Many years ago, I went through a difficult repentance process. Let me qualify that. I began a difficult repentance process. I am still going through it. In my opinion there are certain people who once they repent of some sin, are able to forget about it and move on. They no longer think about their mistake. It was a one-time problem. They got over it. The effects have been removed.
This has not been the case with me. Now you may say, “Well, it’s because you haven’t repented fully, or you haven’t forgiven yourself. If you have truly followed all the steps of repentance then you are supposed to be able to rejoice and live your life as if nothing ever happened.” I’ll just bet you’ve heard that before, haven’t you? In fact, I think I’ve shared that advice with some people.
A Conversation with My Bishop
Let me tell you about a conversation I had with my bishop as I completed the first phase of my repentance process and he gave me my temple recommend. I was very grateful. I knew my family would be very pleased. A temple recommend meant I could go on a mission. It meant I had met the requirements set by the church to qualify for entrance into the house of the Lord.
After signing the recommend, handing it to me, shaking my hand – in fact, he may have given me a hug – the Bishop asked if I had any questions. I was only nineteen but it had been a long hard process for me to repent and get myself ready for the temple. I had done a lot of reading and a lot of thinking about what it means to repent and what it means to be forgiven. So I asked him:
A Temple Recommend Received
“Bishop, I’m grateful to have this temple recommend. It means a lot to me and to my family. I’m looking forward to being endowed and serving my mission. You know I read the articles and the books you asked, including The Miracle of Forgiveness. That was a pretty difficult book. It had a lot of hard stuff in there. In fact, at one time I thought I could never qualify to go to the temple.
“I read what President Kimball had to say about always having to be wary. In fact, if I remember correctly, I believe he wrote that sexual sin can ‘start a soul on a lifetime of regret and anguish.’ On another page he wrote and I have highlighted that ‘a clearance from the Lord and the leaders of his Church [is required] so that a measure of peace may accompany them through their lives.’
We Must Always Be On Guard
“I don’t remember the exact quote on this one but I seem to recall he wrote a strong warning that we must always be on our guard and always on the lookout for the efforts of the adversary to entice us back into our old sinful ways. In other words, he made it clear that we could never forget that we had sinned. We can never put it out of our mind. The sin will always be with us.”
“Bishop, I’m concerned about statements like those. They make me think there is no way I will ever be able to completely forget about what I have done. They give me the impression that my sin will trouble me all my life. I’ll never be able to forget about it, to let go, to be completely free of the memory of this habit I have worked so hard to overcome. What advice can you give me?”
A Bishop Who Cared Deeply
I’ll never forget his response. He looked tired. I later realized he was serving in the last few months of his five or six years as a bishop. I’ll bet he had held this kind of conversation multiple times with many others before me, most of them young men like me. He took in a deep breath and let it out ever so slowly. He ran his finger along the desk and looked down for a long time.
It struck me that perhaps this was something that he had struggled with in his own mind. As I waited for his advice I got the distinct impression he wished I hadn’t asked him that question. I suddenly felt a deep love for this man who I had met with so often over the past six months. I wondered what he was going to say and why it seemed there were tears forming in his eyes.
Requirements for Repentance Met
“Brother Malone,” he said after some time, “as far as I can tell, you have met the requirements for repentance. You have confessed your sin, you have put this behind you and you have told me that you have felt the forgiveness of the Lord as you have prayed about it. Isn’t that right?” There was almost a pleading look in his eyes as he confirmed with me that I had done all those things.
“Yes,” I said, “I have done everything you have asked. As far as I know I have repented. And yes, I have felt the love of the Lord as I have prayed about it. I have felt a sense of peace as I have thought about my repentance, as if the Lord is pleased and has accepted my efforts.” I could not think of anything more I could say to convince him that I had done all I knew how to do.
There are no Guarantees
“Then, Brother Malone,” he said slowly, “all I can say is this.” He paused, almost as if it pained him to say what he was about to share. “You simply go about your life, living from day to day, doing all within your power to keep this sin behind you. I can tell you that it will be difficult. All you can do is endure to the end of your life and pray that you are still worthy when you die.”
I sat a little stunned. It was not what I expected to hear. I thought he would say something like, “Well, now you can ask the Lord to take away the memory of your sin. You’ve repented, so you have the right to do that.” Nope. He specifically said I would remember my sin, that it would be something I would have to continue to work on all my life and that there were no guarantees.
A Lifetime of Service
I thanked him. I went to the temple. I served my mission faithfully. I kept free from the habit that had caused me such distress in my youth for many years, but sadly it came back later in life. In fact, it came and it went many times over the years, even after I was married – in the temple. My bishop was right. There were no guarantees. I still struggle to keep myself free from this sin.
Because of constant repentance I have been able to keep my temple recommend all these years. Sometimes I feel more worthy than at other times in my life, especially as I keep busy in actively serving others through teaching the gospel or helping the ward and stake priesthood leadership as a clerk or counselor. But I have always wondered why I could never be truly free of this sin.
In Peril Every Hour
Many of you know that I have been actively reading the works of Denver Snuffer for the last year and a half since I was introduced to his writings. I thought that perhaps I would find in his books something refuting the counsel of this bishop. I thought I would find some statement the Lord had made, or something found in the scriptures that I had missed about being forgiven.
Nope. In fact, Denver makes a statement that as long as we are mortal, as long as we have not come into the presence of the Lord and been ministered to by him, we remain in danger. If I remember correctly, he states that we must have our calling and election made sure in order to have any promise that we will be exalted after this life. And then of course, there are still risks.
The effects of Sexual Sin
The obvious advice to us all is to never get entangled in sin, especially sexual sin, which, in terms of severity, is considered the sin next to murder (see my qualifying note below). Now admittedly, pornography and masturbation are not the same as fornication or adultery, but nevertheless, they are sexual sin. They make one unclean and impure before the Lord. Repentance from such is still a hard process.
I now understand why my good bishop was so tender-hearted when he gave me the advice I asked for at age nineteen. He knew what I was going to have to go though, even though I had repented. He knew I would have to continue to repent all my life. I don’t know how he knew that. Perhaps he knew it from personal experience but I would never assume such a thing.
Say Nothing but Repentance
Joseph was commanded to say nothing but repentance to this generation. I know when my stake presidency is inspired and acting under the spirit of the Lord when they remind the priesthood brethren in our stake that we need to be wary of pornography, keep away from it and confess to our bishops if we are having problems. Pornography saps power from the priesthood of the man.
It hurts when I hear them say that. It reminds me that I am a sinner, an addict and that I must be always on my guard to keep free from this sin. I have to be very careful about what websites I visit and what TV shows I watch. In fact, I try to not watch TV at all. I would rather read. Even though it hurts to hear, I am grateful my stake president warns us to beware of pornography.
Hope for Repentant Sinners
Some have said that if the church would stop talking about pornography, it would cease to be a problem. I’ve never understood that logic. The Lord commanded the leaders of the church to warn the members against sin. If they don’t, they would not be doing their duty. Perhaps what the critics are saying is that the leaders need to be careful to encourage those who have sinned.
Perhaps if there is any advice I could offer anyone in this church who deals with this problem is what the reader of one of my recent posts wrote in a private email dialog: “Stop being so hard on yourself. You have obviously repented. You should celebrate your life and the good things the Lord has done for you.” Good advice. But it’s still hard knowing I must always be on my guard.
The Best Advice I Can Offer
So here’s the best advice I can offer, and it comes from another reader. This is a summary of what Good Will left on my post Born of the Spirit for Addicts. After quoting Moroni 10:32-33, he wrote, “…you do not deny yourself of all ungodliness by your own virtue, grace, power or strength, but by His.” Of course, in order to do that, we must have those attributes from Him.
In other words, you’ll never be able to do it on your own power. You’ll never be enough. You MUST have the strength of the Lord in order to overcome and master the flesh. Because He is virtuous, you will be virtuous. Because He has power over the flesh, you can have power over the flesh. Because He is clean, you can be clean. But you MUST be enveloped in His love.
Faith beyond Intellectual Understanding
I’m not going to say this is a new concept for me, but perhaps it is one that I have somehow limited to an intellectual understanding only. The objective of the Lord in working with us is to change our hearts, to cause us to be born again, to receive that baptism by fire, to be cleansed from the effects of sin, every whit. But I know it’s simply not something I can do on my own.
I suppose for me, my intellectual strength has become a liability in this area. I just can’t seem to get past the idea that I know it must happen, but I don’t understand how to make it happen. I pray for it, I fast for it, I do all within my power to serve, to bless others, to be kind and unselfish, and in short, to live my life in a way that I think would be pleasing and to invite the Lord’s presence.
I Must be Missing Something
I confess I am still struggling. I guess what I’m saying is that I know the answer to happiness, but even after nearly forty years of repenting, I haven’t quite figured out how to make this a real day to day power that gives me the strength to say that I am redeemed of the Lord and have His strength and power with me. I take the sacrament each week and feel strengthened, but still…
I’ll bet some of you are slapping your hand to your head and saying to yourself, “Tim, you just don’t get it. It’s so easy. Here’s all you have to do…” I would love to hear from you. I’ve been working on this for most of my life and still feel the pains of an anguished soul every time the topic comes up in a priesthood meeting. How can I ensure the Lord is dwelling within me?
The Savior will take Up His Abode
I’m not looking for simple primary answers – pray, read the scriptures, take the sacrament, exercise faith, attend to your duties, give service, magnify callings, etc. I do all that. I’m looking for answers from someone who has gone through this and knows what it takes. Am I looking beyond the mark? Is it really as simple as asking in prayer each day to have the Lord with you?
I guess I’m looking for something more. I pray for the spirit to be with me each day and I do feel the help of the spirit. Is there a difference between having the spirit with you and having the presence of the Lord with you? I am convinced there is. The scripture says the Lord will come and dwell with you. I think I’m missing that step. For those who get it, will you ‘splain it to me?
Invitation to Dialog and Connect
Thanks. I don’t care if you berate me for not understanding. I have been a teacher and leader in this church for all my life and I confess I simply don’t get it. If you do, please be merciful and share with me how you have done it – how you have invited the Lord to dwell with you and KNOW that He has come in to make his home with you. It seems a step above where I am now.
I get that I need the Lord’s virtue and the Lord’s power to give me strength to resist sin and to take away my desire for sin, which seems to hit me every few months whenever something important or stressful comes into my life. Satan knows my old weakness and hits me up every time the Lord wants to give me something more and move me along a step on my progression.
Advice for a Repentant Sinner
I’ll be forever grateful if you get it and will share in the comments or email: tmalonemcse @ gmail.com. God bless you for your kindness and thoughtfulness in sharing your thoughts and ideas. I’m committed to the Lord. I love Him and have experienced marvelous manifestations of His love so many times over the years. I feel his spirit with me almost every day of my life.
What I’m looking for is a way to find some sort of guarantee that temptation will have no more power over me when it comes along. I’m looking for a way to say and know that I have been born of the spirit and have no more desire to sin, as the scripture says. If you’ve achieved this and can say that you are never tempted, talk to me. Or am I simply living in a fantasy world?