It has been over a month since my last post, but no matter how busy I’ve been with work, classes, and my new calling (I was called as the Relief Society secretary of the YSA 1st ward), I’ve been reflecting on this post. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind, but wasn’t sure of the words I needed to use. Finally, this Sunday it all came together and solidified itself. The words came. They’re imperfect, but they came, and here they are.
Before the semester started, I had the opportunity to spend a Saturday at the ocean in Virginia Beach. It was well worth the sunburns, sand in our food, and the exhaustion at the end of the day. The memories of my day playing in sun and surf with Jasmine and Jess are precious, but what has come to mind more often has been the simple but profound lesson the Lord taught me as I sat writing in my journal in the sand that day. Salt air is restorative – no wonder the Savior spent so much time in Galilee, that some of His most intimate moments with His apostles occurred on the water or at the shore, that the most famous of His teachings were preached at water’s edge.
We went to the shore early to help out with babysitting while my mom’s Relief Society held an early morning yoga class. I was more than happy to watch the three kiddos in attendance, especially Josiah. Josiah is one of my favorite kids in the ward – he’s brilliant, funny, and full of energy. We were exploring the small tide pools and the rocks at the water’s edge, collecting “treasures” – feathers, shells, stones, even a horseshoe crab or two. I loved hearing Josiah describe everything in his “PBS host voice” as we clambered over the rocks. Alexis joined us in our treasure hunt, depositing our finds in a small hole the two of them had dug.
It was during this that I learned one of the most simple and powerful lessons on purity and repentance. Alexis, sweet as can be, told Josiah and I that when we buried the treasures, it would be for Heavenly Father and Jesus. That we were collecting it for them. Josiah, in an attempt to clean up the litter from the beach, placed a broken and dirty plastic fork near the hole. Alexis, not understanding that Josiah was merely setting it aside to throw out when his mom was free, quickly reprimanded the both of us, saying that Jesus and God could only take things that were clean. When Josiah tilted his head and asked why, she responded, “they just can’t.” Josiah accepted the explanation and moved on, carefully separating the refuse from the treasures.
I just stood there, thinking over the lesson that the Lord had just taught me using a five and seven year old.
When it comes to the work of the Lord, when it comes to our relationship with Him, we bring our treasures. We bring our refuse too. We give all that is good and pure, and ask Christ to take care of the trash, of the nets we get tangled in. He takes our broken and dirty plastic forks. He asks us, gently, compassionately, to give him our treasures. To dedicate them to Him. To align our will with His, to love Him, to trust Him enough to let Him guide us back to the Lord. To get in the water, to walk on water. To get out of our comfort zone like Peter did. To give all like Stephen and Abinadi did.
Christ is asking us to give all. To leave it all behind, to give it up for something better. To leave the doubts, the vices, the sins, the fears. The water gets rough. We get sand kicked in our eyes, we get tired, we get burnt. We face our fears in the water. We fight tides and wind. We have to keep an eye on each other, watch out for rip-tides and undertows. Discipleship isn’t easy. If it were, we wouldn’t be asked to do it. But cost is nothing compared to the reward. It’s cliche, but remember: our lifeguard walks on water.
Man. Repentance is a beach.
I was thinking about my day at the beach on Sunday morning as I prepared for Church. I was dashing about trying to print out the attendance for Relief Society while simultaneously putting on makeup and fielding text messages from friends in California. Somewhere between the printer and final touches of my makeup (gotta hide those blue circles beneath my eyes, friends), I got half a pen’s worth of red ink smeared across my palms.
I was frustrated, to say the least. I tried handsoap, dish soap, make-up wipes, make-up remover… everything I could think of, and it wouldn’t even lighten the stain. I spent at least half an hour trying to remove this ink from my hands. Finally, realizing I’d be late for Sacrament meeting if I didn’t get a move on, I gave up and headed to Church. There wasn’t any more I could do.
By the time we’d finished what felt like the longest slew of ward announcements in the history of the Church, I’d all but forgotten about the ink stains. That is, until the Sacrament itself.
As the Sacrament is blessed and passed, I often spend time in the scriptures. More often than not, I review Isaiah 53 – my favorite chapter in Isaiah focusing on the Atonement:
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed…and he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth. Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and hte pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
One thing that has always stuck out to me is the phrase “when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.”
I looked up as a friend silently passed the white tray containing the broken bread of the Sacrament to me, and was startled out of my thoughts by the crimson ink still smeared brightly across my palm as I took a piece of bread into my fingers. Clear as day I heard the words of the Lord ringing in my mind: “Come now, and let us reason together… though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
Talk about a heavy-handed metaphor.
There I was reaching for the Sacrament – the physical representation of the atonement of Jesus Christ and all that it entails into the eternities – with red ink stained hands. It was then that I received that powerful witness of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, of grace, and of what it means to truly repent.
It was as though in that instant the Savior sat beside me, took my hand in His, and took that crimson ink into His own palms. But first I had to reach out and accept His hand. “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin.”
Repentance is about more than admitting to sin, asking God for forgiveness because we feel guilty or sorry about what we’ve done. It is about consciously embracing the Atonement of Jesus Christ. About making His soul an offering for our sin. So often we think that repentance is simply for the sinner – a way to avoid hell, sorrow, and shame. We forget that the real meaning of repentance is to turn back to Christ. To give up those things which distract us from being true, devoted disciples. To give up those nets. Those fears. Those doubts. Those weaknesses.
Repentance is for the days when we’re too exhausted to stand. For when we are so overwhelmed we feel like we’re drowning. For when we lose sight of the eternal. For when we are paralyzed with fear. For when we are overcome with addiction, temptation, and pain. For when we are impacted by the addiction or actions of others. For when we are lost and have no idea where we’ve ended up or where we need to go.
Simply put, repentance is reaching out for help and healing.
It’s not easy. I love the way Elder David A. Bednar describes repentance in his address at the MTC in 2011: “Repentance is a principle of hope and healing, not of discouragement and despair. It is humbling, but not frightening – simultaneously demanding and comforting, rigorous and soothing.”
I love the words of the Savior to his disciples in the Book of Mormon, ringing out in the midst of darkness the likes of which they had never experienced: “Yeah, verily I say unto you, if ye will come unto me ye shall have eternal life. Behold, mine arm of mercy is extended towards you, and whosoever will come, him will I receive; and blessed are those who come unto me. Behold, I am Jesus Christ the Son of God… Behold, I have come unto the world to bring redemption unto the world, to save the world from sin. Therefore, whoso repenteth and cometh unto me as a little child, him will I receive, for of such is the kingdom of God. Behold, for such I have laid down my life, and have taken it up again; therefore repent, and come unto me all ye ends of the earth, and be saved” (3 Nephi 9:14-15, 21-22).
It is about giving it all. It is about the broken hearts, the contrite spirits, the hopelessness, the fear and doubt. It is about the joys, the triumphs and victories, the fight that is in each of us, that spark of divinity. From the precious treasures of feathers and shells to the dirty, broken plastic forks and bits of net that wash up on our shores. He wants it all. And in return, He’s willing to give us all. It is a path of love. It is a path to joy.
In the words of Elder D. Todd Christofferson in his October 2011 General Conference address, “Repentance is a divine gift, and there should be a smile on our faces when we speak of it. It points us to freedom, confidence, and peace.”