I read through several conference talks and I fell in love with the writing of Elder Neal A. Maxwell, so he became my subject for the semester. His writing is poetic and profound. Each line holds so much information and the imagery is amazing. So the other day a friend of my was talking about an old talk written by Elder Maxwell and I couldn't resist reading it.
It's called "Repentance" and was given in 1991 for General Conference, and it gave me a new perspective on the subject.
I think that as members of the LDS church, and perhaps Christians at large, we think of repentance as a form of punishment for sinners. But Elder Maxwell says, "Repentance is a rescuing, not a dour doctrine. It is available to the gross sinner as well as to the already-good individual striving for incremental improvement."
I'd like to think of myself in the category of the "already-good individuals," but am I "striving for incremental improvement"? To reach "full consecration," Elder Maxwell says that we need to change our focus to "the sins of omission" which often become the stumbling blocks of the so-called, good guys.
He warns that "even when free of major transgressions, we can develop self-contentment instead of seeking self-improvement." In other words, we have to stop coasting.
I was a sober child with things related to the Spirit. I started reading the Book of Mormon when I was 6. (I remember being very confused and not really understanding what was going on. There was a lot about "seeds" like "my seed shall be blessed". I did eventually figure out that they were talking about children and family...) I was 8-years-old when I finally finished the book and put Moroni's promise to the test. I remember being overcome with the feeling that this book was true. Even though I couldn't understand it all, I was sure it was truth.
When I was in high school my arthritis was quite bad. I had to go to the doctor weekly to get injections and still, there were times I limped or even had to use crutches because the pain was so severe. But this experience also brought me to Christ and I learned that the Atonement is not just for sin, but for pain also. I learned that, like the people of Alma, I could be strengthened in Christ so that my burden became light.
I don't know exactly when it happened, perhaps as I crested into adulthood with new worries and concerns, but at some point I started coasting. God started to seem farther away and part of me doubted that He really cared about my everyday goings on. I was never unfaithful. I went to church every Sunday, held regular Family Home Evenings, had family scripture study and prayer. I even went to the temple several times a year. I didn't even realize that there had been a shift.
But I was coasting. I wasn't studying the gospel the way I should. I excused my lack by declaring that this was a hard "time and season" in life. (Elder Maxwell calls this a deficiency of style and declares that "[we] are too quick to forgive ourselves in matters of style.")
For more than a decade now, God has been patient with me. But He wants me to understand "things as they really are." And the truth is, God cares far less about my comfort than He does about my character and progress. And so, in 2010, He began to stretch me. (Think of it as spiritual yoga.) And, naturally, I resisted. But the stretching didn't stop and He brought me to a crossroads where I could coast no longer. It was do or die. I had to actively move toward Him or away from Him. There was no middle ground.
So I made my choice. I will move toward him. I feel, now, like I've stepped out a fog or removed sunglasses. Everything about the gospel seems so vibrant and new. And even though I am no "gross sinner," I recognize not only that I am just as in need of repentance as anyone else, but also that without repentance I can't come closer to God. I if I want to live with Him, then I must learn to be like Him and I can only do that if I am led by Him.