken heart and contrite spirit. Am I on the right track with this thought?

        • avatar Simply Ashamed says:

          When I committed my sin that led to my eventual excommunication from the Church as an apostate, I didn’t realize at the time, as I do now, that I had a mental illness, OCD and that had I known of my illness, and had sought help for my disease, I would have been given the proper medications to treat the illness, and thus would have never left the Church.

          At present, while on my medications, I’m incapable of ‘feeling’ remourse, or regret or shame, while I know mentally I am supposed to feel this way, according to LDS culture, I must be honest and say that while I’m not ashamed of my illness, I am ashamed that I didn’t realize it beforehand, and take the steps to keep me in the Church.

          What is the Church’s policy on those who wish to return who now are being medicated for a mental illness that caused them to leave in the first place? or to make impulsive decisions that led to their being ousted from the Church as an apostate?

  4. avatar Anika Ferguson says:

    This is wonderfully written. I’m going to share with everyone I know! Thank you so much. I try to tell people that our Heavenly Father knew we would sin and when we come to him to repent he isn’t angry and waiting to dole out the punishment. He is rejoicing and cheering us on and ready to help us heal and come be with Him. Bishops are advocates for Christ and they too are there to help with Love and not condemnation. Satan wants us to fear judgment and feel shame so that we won’t repent. Don’t fall into his trap!

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Thanks Anika! I hope you do share it. AMEN. Satan is the great accuser. That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness.

  5. Beautifully said Andy. This is all true and truth needs to be shared 🙂

  6. avatar Linary Kingdon says:

    Very, very well-written, Andy!!! I especially like your experience with all the men. Very sweet and meaningful. Multiple excellent insights!!

  7. Thanks for these thoughts on repentance. I greatly enjoyed them. Another thing I learned from Richard G. Scott’s conference addres, Oct. 2013, changed one of my beliefs about repentance that I had held for most of my life. I had always thought that true repentance meant that you changed so that in the same situation that you were in when you committed sin, you would make a different choice and avoid sin. But, Elder Scott said that once you have repented from a sin, never put yourself in the same situation where the same temptations that caused you to sin would arouse the same desire and passion for sin, and may ultimately lead you to return to that sin. What a difference this has made in my outlook on sin. I don’t have to, and should not ever, put myself in the same or similar situation where I may be tempted again.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      I’m so glad Ron. That is a great insight. It’s amazing how one simple truth can completely change how we see ourselves and our world.

  8. I just want to tell you how grateful I am to you for writing this article. My daughter is a tween and has been struggling with guilt over a mistake she made. She repented, but couldn’t seem to forgive herself. This article was perfect to help her understand and overcome. Thank you.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Janelle, that makes me so glad. That is one of the most difficult parts about it – forgiving yourself. But that is crucial. I should write more about forgiveness of self. So important. Thanks for taking the time to comment. 🙂

      • avatar Ralph Howland says:

        As I was reading this I was reminded of a part of what forgiveness is not. This came from a discussion in a class many years ago. Sometime we are abused by a loved one. Abuse has many forms and causes issues in the victim. Forgiveness needs to take place and can heal us from the past. But when this happens from a loved one, remember it is not right what they did, forgiveness does not mean it is OK what they did and we go back to that person with open arms. Sometimes it is OK to keep people at a distance. A letter to them, or one final discussion if possible, we must forgive. The Savior has forgiven us even before our sins, are we any better then him? How is this thought process?

        • avatar Andy Proctor says:

          Ralph, I agree with you here. Sometimes this is needed. Forgiveness does not mean going back to an abusive relationship. You can forgive someone and not continue in a relationship with them. There are consequences of actions that can’t be changed, but we can always forgive and love the person, despite their behavior or the consequences of it. Good point.

  9. avatar Tawnja Gibson says:

    I loved this article! If I were more tech savvy, I would turn this into a powerpoint presentation to share with my seminary and young women’s classes. Fantastic!

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      You should do it! I’m actually creating something that will help make it easy for people to present. For now, feel free to look at a ward mission leaders’ attempt here: http://prezi.com/yqnzjiknornn/member-missionary-work-lesson-1/ Hope this helps.

  10. Good post. Thank you.
    You may want to reference this article:
    https://www.lds.org/ensign/1988/08/the-meaning-of-repentance?lang=eng

  11. avatar Claudia Koch says:

    I would re-phrase the last paragraph, and instead of saying “You not only don’t want to discontinue any misdeeds you have been doing, but you desire to” …
    I would say:
    “You not only want to discontinue any misdeeds you have been doing, but you desire to…”

    =)

  12. avatar Tyler Thurman says:

    Thanks so much for writing this article Andy! I hadn’t been on this website for a few months and I don’t know why I decided to take a look today but I did and I’m so grateful for what you said here about what repentance is not. I’ve been going through some tough times with many of the things you talked about and this is just what I needed to hear, thanks again.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Tyler. That makes me happy! Repentance should be a joyful process. If it is understood correctly, we should look forward to it, instead of dreading it. You are in my prayers.

  13. avatar Deniece Toherir.Makatea says:

    thank you ..! brother in gospel……..I love the way you present this LDS. hug’s. good night from New Zealand

  14. Thanks!! I will be using this as a FHE lesson! So well put! And using Princess Bride and Monty Python in addition to apostles and CS Lewis! My boys will love it! 🙂

  15. Hey Andy,

    I’ll be straight with you, I am a current member of the LDS church that does not believe in it anymore. I was just curious if you believe, as Spencer W. Kimball stated, that if one repents and then does the behavior again, that all of the previous sins come back on the head of the sinner?

    Also, I think your questions about the behavior of people in the church is valid, but I would also point out that much of the response to these ideas by members of the church is greatly influenced by the way the church population is taught (or has been taught in the past) to react to people (shunning, etc) who are seen to have gone astray.

    A prime example of this is the act of dis-fellowshipping or excommunication for serious sins or apostasy. When the ultimate consequence of sin is being removed from the very support organization that claims to be able to help people come back to God, why would people want to admit to being a sinner? They risk losing their membership and their support structure by doing so. This leads to judgment and a loss of their voice in the very church that claims to be there to support them. It would seem the church does not want sinners, it wants people who paint themselves to be worthy of acceptance by their church leaders and peers.

    In my lack of belief, honestly, I do not feel comfortable at church and I often wonder how people would react to me being there if they knew how I honestly feel about it all. I certainly do not feel comfortable sharing my true feelings with anyone there, but it is because I don’t want to be cast out of the presence of many good people that I truly enjoy affiliating with.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Chris. Thank you for your honesty. This is one of the most challenging comments I have ever had to ponder. Here is my really long answer:

      Do I believe that if someone repents of past sins and then does the same sin again, that all pervious sin comes back onto the head of the sinner?

      The approach you mentioned is limiting the eternal perspective to a system of sins (and good deeds) in the form of currency that is deposited into some sort of heavenly bank account. So that every sin that is committed is on a sort of scale balanced with good deeds on one side and sin on the other side, and that our life is a constant accumulation of sins and good deeds being deposited into this heavenly “bank account.” And in the end, God will just go look at the ledger and see if the sins outweigh the good deeds. If so, we don’t pass. Or if our good deeds ledger is greater than the sins ledger, he says: you just barely passed by 3 points! That was a close one!

      I personally don’t believe in that type of God.

      Spencer W. Kimball was a prophet, who in many instances was very misunderstood. He was called for a reason and he was indeed the prophet. I’m not going to get into a debate about that right now. What I do believe 100% is that more than a heavenly bank account measuring what we have done (sins or good deeds), we will ultimately be judged by what we have BECOME. If you haven’t already, you should read Brad Wilcox’s book “The Continuous Atonement” or if you don’t have time to read the book at least watch his speech:

      http://www.thereturnedmissionary.com/his-grace-is-sufficient-brad-wilcox/ (only 32 min).

      To me, like Wilcox says, it is all about what we desire and what we are becoming. If we have chosen over and over and over to do the sin and then we have a true change of heart and we stop doing the sinful act, this is an indication that we are becoming something new, that we are being transformed into a new creature. That we don’t want to do that thing anymore because we are different. However, during the transformation / sanctification process, I believe there are growing pains (what Elder Maxwell called “divine discontent” with ourselves). And yes, there are times, when, because of the choices of the past, we revert back to an old pattern or habit and the sinful behavior is repeated. This is ONE choice. It does not negate all the “becoming” that has been going on as you have been choosing a new path and becoming a new person. Whoever says this is wrong and is basing themselves on cultural misconception. This is truth twisted. And this one truth is SO important to understand.

      Here is my metaphor to try and illustrate:

      Think of an acorn naturally planted next to a creek that grows into a sprout and then as a seedling is polluted with dirty water as the creek becomes polluted with contaminants for a season. The growth of this tree is stunted and if the creek is not purified from the contaminants, the tree may even die. But then the creek is purified and nothing but pure water flows through the creek for years and years. The tree grows. And grows. And at times there are contaminants that sneak through the waters of the river which, for a short time can stunt the growth of the tree or affect it negatively, but it will not destroy it. As the years roll on the tree becomes a mighty oak. And though the creek may not be fully pure at all times, nothing can take away from the fact that the acorn is no longer an acorn, but a giant tree. And an animal who urinates upstream causing a bit of contamination in the creek will not destroy and wipe out the years of growth and becoming. One contaminant in the creek cannot transform an oak tree into an acorn. To me, it is the same with repentance.

      This metaphor is limited in at least one way: trees can’t choose what the creek is filled with and WE can. We get to fill the creek with whatever we want. We choose everyday and each choice is a drop into the creek which causes us to grow and become stronger and closer to God or to wither and die (spiritually). One choice after years of becoming will not kill a mighty oak or cause it to transform back into an acorn (the notion that one sin can negate years of repentant becoming and heap all sins previously committed back onto the head of the sinner). But if we fill our creek with contaminants for years and years, the tree will indeed die. Also, some actions have grave consequences. Some sinful choices may be more like a forest fire than pee in a creek. And they can leave us with scars, just like trees have scars when they survive drastic events (like fires or droughts). There are some sins that will leave us scarred no matter how much good we choose to fill our creek with. And that is where the atonement comes in. If we truly desire to become a mighty oak tree, even when we have been scarred and our tree is about to die from all the contaminants, we can still choose Him. And even if we don’t have the power to fill our creek with pure water, He is the source of living water and will make our creek flow with living water until we have been healed. At any point, if we desire, we can still become the oak because of His living water. Like Elder Packer said: “Save for those few who defect to perdition after having known a fulness, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no offense exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness.”

      Now your second part. If I understand correctly, you are saying that there is a problem with how members of the church treat and react to those who have sinned to the point of requiring church discipline.

      I can see where you are coming from. There are a lot of cultural beliefs and memes (systems of beliefs that are not verbally taught, but that are taught nonetheless by the behaviors and easily learned – even by children who can’t verbally communicate) that don’t really support the gospel of Jesus Christ. It can feel as if there is no support for those who actually need it. It is a tough question. I replied to another comment from “Bryan” (who is an excommunicate) on this same post as well. I would repeat what I said to him here. Those who are in this position need to remember where their worth comes from. It doesn’t come from anyone’s opinion of you other than the opinion of Jesus Christ. And, like Elder Packer said above, there is no sin that is deeper than that which Christ is able to fully reach and cover and heal.

      This (REALLY LONG) article by Elder Ballard has helped me to understand the official (not cultural) position of the church (not the culture of LDS people – it is important to note the difference here) toward those who face church discipline (probation, disfellowshipment, excommunication):

      https://www.lds.org/ensign/1990/09/a-chance-to-start-over-church-disciplinary-councils-and-the-restoration-of-blessings?lang=eng

      Many of the lay-members do not act this way toward those who have sinned. And I agree with you, that as someone who is to face church discipline, it is not very encouraging to face the church culture where there are imperfect people who, for the most part, have no idea how to treat someone who is going through the repentance process for serious sin (see the list Elder Ballard gives for each one of the things for which discipline is required). That is tough. But the vilest of sinners CAN return if they really desire, and that which will motivate them to come back will not be the sociality of the culture of the church, it will be their depth of knowledge that is founded in their relationship with Christ that has been forged as they have struggled and worked hard to become someone different than they were before. Like Paul who helped while an apostle was being murdered or Alma (Jr.) who sought to destroy the church of God (both actions that would require church discipline today), they were the “vilest of sinners.” Paul later said to those who sinned similarly to him: “Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers with themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)

      It is not an easy process, but the process is what is most important. Because it is the process that actually allows us to become. I have, like Paul and Alma, also struggled with sins that are not easy to overcome. I have had my temple recommend taken away before. I have felt socially ostracized from the lay-members of the church and have felt that there was no place for someone like me. But I wouldn’t trade that time or experience for anything because of the growth that came for me during those seasons where I felt more alone than I ever have in my life. NO ONE can tell me that I don’t know the Savior. I know Him and it was through that struggle that we were acquainted. I wouldn’t take that away from anyone.

      I hope this answered your question and has been helpful for you or others who may read it. Thank you for causing me to dig deep today.

  16. This was such a good article ! It is powerful, clear, and reminds us of things that we have often forgotten, or perhaps not even known. Thanks for the inspirational words. I felt the Spirit reading this and will use much of this in a future RS lesson. I also had to laugh about ‘sharks’. I wished you would have included the important last sentence of CS Lewis in the little artsy quote, so I can copy and make a poster from it. We MUST Hatch or we will just go bad (or die).
    Beautifully done and I can’t wait to see more of you !! Denise

  17. I really appreciate your thoughts, I like to frame repentance in this way and think it is helpful to not speak of it as shameful. I am still looking for a positive context for excommunication when it is needed, how do I view it as loving and inclusive instead of isolation and shame? I have heard explanations calling it love but I guess they have not resonated with me as of yet because it is hard for me to see it in that way. I get the point of removing obligations but that feels like such a small part compared to the potential of isolation/shame.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Bryan, I admit, this is a tough question and I commend you for being open about it. I was divorced a few years ago because of an emotionally abusive marriage. I chose to leave the marriage. Because of my choice, my bishop at that time chose to take away my temple recommend. This was really hard for me because I thought that the very thing that I needed most (spiritual help to get through this emotionally taxing time) was to be able to go to the temple. It seemed as though the very support that I needed to survive was stripped from me. It didn’t seem fair. It was such a paradox for me. I really had to reach deep within my highest self not to become bitter or think poorly of those imperfect men who are called to serve us. This same bishop told me something that I will never forget: “Andy, my perception of you is as it has always been, you are a son of God with unlimited potential. Always keep that in mind.” This helped me so much because even though he chose to temporarily take away my privilege to go to the temple and partake of the spiritual healing that can come from temple attendance, his message reminded me that I had not lost the potential that I had before. I was (and am) still fully capable of becoming my highest self even if, for a small time, I have to take a few steps backwards to regain my footing. And though I am not a bishop or stake president, I personally see excommunication in a similar way: taking a few steps back to regain footing. But NEVER lose sight of the fact that YOU are HERE. You chose to come to earth. You chose Jehovah’s plan. You kept your first estate. Read your patriarchal blessing if you need to. Don’t forget who you are. Don’t forget why you came. You can still choose after excommunication. You still have agency. NO ONE can take that away from you. Victor Frankyl wrote an amazing book you should read (if you haven’t already) called “Man’s Search for Meaning.” He was a brilliant doctor who was taken away to a concentration camp (as a Jew) and had literally everything stripped from him. And when he was completely naked, only then was when he really saw that no matter how much they took from him, they could not take his ability to choose. Remember that. Even divorced people and excommunicated people can choose and we can choose good. There were some dark times when I wanted to give up on church, grow a beard, get a huge sheep dog and move to Alaska. But even when I was without a recommend and without the temple, something deep within me said, “Andy, you are better than that.” It was true for me and it is true for you. You are better. You were born for glory. We all were. You have not lost your potential my friend. Don’t forget it. Even if I’m the only one who tells you this. Don’t you forget. I have my recommend back because I remembered my potential. And if you choose good even now, you will not be without all the blessings that your full potential will bring. It does seem like isolation and shame, but you can still choose good even when in this seemingly isolated time. Do things that will help you remember the good in you. Prove it to yourself that you are still good. Because it really doesn’t matter what others think as long as you know and God knows that you choose good continually. One of my favorite scriptures that is true for you just as it is true for anyone else is this: “I would that ye should be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in good works, that Christ, the Lord God Omnipotent, may seal you his, that you may be brought to heaven, that ye may have everlasting salvation and eternal life, through the wisdom, and power, and justice, and mercy of him who created all things, in heaven and in earth, who is God…” (Mosiah 5:15). If you choose and abound in good works (especially during this time), you prove to yourself and to God that you love Him, and if you continue in this same path, His promises will be for you and He was “seal you his” like it says. It really is hard to want to participate in church when in that time because it seems like your worth is based off of taking the sacrament or what members think of you. Remember that your worth is not based off of this. Your worth is already established and this is a chance for you to come closer to God than you ever have in your life.

      I hope this helps.

  18. avatar Susan Blott says:

    I am a Seminary teacher and this is a brilliant. Will be sharing it with my students and those student who are now on missions. Love this page

  19. Can you have a print button for these articles? A friend of mine doesn’t get on the internet very much and I’d like to print these out for her. Thanks.

  20. I have some questions about repentance but want to know if my email and name are made public?

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Your first name is here, but your email is not public, unless you make it so by typing it in a comment. People can respond to your comment though as well. The comments and replies will be sent to your email, but no one will know your email unless you desire. You are free to email me at [email protected] as well. 🙂

  21. avatar Ralph Howland says:

    I’m so grateful that I came across this web site. I would like to present this to our next combined YM/YW lesson. Thanks your insight to the Gospel are refreshing and touching.

  22. Hey! I read to the end too!!
    Last week I was asked to speak in church next Sunday and the topic was ‘Repentance’. I logged in to my e-mail and found this in my inbox via LDS Living. The timing was perfect. I will give credit to you for the quotes I use. Thanks for a great article and great replies to the comments.

  23. avatar Simply Ashamed says:

    Andy,

    Thank you for your Blog and such inspirational articles that have been so faith-strengthing for me as I make my way back home to the Church, and to the Gospel.

    My family and I were once temple-worthy, sealed for time and eternity in a temple of the Lord, but for some odd reason, we began to have doubts, planted by the Adversary of our souls, and we began, as a family to study the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, which in turn, led to my sharing these new beliefs with others in our ward, which led to my being excommunicated for apostasy in 2011. My wife and son later requested their names to be removed from the records of the Church.

    Now, almost 3 years later, I’ve decided that it’s time that I listen once again to the ‘still small voice’ of the Spirit, calling me back home to His Church and Kingdom. I know it won’t be easy, the path may be very hard and long up ahead of us, but I’m determined to remain faithful and to eventually have my wife and son and I all back in the Church, and to have our sealing as a family restored to us through a General Authority someday.

    I ask for your prayers as we make our path straight and return to the Lord once again and His Church.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      You are noble for sharing your story. I’m glad that something shared was helpful. I will pray for you. As the Lord said: “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” I know that is true and that He will keep His promises as you come back to him. Like Hannah of the Old Testament, if you keep strong in your pathway to truth, God will remember you. And if you wait upon the Lord, you will rise up as on wings of eagles. God be with you brother.

  24. avatar Travis Frisbie says:

    HI Andy,
    I feel like i should share my story with repentance. I was in similar situation. I was married about a year after my mission. Satan started putting small things in our way. We stopped going to church. Stopped temple attendance. Eventually was divorced.

    This destroyed me for a long time. I started drinking heavily and went straight away from the church.

    After several failed relationships i finally got married again. My wife now is a member. She went to church and i tried to avoid it at all costs. I would even get mad at her when she would have the hometeachers or someone from the ward com over and visit. My heart was hardened at the time. I couldn’t accept going back. I kept sinning. I ended up cheating on my wife. When i did it i felt so guilty i told her right away. Something was still in me telling me what was right and wrong. It took some time but she forgave me for all that. She stayed patient and so loving. I still didnt want to go back i was scared of church discipline and just didnt feel comfortable.

    Eventually we bought a house and moved into a nice area of southern utah. We immediately had neighbors helping us move in with out asking. inviting us to hang out and inviting us to dinner. Never judging or pushing or even talking about the church.

    Through the love and patience of an amazing wife and some really amazing neighbors i started to feel like i needed to go back. So i went one sunday.
    Then another.

    The people in the ward were so loving and inviting. On the third time back i had the Elders Quorum President asking if i wanted to teach and the Bishop Calling me to play the piano in primary. I was amazed at the immediate trust and love and potential they saw in me.

    So at that time i politely declined the callings and made the appointment to go talk to the bishop. I was scared to death. So scared i actually can feel the taste in my throat to this day thats how scared i was.

    I was reading the Book of Mormon and came across 2 Nephi Chapter 4:15-21.
    Nephi is talking about how good the lord is and how he delights in the scriptures and ponders them. But he says

    “Nevertheless, notwithstanding the great Goodness of the Lord, in showing me his great and marvelous works, my heart exclaimeth: O wretched man that i am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities.
    I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily beset me. And when I desire to rejoice, my heart groaneth because of my sins: nevertheless I KNOW IN WHOM I HAVE TRUSTED.
    My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions in the wilderness; and he hath preserved me upon the waters of the great deep.
    HE HATH FILLED ME WITH HIS LOVE, EVEN UNTO THE CONSUMING OF MY FLESH”

    This is exactly how i felt. I felt guilty for my sins i felt sorrow for the things i did wrong. Serious sins included. But i decided then as Nephi I KNOW IN WHOM I HAVE TRUSTED. I still went into the bishops office scared to death. that vanished when i went through the door. I IMMEDIATELY felt LOVE.
    I told him everything. All the way from my first marriage. We talked for a long time. We cried together. I truly felt loved. Then he said i would have to see the stake president. SCARED again.

    Went and saw him and again IMMEDIATELY I FELT LOVED. I felt loved and supported. Same thing when i had to go before the “court” or the high council and the stake presidency. In that council i felt totally love and i shared that with them. I shared my experience with the scripture above.

    I lost my privileges for a while. IT was the determination the council came to. But the Stake president and bishop and council helped me. I met with them continually. Reading scripture praying asking for guidance and forgiveness.

    I worked hard and got back into full fellowship with the saints. ALL because of LOVE. Unconditional LOVE. The same kind of love Moroni talks about in Moroni Ch 7. Pure love of christ shown from my wife, my neighbors and my church leaders. I know this might not always happen with people. Church membership is human. They are learning. I was lucky to have been where i needed to be to feel that love.

    I know pray continually as Moroni councils for that love. I look for opportunities to not push but be a vessel of LOVE to guide someone back to the Savior.

    I wanted to [point out that Nephi’s attitude in 2 nephi ch. 4 changed fast from sorrow to love.

    Sorry this is long. I truly hope that everyone could feel the same LOVE i have in this church and its membership.

  25. Thank you Travis, for sharing your story. You have touched many lives by sharing and many will find hope and encouragement through your words. Heavenly Father loves all of us, regardless of our actions, and the sooner we can accept this,and invite Him into our hearts, the sooner we can find joy and happiness.

  26. Thank you for your article but more for your responses. I read the article you referenced by M. Russell Ballard (A Chance to Start Over: Church Disciplinary Councils and the Restoration of Blessings). This was helpful but also forboding for me as I have always shut my emotions up and by now, I tend not to feel any of the feelings needed for repentance. This is just who I am now. I am worried that I won’t be able to ever feel the sorrow for my actions which will enable my re-fellowship to the church. I even went so far as to briefly (just a couple of seconds) consider that it might be better for me to leave this realm and my wife/family for their sakes so they may enjoy more than just a temporal marriage/family from someone more worthy than I. Any thoughts on how to start feeling again when all joyous feelings seem to have departed?

  27. Sorry, forgot to check the “notify me of follow up comments by email” button so if it matters which comment you respond to, this is the one that will reach me.

    • avatar Andy Proctor says:

      Sam, thanks for being so open about this. It’s not easy. I think I might have referenced this book before, but there is a great book called “The Continuous Atonement” that is really great. I love the way Brad Wilcox talks about the fact that repentance isn’t just about suffering and feeling sorrow, but it is about becoming. While I think it is important to feel sorrow as a part of repentance, I would just make sure that it is Godly sorrow that will lead you to the purpose of repentance: becoming. Whatever it takes for you to become a “new creature in Christ” is worth any price. I personally don’t believe in feeling sorrow all the time for what you have done in the past. I think the Lord wants us to fully recognize what we have done wrong – for the purpose that we move forward and leave it behind…and leave it to HIM. The more we focus on our weaknesses and dwell in sorrow for what has been wronged, the more power we give it and we never move forward and upward, on to a new self. The point is to become a new self. There are ways to become new. Dwelling in sorrow is not one of them. Look honestly at what has been done. The 12 step manual is really good at describing this: “Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself.” The purpose is not to dwell there, but to create the inventory so that you can move past it. Don’t let it define you. But don’t avoid doing it. I would highly recommend reading all 12 steps at addictionrecovery.lds.org/steps (that one is step 4). Step 4 changed my life forever. If you are concerned about repenting correctly, I would recommend reading and applying the 12 step book. And even if you don’t struggle with addiction and that was not the nature of that which you are repenting of, this is a great guide for full repentance. And the groups are helpful too.

      The choice is yours. You get to choose what you really want. That is how it is in this life and that is how it will be in the eternities. You ultimately will choose what you desire. The trick is becoming so that your desires bring you the greatest potential for joy. I believe that is *with* the wife and family. I am glad you wrote this. I am going to write a post about this soon (how to be happy and stay active when you are disfellowshipped and unworthy). I have multiple family members in this same situation. I have been in this situation in the past (as the comments indicate above) and there are things we can do to stay alive while we feel like we are alone. It’s not easy, but it is possible. I’ll pray for you brother. Keep it up.

  28. this has helped so much thank you

  29. It’s funny. Being a Christian and having an immense love of Christ, I went through life thinking that I knew what repentance was. It’s so amazing how God works. For a long while now, I’ve been thinking I have to be sorry for everything, almost all the time. It really gets exhausting. I then came upon your article, and, whew, knowing that I don’t have to beat my chest constantly, I feel I can breathe. Thank you so much!

    • Joyce, I’m so glad. I think God wants us all to breathe more. 🙂 It really is all about learning heaven, not earning heaven. Keep it up. You’re doing better than you think!

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