Is our God pleased when we improve?
We know that no one is perfect, the proof is so much evident all around us. It’s not hard to notice faults and errors in other people. However, we are often less eager to admit our own faults, our own mistakes. It’s sometimes embarrassing, uncomfortable, even risky. Will others think less of us if we confess to being wrong?
A student once approached his teacher after class to dispute the low score he had received on an essay. Instead of brushing him off, the teacher read the essay again carefully and realised she had undervalued his work, she had made a mistake. After correcting his grade, she not only felt better about herself but made a lasting impression on the student. Rather than resenting her mistake or losing confidence in her abilities, he gained new respect for a teacher who was willing to take responsibility for her errors.
Admitting mistakes is not shameful. It simply means we are learning, that we are now wiser than we were before. Everyone who has achieved anything meaningful, great inventors, scientists, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs; experienced many failures on the path to success. But those failures are only beneficial if we’re willing to accept them as such.
Repentance is not just feeling guilty for having sinned, nor is it mere “forgetfulness,” pushing the sin way back in our minds to conveniently not be reminded of it. It is an attitudinal change and a behavioural change. We repent not only of sins but also of sinning, and we are willing to do whatever is necessary to remove the stain and the pain. We turn to the Saviour. He is the only one who can take away our sins because He paid the price for them.
In true repentance, godly sorrow and suffering are necessary. According to the scriptures, if you haven’t suffered, you haven’t repented. We have all been through the anguish. Sometimes we feel like pounding our head against the wall, wondering how we could be so foolish as to do the sinful things we do. We hurt inside. And it is not just guilt for being caught or feeling the embarrassment for having to confess. It is godly sorrow we are feeling.
Spencer W. Kimball taught: No one can ever be forgiven of any transgression until there is repentance, and one has not repented until he has bared his soul and admitted his intentions and weaknesses without excuses or rationalisations. He must admit to himself that he has grievously sinned. When he has confessed to himself without the slightest minimising of the offence, or rationalising its seriousness, or soft-pedaling its gravity, and admits it is as big as it really is, then he is ready to begin his repentance.
We have a worry these days. Many in this generation seem to be growing up with the carefree attitude “I can sin now, and I can always repent later. Richard G. Scott warned, “The thought of intentionally committing serious sin now and repenting later is perilously wrong. . . Premeditated sin has greater penalties and is harder to overcome” (“Making the Right Choices,” Ensign Magazine, November 1994, 38–39). We must confess and forsake our sins now and not put off our repentance. The prophet Alma warned his people not to procrastinate the day of our repentance. As the old rabbis used to say: You cannot repent the day before you die, because you don’t know what day you will die.
The scriptures teach that forsaking our sins is necessary. The Lord said, “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins — behold, he will confess them and forsake them”. To forsake means to give up, abandon. Indeed, we must abandon all sin as soon as we can, and it might require a lengthy and mighty struggle to rid ourselves of our toughest and most perplexing weaknesses. It is essential, as soon as possible, to expel sin from our lives. That is forsaking.
Sometimes people will sincerely desire to repent and secure Heavenly Father’s complete forgiveness, saying to the Saviour, “Here, Lord. Here is my whole package of sin. Please take it away.” And He does. Then we go back and say, “Wait a minute. Give me some of those sins back; I want to suffer a little more for them!” No. When you have totally repented, you must forsake those sins, forget about them, bury them away, and not bring them up again. Jesus beautifully stated the principle in agricultural terms: “No man, having put his hand to the plough and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62). In other words, when you have planted your life in a more spiritual furrow, keep your eyes straight ahead and don’t look back to the old sins, the old people, the old places. Someone has suggested that when Satan reminds you of your past, just remind him of his future! Keep your eyes looking ahead and on the Saviour.
I really like some words from Isaiah 54:4: “Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth.” I am taking those words out of their historical context, but I find the phrase itself profoundly meaningful. We all know that nobody gets through teenage years unscathed. Everyone has problems growing up — some worse than others — but it is imperative that we forget the shame of our youth. Repent, put it behind you, and move on.
Those who are too proud to acknowledge their own imperfections are fooling themselves, and usually nobody else. They are inventing an image that blocks their view of the road to improvement. And they miss the peace that comes from living with honesty, which always means living with imperfection.
When someone admits a mistake, we feel a rush of admiration. We also feel safe acknowledging our own shortcomings and confident that we too can improve. Imagine the effect on a child who learns from observing a parent that when we make mistakes, we own up to them, and we do better next time. How much better that is than pretending that we never make mistakes.
It isn’t until we accept that we are all works in progress that we actually do make progress. It’s a beautiful paradox that we cannot move forward until we admit that we’ve been moving backward. Owning our weakness is, in reality, perhaps the best way to show strength.
Samuel Enos Hagan