Repentance has a bad reputation. For a long time, thinking of repentance brought up images of crazy people insisting the world was ending imminently, confessions of sins, guilt and other extremely negative ideas. Add on top of this that Christ explicitly tells his followers to call people to repentance as one of his final acts in the New Testament, and you get to add guilt for not telling people to repent to the list of negatives.
However, lately I’ve begun to think of repentance differently, all thanks to one simple idea. That idea was the realization that the importance of repentance comes not from the guilt nor even the forgiveness, but rather from it’s utility in promoting positive changes in our lives. This leads one to conclude that the main process for accomplishing repentance is to choose to make positive changes — to try to be a better person. When I changed my perspective in this way, the negativity associated with guilt was swept away, replaced by the recognition that we are always falling short of our divine potential, and can make incremental changes constantly in an effort to become better people. The awesome part about this is that whenever we are trying to do what we believe is right, and are trying to become better, His forgiveness makes it possible for us to push forward without the baggage of guilt for the past.
As I began thinking of repentance this way, I realized that although there may be occasions when a more formal confession-forgiveness type of repentance event is necessary, more often than not, what is required is an attitude of repentance — a penitent perspective. Again, though, it is important to slough the the negative connotations from those words and our attitudes. We might regret or be frustrated by our blunders and imperfections, but the key purpose of those emotions should be motivation to continue to try to be better.
The Atonement provided by our Savior makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our sins if we repent. That doesn’t mean we have to be perfect after repenting. That means if we are constantly repenting and trying to be more perfect, even while knowing that we will never be perfect through our own efforts, that brief periods of perfection can be attainable, as the history of our mistakes is washed clean through the grace of the Atonement. Perhaps rather than aiming to be perfect, we should aim to repent faster than we sin.
The peace available through the Gospel comes from knowing that we are reconciled to God and that all will be well in the end. Learning to live habitually repentant can help us have this peace more often, regardless of the chaos swirling around us.
Repent! It’s awesome!
“In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
It’s days like today when the woes prophesied in the scriptures seem all too real. The horror and tragedy that can be inflicted upon many by a few is truly depressing. It is quite natural to react with anger and fear and hate. That is what they expect of us. They want nothing more than for us to despair and wail and perpetuate the bile they have heaped upon us.
Let us not give in. The weapons against terror and hate are hope and love. We can mourn the fallen and injured out of love, not fear that it could have been us. We can strive to make the world safer through understanding not revenge. We can find closure with forgiveness rather than waiting for an imperfect justice.
We cannot produce peace by reshaping the world ourselves, but we can reshape ourselves to find peace in the world. That is how we win this war. We defeat those who would terrorize us by building our own unshakable peace, knowing that we have done what we can and will not live in fear of what we cannot control or predict.
“And peace to men of good will.”