Tag Archives: repentance

Joy and Repentance

[Given by Chris Juchau at the Saturday evening of Stake Conference, October 2016.]

The Saturday Evening session of Stake Conference always brings together a wonderful group of people.  I am saddened by the absence of those who are not here and I hope that all of us will reach out in appropriate ways especially to those who are not here for no other reason than it just not interesting them.  But I am delighted to be with you tonight.

I once heard it said that spiritual maturity can be measured by the number of contradictions—or apparent contradictions—we are able to reconcile.  Like the fact that I am, as the scriptures say, “less than the dust of the earth” and, at the same time, as the scriptures also teach, a child of God with potential to become like Him.  I don’t know if it’s true that that’s how we should measure spiritual maturity, but it’s an interesting thought.

One of my concerns for the members of our stake is that we don’t reconcile very well the reality of our fallen state and carnal natures with the reality of the Atonement and its impact on us.  We can get too sad and discouraged by our shortcomings, inadequacies, and imperfections and not take enough joy in the blessings of the Atonement, in the promises of our covenants, in the effectiveness of the Plan of Salvation, and in the myriad reasons for us to be joyful and at peace, even during a mortal experience that includes tragedies and great disappointments.

Yesterday I found myself singing along in my car with the Tabernacle Choir.  Not to make light of life’s real tragedies but I often turn to the Tabernacle Choir following a close BYU football loss. I got curious about the song titled “This Is My Father’s World,” which I was singing along with and I googled it when I got to work.  It’s a popular Christian hymn, included in a Methodist Hymnal and, I would imagine, many others.  Let me share with you the last two stanzas:

This is my Father’s world.
O let me ne’er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.

This is my Father’s world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad! 

Tonight I would like to speak about a great source of joy and peace that we sometimes think of in unjoyful terms, but it is, in fact—or at least can be—joyful and that is repentance.

What is repentance and what is joyful about it?

I remember learning as a child, both at Church and at home, that repentance is a process with a number of discreet steps or aspects to it which can be specifically named and which all start with the letter R.  How many of these steps or properties are there?  I googled the “R’s of repentance” this week also and found a number of lists:  I found 3 R’s, 4 R’s, 5 R’s, 6 R’s, 7 R’s, and 8 r’s.  I may have found more than that if I’d looked harder, but I got tired of looking after I could find 9 R’s.

In my youthful mind, I saw these as sequential steps.  First I needed to recognize, then I needed to experience remorse, then I need to recommit, and so on…  I would need to go through this process for every sin of commission.  Then I would need to recognize all my sins of omission and do the same.  If I ever completed the steps for a particular sin but then committed the sin again, I would have thereby proven that Step 5, Reform, had not adequately happened after all, and then I would have to start again at Step 1.

Logically, to succeed at all that, I would essentially have to land at a place of perfection—where I never again repeated any sin and had paid at least some price for every sin I had committed.  It almost seems like I wouldn’t even need the Savior in such a scenario, because I would repent myself into becoming just like Him in the end!

While the various R’s of repentance are all more or less present in genuine repentance, I no longer think of repentance in those terms.  Nor do I think that Judgment Day will consist of me standing before the Lord while He reviews a very lengthy list of my debits and a short list of my credits.

When Enos and Alma the Younger received forgiveness of their sins in the Book of Mormon, had they gone through 4 or 6 or 8 discreet steps for every sin in their past?  When Jesus declared forgiveness to the paralyzed man lowered through the roof or to the woman who bathed his feet in her tears and washed his feet with her hair, had those people gone through these steps?

Let me mention something else from my childhood that I now think of differently.  I grew up around a lot Evangelical (or “Born-Again”) Christians who, thankfully, had a large impact on me.  Two of my Jr. High School teachers used to try to convince me that I wasn’t a Christian because Mormons place so much emphasis on “works.”  That introduced me to the whole debate about faith versus works and what saves us and what doesn’t and I learned to look down upon the protestant emphasis on faith and their downplaying of works.  After all, “faith without works is dead,” I learned.  We cannot be saved by faith alone.  Our actions matter.  I might have even thought at one point that our works will save us.

My views on this have matured since my youth. I now believe my protestant friends understood some things better than I did.  Do my works matter?  Of course they do.  I have covenanted to be obedient.  And the Savior said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.”  But if my works are going to save me, I’m doomed—even in spite of good efforts—and even if I can remember every step of repentance for every sin I commit.

Faith in Jesus Christ, however, is the first principle of the gospel and to love God is the first commandment.  I believe more than ever today that the good works, the obedience, and the commandment-keeping that matter most are the ones that emerge from sincere faith in the Savior and genuine love for our Father in Heaven.  I believe that our good works and efforts are more of a reflection of the depth of our faith in the Savior who will save us, than they are the things that will save us, themselves.

It is because of the value of our faith and love that Elder Holland’s recent teaching makes most sense to me.  He said, “The great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed.”  Where our works fall short, our faith and love can still qualify and validate our effort.  Six times—in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and the Doctrine and Covenants—the Lord refers to the “thoughts and intents of the heart.”  Because many times the sincerity of our hearts will trump the failures of our efforts.

But back to the question of “What is repentance?”  The LDS Bible Dictionary says “repentance” means “a turning of the heart and will toward God and a renunciation of sin.”  It also alludes to a change of mind and a new view about God and ourselves.

Sin is when we willfully disobey God or fail to act the way we know He wants us to.  Just as righteous actions reveal faith in God and love for God, sin reveals a heart that is not turned toward God, that is not soft toward Him, that is not sufficiently broken and contrite.

Repentance occurs when our hard hearts soften, when they break in a sense, and seek to realign themselves with God—followed by our behavior and/or our valiant, sincere attempts to change our behavior.  As Elder Holland indicated, God is patient with the sincere heart which earnestly strives, even when the desired result is not yet accomplished.  To repent is to turn—our hearts, our wills, our minds, our behaviors.

As I’ve gotten older and learned more, there are three interesting things I’ve come to believe about repentance and forgiveness.

One is that we cannot really repent of just one sin at a time.  We may focus on changing a particular behavior, we might even change one behavior at a time, but repentance includes a broken heart, a contrite spirit, an effort to realign my whole self with God.  Seeking to give God part of my heart while holding back another part doesn’t make the first part very sincere.  Perhaps this is why we remember hearing the Savior declare people’s sins forgiven, as in all of their sins; we don’t hear him saying that just some of their sins are forgiven them.

Another is that God is patient with the serial sinner who keeps on trying.  In Luke he instructed his disciples, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.  And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.”  Similarly, I believe that as many times as we sincerely turn our hearts again toward God, He extends forgiveness to us.  Satan will seek to discourage us by tempting us to think that we will not be forgiven and to shrink with discouragement.  The Godhead, however, whisper to us to get up and keep going and they will stay with us while we continue forward.

The third is that I believe God’s forgiveness comes at the speed of a changed heart.  Our attempts to reform our thought and behavior patterns may take a little time even with great effort, but the Lord requires—and judges—the heart even while he allows our behaviors to demonstrate the sincerity of our hearts.

Is there joy in repentance?  Of course!  Enos and Alma experienced joy!

That’s like asking whether it is good to return to a home we love after an absence.   It’s like asking if lost sheep are glad to be found.  It’s like asking if the prodigal son felt the warmth of his father’s embrace.

It might seem strange that a process filled with “godly sorrow” can also be joyful.  But where does the joy come from?

The joy comes from completing the process.  If I made a list of R-words to describe the repentance experience, I would end with “receive,” as in “receive the love and forgiveness of the Lord through faith in Him and His atonement.”  You see, faith and repentance are completely intertwined.  My faith in God motivates me to turn and re-turn my heart to Him again and again.  My faith drives me to repent.  And it is that same faith that allows me to receive the blessings of the Atonement and of forgiveness and of standing clean before the Lord (even now and not just “some day”) because I believe now and trust now in the good news of the Gospel.  Our joy is in the Savior and it is both present and future.

Now one more point before I close…

Some sins are bigger than others and sometimes our sins are particularly egregious, making the repentance experience particularly acute with regards to personal sorrow, even pain.  At the same time, our joy from those experiences can also be particularly specific.  Many people experience a joyful sense of relief when confessing an egregious sin to their bishop.  Joy continues in such circumstances as people progress with behavioral changes and efforts to make restitution.  It culminates when a person exercises faith to believe that they have truly demonstrated a heart changed toward God and that God has responded.

But what about you and most of us most of the time when we are dealing only with myriad personal shortcomings and smaller-ish mistakes?  What about the soul—like most here tonight—who is generally and quite constantly striving to the do the right things and is not rebellious or willfully neglectful toward God?  Do we repent?  And do we experience joy?

My purpose tonight, knowing that I am speaking to many such people, is to invite you to a lifestyle which practices and experiences both a constantly broken and contrite spirit which constantly and over-and-over-again turns itself toward God—and simultaneously experiences the joy of knowing that the Lord accepts your sincerely humble and submissive heart and does, in fact, just as our baptismal covenant with Him indicates, cleanse us through the Holy Ghost, and forgive us of our sins.  I am inviting you to experience both contrition and joy at the same time, which may seem like two contradictory things, but they’re not.  They are more “cause and effect.”

Let us not understand repentance merely as the string of steps we go through when we have done something particularly bad.  Let us live repentance as a lifestyle, with a heart that is constantly contrite, with a consistent love of God; and while we do that, let us enjoy the promise of an ongoing cleansing of our souls by the Holy Ghost and with complete faith and trust that the promises of the Atonement apply to us both now and in our futures.  Let us live joyfully contrite, at least comforted, if not ecstatic about the reality of the Atonement and the reality of its effects on us.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

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.

“By this ye may know…”

Let’s start with a multiple-choice quiz question.  “How many R’s are there in repentance?”  I’ll give you six options to choose from:

  1. Five:  recognize, remorse, relate, resolve, and restore.
  2. Myriad dozens.  To the five above, we could add: realize, regret, recite, report, renounce, restitution, repair, repay, recommit, restart, rely, reform, receive, reconcile, renewal, and on and on and ON…  (If you don’t believe me, just try Google.  There are at least a bazillion R’s.)
  3. One.  There is literally one “R” in the word repentance.  Ha ha
  4. Zero.  There are no R’s in “change.”
  5. One.  There is one “R” in “Christ.”
  6. Four.  There are four R’s in “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”

I’m really not a fan of the traditional lists of R’s associated with repentance.  They certainly have value in helping us identify and discuss important concepts and some of those concepts are extremely important.  But they’re often presented as “steps” in the repentance “process,” but the idea of “steps” invites thinking of repentance as a checklist, which seems like a mistake; and the idea of a process, while not incorrect reminds me of a flowchart and moving from one stage to another… which brings us right back to steps and checklists.  No good.

I do like simplicity, though.  Here are a few simple repentance-related concepts we discussed this last Thursday which seem important.

Christ.  Just as Christ must be at the center of our faith if we want our faith to do anything for us salvation-wise, so much Christ be at the center of our repentance.  For those who insist on lists of R’s, they key is to relate every R to the Savior.  Checklist repentance often omits the most important things:  the Savior, his atonement, our relationship to him, godly sorrow that relates to him…  If he isn’t at the center of our repentance, our repentance will not work salvation.

Change.  If we reduce the definition of repentance to a single word (I like to think that “faith” = “action,” for example), my choice would be “change.”  We repent because we sin.  Sin moves us away from God.  To remedy that, we must change.  Three things must change:  our hearts (to replace pride with humility and rebellion with submission), our minds (to eliminate the erroneous thinking and rationalization that led us to accept sin as a desirable path), and our behavior (sins of commission must be stopped, sins of omission but be replaced with action; even sins involving thinking require behavioral changes).

Confession.  No, I’m not trying to replace the R-words with C-words, but I would like to say three things about confession.  First, we need to regularly discuss our sins and shortcoming with Heavenly Father in prayer; we need to ask for forgiveness frequently.  Second, when confession to a priesthood key holder is necessary, it is almost always a source of profound and immediate relief—if taken!  (Bishops, by the way, are far more inclined to respect and appreciate, rather than be critical of or disappointed in, those who confess sins.)  The alternative of shouldering our burden alone is a tragic one—completely unnecessary.  Third, confession is best when it is complete.  Sort of kind of confessing or mostly confessing is a lost opportunity which lengthens the bearing of the burden and retards healing.

Receiving.  This is an R-word I really love.  I am often reminded of D&C 88:33:  “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift?  Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.”  Faith and repentance work together and faith, by definition, includes confidence.  Faith in Christ, includes confidence in Christ.  When I combine faith and repentance, I know that sincere efforts to change and correct my ways are received by our Father in Heaven; and I know that because my efforts alone are insufficient, the Savior does indeed make up the difference.  I may receive the gift of forgiveness with humble confidence—and humility and confidence in the Savior may very harmoniously coexist.

I mentioned in class on Thursday that I had 13 repentance-related questions to pose for consideration and discussion.  Having already commented on some of them above, I present them here as 10 questions.  I won’t necessarily claim to know the answers, but if you have ideas, please drop a comment below!

  1. Which sins must I specifically repent of?  Just the big ones?  Are some (“smaller”) sins repented of in some kind of batch or general fashion?  Do I need to repent for just being human and carnal by nature of my fallen state?
  2. Is it possible to just repent of one sin at a time?  I can’t truly repent of one sin while holding on to another, can I?  Is repentance an experience that involves all our sins?
  3. Sincere repentance includes godly sorrow and some level of pain, does it not?  If so, how much work is the Savior doing and how much of it am I doing?
  4. Should active, worthy members of the Church who are careful covenant keepers also be engaged in daily, active, conscious repentance?  If so, how?
  5. Is repenting of the same thing over and over again really repentance?  The Savior commands us to forgive all people, even when they seek forgiveness for the same thing repeatedly.  He also said, “As often as my people repent, I will forgive them  (Mosiah 26:30).”  How does the Lord feel about repeated attempts interrupted by repeated failures?  How do we feel about those things we see in loved ones?
  6. Was the woman taken in adultery repentant?  If so, she was definitely forgiven, right?  Was she forgiven?
  7. Was the prodigal son repentant?  If so, he was definitely forgiven, right?  Was he forgiven?
  8. How do you convince someone who thinks they’re too far gone for the blessings of the atonement that they are wrong?
  9. Is it really true that an omniscient God literally forgets our sins when we repent or is that just a figurative expression to indicate that there will be no negative consequences from Him?
  10. When we repent, what is the actual mechanism that converts our repentance into God’s forgiveness?  Is it a decision He makes according to His agency—His grace?  Or is it automatic because He is bound?

I know of few things that bring joy and build testimony like repentance.  Whether for sins relatively small or large, repentance is a sweet opportunity for each of us right now.  Repentance is, in fact, a necessary ingredient for living after the manner of happiness.

Lastly, appreciation to Rod Terry for reminding us Thursday that the Sacrament ordinance each Sunday combines with our faith and repentance and the workings of the Holy Ghost to renew our baptism and its effects each Sunday.  Sacrament meeting is sacred.  We can indeed walk out of it each week reconciled to God and qualified for salvation, even for exaltation.