Did that title freak you out a bit? Don’t worry, it’ll make sense in a few minutes.
Lately, while reading my scriptures, I’ve noticed how often repentance is discussed. The New Testament has various invitations to repent, and the Book of Mormon is absolutely loaded with these invitations.
Which probably means that repentance is pretty important.
You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, Christina, that’s obvious.” And you’re right.
Here’s the thing. I, like you, know repentance is important. But sometimes I find myself brushing it off, like “Oh, what I did is no big deal. I just won’t do it again and I’ll be good.”
Or some other justification. “It’s hard.” “I’m not perfect, so it’s okay if I sin.” “Normally getting mad over this would be wrong, but not this time.”
I don’t even want to know how many variations of these justifications I’ve come up with in my life.
But being aware of these justifications can help all of us find what we need to change in our lives. And when we know what we need to change in our lives, we can take real steps to accept the change Jesus offers us.
Action vs. Action to Repentance
In April’s General Conference, President Nelson mentioned a friend who started to make changes in his life. Here’s how it went:
One such dear friend of mine had limited experiences with God. But he longed to be with his departed wife. So he asked me to help him. I encouraged him to meet with our missionaries in order to understand the doctrine of Christ and learn of gospel covenants, ordinances, and blessings.
President Russell M. Nelson, “Come, Follow Me,” April 2019
That he did. But he felt the course they advised would require him to make too many changes in his life. He said, “Those commandments and covenants are just too difficult for me. Also, I can’t possibly pay tithing, and I don’t have time to serve in the Church.” Then he asked me, “Once I die, please do the necessary temple work for my wife and me so that we can be together again.”
This man wanted happiness and peace. He wanted companionship. So he started to take action to receive those things.
The problem that prevented his change was his refusal to change. He had put forth some action, but not action to repentance.
Action to repentance comes only when the action is backed by a real, tangible desire and intent to change. Likewise, the desire for change is useless without action.
The combination of genuine desire, intent, and action gives us the tools we need to to accept the Atonement of Jesus Christ and allow it to work in our lives.
But let’s not turn these things into a checklist. When I was in primary, I remember being taught that to repent, you have to do 5 things: see what you did, feel bad about it, apologize, ask for forgiveness, and stop doing whatever bad thing I’d been doing.
While these are actions that can play into repentance, they really seemed like a checklist. And I think this list leaves out an important element – real intent to change.
Repentance isn’t, “Oh I did everything that I’m supposed to do to repent, so I must be fine.” It’s a deep change in your heart.
And what we do to repent is useless without Jesus Christ.
We can have all the desire, intent, and action in the world, and without Christ, it would mean nothing.
That’s not to say that we shouldn’t bother doing anything. In fact, it means the opposite.
Here’s the Deal
Our relationship with Jesus Christ has been described many ways. Sheep to shepherd, injured man to Good Samaritan, sinners to Savior.
One of my favorite metaphors for our relationship to Him is in 3 Nephi 10 (and in Matthew 23:37):
5 And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, who have fallen; yea, O ye people of the house of Israel, ye that dwell at Jerusalem, as ye that have fallen; yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not.3 Nephi 10:5
Jesus offers us His help and protection constantly. When storms arise, He reaches out to us more.
If we don’t have His protection, it isn’t because He hasn’t offered it. It’s because we haven’t allowed it.
His invitation to come unto Him is always standing, and we have reminders of it. And even in the moment when Jesus is acknowledging that we have not accepted His invitation, He offers it again.
6 O ye house of Israel whom I have spared, how oft will I gather you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, if ye will repent and return unto me with full purpose of heart.3 Nephi 10:6
See, it’s like making an agreement or a deal. Jesus says, “If you do these things I’m asking you to do, then I’ll give everything I can to you.”
It’s up to us to agree to the deal or not. And if we don’t, we can’t expect God to help us unless we change our minds and do agree to the deal.
Knowing what the deal is and our role in it opens us up to real repentance.
The Parable of the Pond and the Frog
I made this parable up, so don’t expect too much.
I’ve started picturing my heart as a pond with a frog in it. That probably sounds really, really weird, but hear me out.
The frog represents our guilt or unrest or whatever is holding me back from Christ. It sits in the dark, muddy bottom of the pond, lurking and hidden, but unquestionably present.
Now, picturing my heart as the pond, I know that the frog is there, but I do my best to ignore it. It’s hiding down in the mud, after all, so it isn’t doing anything to me. I spread lily pads and flowers across my surface, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s all I need.
If I’m really afraid of it getting out, I may even freeze the pond’s surface so it’s locked away.
But at some point, the frog always ends up moving. It’s alive, after all. It never left, even if I pretended it did. And when the frog moves, it shifts the water. Ripples form, and suddenly I can’t ignore the frog anymore.
Now, I can keep pretending, but the more the frog moves, the more ripples hit my surface, and the harder it is to pretend. I want the frog to leave, but with all the lily pads, flowers, and maybe ice in the way, I’m not sure how to remove it.
But I have to start somewhere. If I’ve frozen the frog inside the pond, I have to thaw it out. I have to clear the plants and expose the water.
At that point, when the way is clear and I’ve done what I can to remove the frog, someone reaches in and lifts the frog out of my heart.
As a pond, I can’t do anything to make the frog leave. I can clear the way for it to leave, but without outside help, it could stick around forever.
Our desires, intents, and actions open the way to full repentance. But when we agree to our deal with Christ, He reaches in and lifts the guilt, unrest, or whatever out of our hearts and frees us completely.
This week, I know that I need to look for a couple of frogs so I can start to do my part of the deal. I need to get ready to make changes and start building the desire, intent, and actions needed to invite Christ in fully, so He can do what I can’t.
Let’s all take a closer look at our hearts and the changes we need to make this week. Share your hope and encouragement with others working through this process as well! We can raise each other closer to Christ.
And don’t forget that you can lift others by sharing your testimony here on this blog. Click here for more details.