As oft as my people repent...

It’s 2:30 a.m. and I’m wide awake. It’s not even our newborn baby’s fault. Must be time to write. I met my new favorite verse this week. Before I tell you about it, let me give two pieces of unsolicited advice:

1. If you’ve never read Mere Christianity By C.S. Lewis, drop everything and read it. I’ve been reading it again for the first time in a decade or so. The book is just dripping with insight. Although sometimes doctrinally askew, Lewis’s grasp of and ability to articulate the human condition is just uncanny. There is a reason he gets quoted constantly. I don’t know when he had time to think all these things through or how he became so intelligent, but I would feel triumphant if I had one insight as profound as any of the gems that appear on every page of Mere Christianity. I know I’m gushing. But the man, without the restored gospel, seems to have grasped the jist of the plan of salvation through sheer study and force of will. He just gets it. 

2. If you’ve never referred to the references at the end of general conference talks, you should. (They’re found at the end of talks in the conference edition of the Ensign and on In the Gospel Library app, just tap when you run into a superscript number while reading a talk.) These notes are not always just acknowledgments or sources. Many speakers will elaborate on statements within the talk, giving additional insight they may have included had they had the time. I haven’t made a comprehensive study of who and when, But Elders Christofferson, Cook, Renlund, and Andersen each frequently use the references section to give added insight. It’s good stuff. 

Now, on to my new favorite scripture. Mosiah 26:30. As is typical, the concept is far from new, rather there was relevance; something new in me that made the sentiment matter more right now. Alma, after believing Abinadi and repenting of his misdeeds while working under King Noah, finds himself the reluctant priesthood leader over the Church in Zarahemla. When a portion of the “rising generation” leave the faith and start to lead church members into serious sin, he feels compelled to take action. After an unsuccessful bid to pass the responsibly on to King Mosiah, Alma prays with all his heart for help. He’s afraid of doing the wrong thing. Mosiah 26:30 is part of the Lord’s response. 

"Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me."

I really appreciate being reminded that Christ isn’t expecting perfection, but he is expecting me to try again every time I fail. Trying again is hard, but I can do it. No one below this standard. Not that the prophets haven’t been trying to teach me this for years, or that I didn’t have an intellectual understanding that perfection isn’t mandatory. I’ve always believed in God’s mercy for everyone else. But I’ve long struggled to believe it myself. Its coming along.

Funny how and when certain principles manage to pierce the heart. It seems like happenstance but I think there’s more to it than that! Maybe I’ve just been trying long enough to finally realize that it’s just too dang hard to demand the impossible? 

The results of this deeper understanding manifest in ways that may appear mundane but that actually have a huge impact. Small things, like saying, “Oh well,” and moving on after a poor lesson in seminary rather than letting it eat at me all afternoon and evening. Or letting a ward member own their own decisions instead of holding myself responsible for any bad choices someone might make. Or saying “Sorry, I’ll try to be better next time,” when I fail to measure up as a husband and father instead of barating myself over and over for “sucking at this.” 

As far as I can tell, happiness ultimate depends not on how good we become, but how good we become at repent. Since we fall short perfection, we can’t find happiness down that road. Expecting to find happiness through perfection leads to disappointment.  On the other hand, as we accept imperfection and the need for consistent repentance, we can obtain peace and happiness not because we never did anything wrong, but because we learned from our mistakes, fix what we can, and tried to do better next time. 

Alma taught that there will be two potential experiences when we meet the Savior at judgment. It’s important to note that both groups are made up of sinners. It’s not the perfect versus imperfect, it’s the repentant vs. the unrepentant. The Atonement of Christ allows us to learn and grow by making decisions, some of them wrong, in an environment free from the immediate eternal consequences of those mistakes. I love it!

Dig deeper:

Perfection pending
Latter-Day Saints Keep on Trying
Be ye Therefore Perfect, Eventually