On Optimism and Repentance

[Given by Chris Juchau at Stake Priesthood Meeting March 1, 2015.]

I wonder how many of you are aware of the major world event that occurred in Peoria, Arizona this past week?

The other day, I was sitting in my boss’s office at work listening to him complain about a couple of employees and about the unlikelihood of them changing their negative behaviors.  As I listened in some disagreement, my mind wandered a bit and I had a significant epiphany when it dawned on me that I had become an optimist.

My arrival at optimism has developed through conflicting aspects of my upbringing.  On the one hand, my father, who, thankfully, has had a great influence on the way I think about and approach things, has always had as one of his cornerstone philosophies and favorite sayings, that a pessimist is never disappointed.  He tempers that mantra a bit with another saying he always refers to as “the Hindu philosophy”:  hope for the best, expect the worst.  I have spent much of my life anticipating negative outcomes as an effective means of avoiding disappointment and frustration.

On the other hand, five days ago in Peoria, Arizona, the Seattle Mariners reported for Spring Training.  To most people, that doesn’t mean very much, but to me, Spring Training is, ironically for a Mariners fan, a significant annual symbol of hope, optimism, and renewal.

April 6, we know, is an important date in world history.  Among other important things, it was on April 6, 1977 that the Seattle Mariners played their first real game.  I was 11 years old.  They committed two errors, scored zero runs, and lost 7-0.  To call that foreshadowing would be an understatement.  I was a father before they had their first winning season 14 years later.  In 38 seasons, they have won their division exactly three times and been to the playoffs just four times.  In 2001, they tied the all-time record for wins in a season—but managed to salvage disappointment from the jaws of success when they lost the American League Championship Series to that symbol of everything unvirtuous, unpraiseworthy, unlovely, and of ill report, the New York Yankees.  They have never been to a World Series.  Yet.

Every February, my hope, optimism, and enthusiasm emerge refreshed from the cold of winter and blossom like a bunch of daffodils. It is ironic, that I have learned so much about hope and optimism from my beloved not-quite-but-nearly-literally hopeless Mariners these past 38 years.

Over those years, though, I have learned much more about faith, hope, optimism, and renewal from an infinitely more important source and in a more meaningful way:  the Savior.  Jesus Christ is, as the scriptures say, love.  He is also hope and optimism.  Pessimistic, dark views about yourself or about life’s possibilities for you come from the other side.  There is, in fact, a devil, just as there is a Savior.  The Devil, not the Savior, is the author of personal pessimism.

If, when you consider yourself and your prospects in this life and eternity, your heart contains hope and optimism in spite of whatever disappointments you may find in life’s circumstances or in your own abilities or character, there is a good chance that you are seeing both yourself and the Savior the right way.  If, when you consider yourself and your prospects in this life and eternity, your heart contains things like discouragement or despair or hopelessness, there is a good chance that you have either lost sight of who you really are or of the Savior’s ability and willingness to help you over life’s small—and sometimes very large—bumps.

Four positive facts are true.  The more deeply you internalize them, the more optimistic you’ll feel:

  1. No matter where you have been or what you have done, you matter and have undiminished potential—which is equal to that of every good man.
  2. It is true that, like all of us, you have fallen short in ways which if unresolved will continue to separate you from God, which separation is disassociated with happiness.
  3. The Savior can and is eager to help you resolve any and all currently unresolved matters that separate you from God and that may leave you with feelings of pessimism or discouragement.
  4. Effort from you is required, but you are fully capable of all that is your part to do. Your part is doable and not just by a superhuman, but by you.

I would like to speak to you tonight about repentance and about its importance and the associated blessings.  Repentance and optimism enjoy a close relationship.

Everyone in this room stands in need of repentance.  Some for critical, acute matters because they have committed a particularly egregious sin or because they lack control over their behavior and habitually commit significant sins.  The rest of us need to repent for arguably less acute matters, but nevertheless also need repentance born of deep, sincere humility and of broken hearts.  Note that broken hearts need not be depressed, despondent hearts.  The humility, godly sorrow, and broken hearts the Savior implores us to develop are about making our hearts fertile and receptive to Him; they are not about making us feel small or hopeless.

Two evenings ago, I sat in a meeting with Church, school, and other community leaders and I was reminded of something I have repeatedly learned in recent years, which is this:   Negative situations, whether they involve personal anguish unrelated to sin or whether they do involve sin, are made worse by the darkness of secrecy.  Conversely, those situations are improved by the light of openness.  This is why one of the most wonderful—even majestic—things I have seen is a man who stands up in front of a lot of other men at a 12-Step meeting and says, “Hi, my name is John, and I have a problem.”  You can bet that John is on his way to better things and to goodness and peace.

When we commit sin, our natural, carnal response is to follow some of Satan’s very first advice when he told Adam and Eve to hide themselves.  Why would we do so?  Feelings of shame and embarrassment motivate us toward the darkness of secrecy.  This is what Satan wants us to do and it is how he will help us become miserable like unto himself.

Nothing could be more opposite from the Savior’s counsel to us to mourn with each other, to comfort each other, and above all, to go to Him.  “Come and see,” He commanded.

When we have sinned and we “go to Him, “what will we, in fact, “see”?

One of the sweetest experiences of my life occurred when, as a young, but adult, man, I wrestled with feelings of unworthiness because of things I had done.  I pondered and prayed and worked to change.  One day, I was blessed with a clear, wonderful understanding that I had been forgiven.  It was joyful and I have derived confidence from that moment ever since.

It is a common experience for members of the Church who feel shame and embarrassment to muster the courage to go to their bishop to confess things that need to be confessed and to ask for His help—and then to discover that their confession is met with warmth and love, a smile, and encouragement.  Which is not to say that there aren’t additional steps for people to take before complete repentance is achieved, but it is to say that the Savior meets our courage with love and that bishops are blessed with a similar, compassionate response to those who seek Him.  Some who need to see their bishops have not been able to bring themselves to do so.  If that is you, you should do it soon because you are missing out on a great experience and on the blessings that come from bringing our hidden weaknesses into the light.

There is a scene in the movie Apollo 13 where things are looking very dark for the three men in the spaceship—and, in fact, for the entire space program.  Gene Kranz, the director of flight operations for Mission Control in Houston is overhearing a government official rehearse all the things that might yet go wrong and openly lament the problems that will result if the Apollo 13 mission ends in catastrophe.  The official says, “This could be the worst disaster NASA’s ever experienced.”   But then Kranz turns to the official and says, “With all due respect, sir, I believe this is going to be our finest hour.”

Like the problems of Apollo 13, which occurred when the oxygen tanks were stirred and an explosion resulted, we are never better off having sinned.  All sin comes with negative consequences.  For the Apollo 13 mission, disappointment remains to this day because they did not reach the moon.  Nevertheless, it is true, that when things do go wrong, an opportunity emerges for us to discover the love of the Savior and to draw humble strength from the confidence and optimism He expresses in us when he provides forgiveness.

I have sat with people in the bishop’s office or stake president’s office who are burdened by discouragement and disappointment, often related to sin, and wanted to help the person see that this may yet be one of their finest hours.

I am impressed by the idea that repentance involves change—a change of heart, a change of mind, and a change of behavior.  Such change is almost always associated with time because it takes time to distinguish, even within our own selves, between plants that take root and quickly spring up only to equally quickly wither because the roots had no real depth and plants whose roots grow deep into the ground and have the ability to endure.

This, by the way, is why it is hard to repent of just one sin at a time.  I may be able to stop or change one behavior at a time, but if my heart and my mind are truly changed toward God, I will desire to eliminate all the behaviors that keep me from him.

A broken heart and a contrite spirit are the key.  Lehi said of the Savior, “behold he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered.”

Brethren, here is what I want you to know…

  1. No matter where you have been or what you have done, you matter and have undiminished potential—which is equal to that of every good man.
  2. It is true that, like all of us, you have fallen short in ways which if unresolved will continue to separate you from God, which separation is disassociated with happiness.
  3. The Savior can and is eager to help you resolve any and all currently unresolved matters that separate you from God and that may leave you with feelings of pessimism or discouragement.
  4. Effort from you is required, but you are fully capable of all that is your part to do. Your part is doable and not just by a superhuman, but by you.

I want you to know that there is great cause for hope and faith and optimism.  This is because the Savior has done what we need Him to do in order to be able to save us from despair and hopelessness and pessimism.  And it is because the abilities lie within you to come to Him in a way that allows Him to heal you.

I ask the Lord to bless each of us with courage.  Courage to take sin out of the darkness and courage to trust in His ability to heal us.  He can and He will if we will sufficiently soften our hearts toward Him.

The Mariners may never win a World Series.  But that (and a whole host of other things you and I can get distracted with) doesn’t matter at all.  What matters is that you experience the goodness, hope, and happiness of renewal through Jesus Christ.  I testify that you can and you will if you open your heart to Him.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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