Maybe it’s because I grew up Protestant, or maybe it’s because I really am so very far behind in my progression, but I have found that when I have made some grievous error before God, my repentance is not complete until I have fully corrected it.
That’s not to say that the Savior’s atonement doesn’t cover it, because it does, but sometimes it takes awhile to work through my consequences or find ways to make restitution in a world that doesn’t really recognize the principle anymore.
I cannot correct myself, of course, without the direct reprimand that comes from the Spirit, or the enabling power of the atonement of Jesus Christ that increases my capacity to obey far greater than what I can do on my own.
I know that is by the grace and mercy of my God who is my Father in Heaven that brings me to a place of forgiveness and peace again.
But part of that grace and mercy is His very plan, by which the expanse that separates us can be bridged by what the Savior did for me, and the incredible work and glory He demonstrates as every act of faith and obedience that walks me across, step by step, does change me – even transform me – into who He says I am rather than who I have only been.
When He calls my name, I am still surprised that He knows it, though my faith says I shouldn’t be surprised at all.
But a true and sincere repentance really takes a lot of time, in part because my relationship with God has parallels to any other relationship that I would harm, in that it takes time to earn back trust.
But it’s possible. In regional conference this morning, before I ran out with a very purple baby (who is better at the moment, but going back to the hospital in the morning), she quoted President Packer as having talked about going back through his life to search for his sins of which he had already repented, and not being able to find them.
Because they were gone.
Not that he had never sinned, but that his sins were covered by the atonement applied through sincere and complete repentance.
This made me cry, and for some reason it is a hard piece for me to grasp. I try. I see it. I feel it. But it’s hard for me still, and I don’t know why, other than growing up outside the full gospel and still playing catch up. Or maybe I am just still in the repentance phase.
I don’t really earn anything, of course, but it is true that my repentance or even my faith is evidenced by the choices I choose, the sacrifices I make, and the way I consecrate my time and energy and finances to service rather than for my own comfort and pleasure.
That’s a lesson you learn pretty harshly when you have 87 kids in three years, and then suddenly find yourself with no parents, married, and a mother of six specially challenged kids.
My mother would tell you I earned that consequence, for sure!
I was in position this week to talk with the children about how when they tell a lie, they cannot un-tell it. When they hit someone, they cannot un-hit them. When they kiss someone’s bottom, they cannot un-kiss it.
Our spirits are here, I said, to teach our bodies.
Our bodies are good, even sacred. Our bodies are temples for our spirits, but they are new and do not know what our spirits know. Our spirits must work together with our bodies, to help us choose wisely, that we may be prepared to return to our Father in Heaven and live with Him there.
He is like a King, I said, and He will not make us live with Him any closer than we are comfortable. Now is the time we must learn the laws of the Kingdom, the laws specific to teaching us and refining us, the laws that prepare us to feel at home when we get there. If we do not learn them now, we will not be ready then.
So when we make a mistake, we cannot just un-do it. It is done. There is nothing we can do about it. We cannot fix it, even if we try. That’s the whole reason we need saving by a Savior, and that’s what it is He has saved us from, you see? He has felt the wounds we have caused, and the wounds we have received, and settled the debt for all of it – even those things we cannot undo, or cannot fix.
But, the more we become aware of this, and the more atonement power we soak in realizing what has been done for us and what that atonement enables us to do, the more we are able to do differently, to do better, to show what He did really made a difference in us.
I cannot undo the hard things of my past from before I was baptized, nor can I fix my failings since.
But I can do better than yesterday.
And I can know the atonement is full and complete and enough, even for me.
I can speak the truth today. I can commit to my family today. I can obtain my own testimony of marriage and motherhood, and why it is central to the plan of happiness.
I can embrace that this is the point of the plan: happiness.
It’s so important, the most important piece to understand, because the world so wants to turn everything upside down on us. They try to confuse us on temporal circumstances versus eternal state. They try to change the rules by which we are measured, or even saying it is not God who measures us. Even in the church, we too often confuse doing with being.
If I am being a disciple, then nothing will matter more to me than visiting teaching.
If I am being a daughter of God, then nothing will be more important to me than my family.
If I am being a spirit daughter of Heavenly Parents, come to earth through earthly parents, to learn to knit together my soul and progress in my ability and capacity to choose righteousness, then it should not surprise me when hard things happen – even the baby turning purple in the middle of conference, or cancer, or dead parents, or any other struggle millions of families face every day.
It is not that God is against me.
It is not that God has abandoned me.
It is not that God does not want me to succeed.
The very opposite is true: He wants to prove me, to give me opportunity to show even myself how very far I can stretch, to unfold into who He has promised I already am and who I can become.
He doesn’t want me to fail. He wants me to conquer.
President Brigham Young once said that:
“all intelligent beings who are crowned with crowns of glory, immortality, and eternal lives must pass through every ordeal appointed for intelligent beings to pass through, to gain their glory and exaltation. Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. If we obtain the glory that Abraham obtained, we must do so by the same means that he did [obedience]. If we are ever prepared to enjoy the society of Enoch, Noah, Melchizedek, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or of their faithful children, and of the faithful Prophets and Apostles, we must pass through the same experience, and gain the knowledge, intelligence, and endowments that will prepare us to enter into the celestial kingdom of our Father and God. … Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.”
The laws of God do not oppress me, but invite me to greater insight, deeper practice of my faith, and the refinement of both my body and my spirit that must learn to work together. The circumstances of life do not steal my happiness, but create the venue through which I find it. Adversity that comes is not meant to swallow me, but to buoy me up by strengthening spiritual muscles, like leaving the baby on her tummy long enough she can learn to crawl – even when she is too cute not to hold.
President John Taylor quoted Joseph Smith as saying:
“You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary that you be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and … God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God.”
Sometimes we even know trials are coming, while other times they crash on us like waves we cannot avoid. But we endure them, not because we are persecuted, but because we have faith in a God who is a Father, one who works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).
President George Q. Cannon confirmed the same heavenly principle:
“Every Latter-day Saint who gains a celestial glory will be tried to the very uttermost. If there is a point in our character that is weak and tender, you may depend upon it that the Lord will reach after that, and we will be tried at that spot for the Lord will test us to the utmost before we can get through and receive that glory and exaltation which He has in store for us.”
I am very weak and tender, and too often feel so very raw.
But I need this pruning, this tilling out, this turning over of soil.
I need to grow, and the only way to progress is through experiences.
That means, naturally, I need experiences, if I am going to progress.
I am never so courageous as to actually invite them, but they come anyway, and I do not shirk from the brunt of it.
President Spencer W. Kimball wrote:
“Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery.”
Life was easier before baptism changed everything, but it was not better.
A missionary I served with on the Family Search team sent me some of these quotes this week, and I needed to keep them, to memorize them, to soak them into my being. These are truths I need to remember, and things Nathan often tells me about affliction not always being able repentance. I have my own repentance needs for sure, but that’s not always why hard things happen.
Nathan told me on our honeymoon that what the Savior did for us was justify our margins, like on the page of a book, where all the words are even on both sides of a page.
Sanctification, he said, was cleaning up the funny spaced words in between.
I have a lot of funny spaced words, and so am grateful for the sanctification work that does that.
Sometimes that’s through my own repentance, where I plead and cry and pray before sacrament one week, then work and try so hard and come crawling back to report at sacrament some weeks later.
Sometimes that’s through the sweet guidance of friends, who remind you that even hard things have purpose.
Sometimes that’s through the furnace of affliction that wakes me up and helps me see more clearly.
Usually, though, it happens through the children, who teach me far more than I teach them, and who so often try to trick me into releasing the inner monsters I already promised were slayed.
It takes a lot of practice, that parenting business.
Nathan says parenting brings out all the shadows you didn’t even know you had, and I have decided that I agree with him on my own account.
That’s why I know now, differently than I ever knew before, that family is central to the plan of happiness. It’s not just about a sweet lunch table full of tomato soup and laughing children. It’s about sweaty children and spilled soup and crybaby fits from overly tired children.
Because in truth, it’s not about those things, so much as about the trying to do better that keeps us on our knees, which keeps us close to our Father, which is the only thing that will get us all home… if I can try not to spill the children the way they spilled the soup.
Or maybe, learning to be gentle with the children is – in part – about learning to be gentle with me.