Scenario: you know you need to see your bishop and confess a problem because the loss of the Spirit is making you miserable, but you can’t, because you know that if you do, you’ll have to stop taking the sacrament, and people will see that, and you’ll be embarrassed.
And what if you’re called on to pray in a class, but you may not be able to–the shame!
And of course people will wonder what awful dirty evil thing you did. They’ll talk about it. They’ll treat you differently. Worse.
In short, your life could be ruined.
What a heartbreaking tragedy that anybody may ever feel this way. But those fears are justified–they didn’t just grow out of nothing in the minds of a paranoid few.
Too many times, we Latter-day Saints do in fact treat people badly because they have clearly Broken A Rule.
And that makes people less likely to go down the path to self improvement. Nobody wants to be a social pariah, or be judged, or looked down on at all.
The biggest tragedy here is that this behavior of ours towards those who are repenting should be the exact opposite of this.
A wise bishop once told a priesthood meeting that if anyone felt hesitant to come to him because of a major sin they’d committed because they worried he might lose respect for them, to not worry–he would have more respect for them because of their courage in confessing and starting up the path to forgiveness.
Repentance is beautiful. It is a blessing. It is hard, it is worth it, and it is a necessary part of life for us all. Jesus Christ suffered so we’d have the opportunity–why would we ever conduct ourselves in ways that would turn anyone off from accepting the invitation?
Society needs more repentance, not less. So why would we ever treat people in ways that make it less likely that anyone will choose repentance?
Nothing other than pride could make us look at someone working on it with anything less than honor.
Repenting means that someone has looked in the mirror and said, “I can be better than this. I believe the Father’s promises. I want more light.” How is that anything other than noble?
In short, a repenting person is a hero. To put it another way, we shouldn’t be looking down on them…we should be looking up to them.
The repenting soul is the role model that our world needs.
In a better world, when we see someone not take the sacrament, or do anything that signals that they’re in the stages of the repentance process, we would go up and shake their hand and congratulate them.
That could be a bit awkward, obviously, but if I could make three realistic suggestions for how we could encourage repentance in our church communities, I’d offer these ideas:
- Stop the stigma, in ourselves and others. If we are ever tempted to speak ill, in any way–speculatively or sorrowfully or in any way–about a repenting person, we need to hold ourselves back (and pray for more charity). If we see any such behavior from others, we need to add something positive, or change the subject, or redirect others from this counterproductive and unChristlike treatment of those who need support, not criticism.
- Offer support and fellowship. To avoid causing any embarrassment, we might not publicly congratulate the repenting friend, but we certainly could smile and say hello and be genuine neighbors to them. Simply not shutting them out isn’t enough–anyone journeying down the tough road of repentance needs friends more than ever. They need to be actively included. They need to be accepted and loved.
- Repent. The tendency to treat others badly because they’re repenting is a symptom of this crucial activity being absent in our own lives. Nobody is perfect. Each of us needs to be drawing nearer to the Lord by repenting constantly. If we don’t need to see the bishop, we still need to be counseling with our Father in prayer about our needs every day. We don’t say set prayers, but we do have priorities that pop up in prayer often–pleading for direction and spiritual strength, asking for help for others, offering gratitude for our own infinite blessings. If repentance in prayer is not one of those frequent priorities, then our prayers are missing something important. When we are repentant ourselves, our hearts will be drawn out better to our brothers and sisters in human frailty.
Repentance is an acknowledgement that we are all in this together. We need each other just as much as we need our Lord and our Father. Remembering that and acting like it would be a great step towards making all of our church congregations more godly.