This is the talk I gave today.
My parents did such a wonderful job raising me. I’m not saying I turned out amazing, although I do like the person I’m trying to become. What I mean is, all of us (their children) have been blessed, through their teaching, with a great deal of respect for God, for them, and for righteous living. We have been blessed with an appreciation for covenant keeping. We have been blessed with the deep and abiding desire to do that which is pleasing unto God.
It is with trepidation that I (and my husband, too, I think) begin the process of organizing our own family. There is so much out there that is damaging, blinding, and predatory. And a great deal of it is so easily obtained—just a button or mouse click away.
I have worked for the last two years in a residential treatment facility with women who have had a great deal of difficulty in life because they have failed to develop coping strategies that are socially acceptable. And their need for coping is great—
When they first come in to us, I see in them self-loathing. Some have an intense need to distract themselves from this with material possessions. Some have never learned restraint and therefore have never learned how to gain anything of long-term importance, including the respect of those around them, and so they turn to that which they know will make them feel good for a time. I see in some of them a fear of failure so intense that they are terrified of recovery.
I no longer work. But it has been one of the most educational experiences of my life so far… I will benefit from it for the rest of my life. On my way to work every evening, I would say two prayers: one, that I would have the words and skills to be able to reach some of Heavenly Father’s most desperately hurting daughters. And two, that I would have every tool at my disposal, every inspiration and ability necessary to keep my own sons and daughters from going through such agony of body and spirit.
But what if, as in the case of Corianton, Alma’s beloved son, they do? As Elder Ballard says:
“It is a wicked, wicked world in which we live and in which our children must find their way. Challenges of pornography, gender confusion, immorality, child abuse, drug addiction, and all the rest are everywhere. There is no way to escape from their influence. Some are lead by curiosity into temptation, then into experimentation, and some become trapped in addiction. They lose hope. The adversary harvests his crop and binds them down.” (I Will Remember Your Sins No More, Ensign, May 2006).
I feel such an overwhelming sense of sorrow when I consider what my children, and your children, and really, all of us have to combat in today’s world. I can’t read the newspaper anymore. There is too much in the headlines that just makes me ache inside with sadness for the victims of violence, selfishness, and seeming cold-heartedness that exist in growing proportion.
Having said this, I want to say that, like President Hinckley, I am not a pessimist. It is a pernicious lie that, once you have slipped up somehow, or involved yourself in something unworthy, or become a victim of an addiction, you are lost forever. Christ has enough room in his atonement for every one of us; for every single sin that we commit and are ready to lay in front of him. He suffered such agony for that very reason—he was atoning for every sin.
What would I say to my child if I were in Alma’s position? What would I say to anyone who is struggling with something that is dragging them down, or who has made some mistake that they fear will keep them from Heavenly Father’s presence forever? What about someone in my own stewardship who doesn’t really want to repent, and therefore, is voluntarily struggling with burdens they shouldn’t have to bear? Or really, what should I be saying to myself when I know I’m not exactly right with God, and repentance seems like a task that is too inconvenient to really bother with?
We can think of the story of Alma. Or Almas, rather. Alma, the father of Alma the younger, was one of the priests in the wicked King Noah’s court. He was persuaded of the error of his ways when he heard the powerful testimony of Abinadi—which as you know was basically just a very strong chastisement, pointing out the error of the ways of the King and his priests, and detailing their sins. He called them to repentance. He held them accountable for the knowledge that they had—that is, a knowledge of God’s laws, and an awareness that they were at odds with those laws.
Alma the Younger was called to repentance,chastised, by an extraordinary experience that Elder Ballard stated occurred “… not because he deserved it, but because of the prayers of his father and others.” Alma’s father taught him about Christ, and so, while in the depth of the mind-numbing pains of Hell, he could latch onto the thought of the Savior and make his repentance real.
And then we have Alma the Younger and his son Corianton. Elder Ballard uses this story as an example of the repentance process. First, Alma sternly chastises his son and pleads with him not to “excuse himself” because of the issue he takes with the doctrines of justice and mercy, which Alma then goes on to explain to his son in some detail so that there would be understanding. Alma brings his son “down to the dust in humility” with his rebuke.
So the rebuke must be an important element of repentance. How do you go about rebuking someone? Personally, I really dislike this aspect of stewardship. I struggle every time I have to punish my daughter for something. I feel so mean and unrelenting. But then, I realize that she’s kind of asking for rebuke. She needs the rebuke to feel secure that the laws of the universe are always there… and that what she is learning from me is true; that each and every time she disobeys, she receives a consequence.
This is exactly what Alma explained to Corianton: “And now, ye see by this that our first parents were cut off both temporally and spiritually from the presence of the Lord; and thus we see they became subjects to follow after their own will.” We are here to learn, and part of that learning involves rebuke, or consequence.
So what do you do when you are called upon to be the Rebuker?
Let me share an experience. I have an old friend, let’s call him Mark, who converted to the church in his early high school years. He is the only member in his family, and most of his friends were not LDS at the time of his conversion. I always felt that, as one of his only good member friends, I had a responsibility to make sure that he was OK. Don’t ask me why, it was just a feeling that I had. It went both directions: sometimes he offered me a little bit of help. One time, during a rough period of my life, I called him on my birthday because I was alone. He talked to me for a long time and wished me a happy birthday; it made me feel happy and not so friendless. Anyway, a few years after he had returned from his mission, he asked me for help, though not in so many words.
He explained to me, rather abruptly in the midst of the casual Instant Message conversation we were having, that he struggled with certain bad habits, and had for awhile. They had plagued him on his mission, to the point where he talked to his mission president. His mission president told him that he “wasn’t breaking any commandments.” Mark talked about this with me as if it were no big deal. He said that he had given up on being able to stop, and mentioned that he was pretty sure almost everybody had his difficulty and that he didn’t feel a need to repent of it any more.
I was cornered. I could sense in his discussion that he was looking for something from me. He had brought it up, as I said, rather abruptly and with no precedent. Was it justification he wanted from me? Was it reassurance that he was a good person? I agonized for a split second as I contemplated what to type back to him in that little dialogue window. I am not usually one to chastise people, not unless it is absolutely necessary.
Well, it was absolutely necessary in this case. I realized that, if I let him say those things without a ‘rebuke’ of some kind, he would think I agreed with him. Or really, he would know I didn’t agree with him but didn’t have the integrity to call him on it. I prayed, took a breath. Finally I typed,
“Mark, you know what is right.”
There was a long pause, and then he typed back, “Yes, I do.”
I realized in that moment that what he really had been looking for, though maybe he wasn’t even aware of it, was a rebuke. He wanted me to tell him that he was smarter than the voices in his head that were convincing him that he was too weak to overcome his difficulty. In rebuking him, even in the mildest of mild rebukes that I gave him, I was telling him that he was capable of more, and that he didn’t need to live with guilt shoved under the rug. He could get rid of it, if he wanted to.
Next, Alma addressed the concerns that were underlying his son’s insecurity as a missionary, which were perhaps contributing to his poor choices. He had a lengthy (3 chapter!) discussion with his son about justice and mercy, about repentance, about the resurrection, and many other things. He related his own experience of repentance, perhaps as a vivid example to his son that complete repentance is possible, and that, having sinned once, a sinner is not condemned forever to a life of spiritual mediocrity.
Thus, another step in repentance is a hope in redemption—willingness to turn to Christ for our salvation. And it was brought about in Corianton through an outpouring of love and attention on the part of his Father.
Elder Ballard ends his talk with a series of scriptures from the D&C:
(D&C 1:31-32) “The Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless” (D&C 58:42) “he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
What an amazing promise. We can look to examples like Alma the younger, or Paul in the new testament, or Zeezrom, another book of Mormon missionary, or Ammon and the other the sons of Mosiah, as proof that once we are fully repented, the Lord accepts us fully as an instrument in His hands, and we can still do great good for His cause.
Whenever I feel discouraged about my mistakes, and the pain and difficulty associated with correcting them, I think this:
Christ was scourged and crucified. He had pain and it was a tragedy. But He triumphed- for us, and for Him. The tragedy turned into something gorgeous and astounding. It was a complete triumph over evil, and over pain and death. Christ descended below all things to rise above them.
I can, too.
I will end with a scripture from Isaiah.
Chapter 57, verses 17-19:
“For the iniquity of his covetousness was I wroth, and smote him: I hid me, and was wroth, and he went on frowardly in the way of his heart. I have seen his ways, and will heal him: I will lead him also, and restore comforts to him and his mourners. I create the fruit of the lips: peace, peace to him that is far off, and to him that is near, saith the Lord; and I will heal him.”