I couldn't help but to reflect on my friend's experience. It is true. We have plenty, plenty of members who are more focused on the outward appearance of their faith instead of making internal changes to their personality and life. I think it is especially true where I live. However, I wanted to ask, what about you?
The church asks many, many things of us that are seen in our behavior---to attend our meetings, attend the temple, pay our tithing, participate in our callings, give service, help others, do our visiting teaching or home teaching, have family home evening, read our scriptures, say our prayers---all outward things. But the entire point of the outward behaviors is suppose to be reflective of inward desires. At the very least, it is to draw our attention to things that need to be changed on the inside.
The Divine Gift of Repentance in the October 2011 General Conference:
Second, repentance means striving to change. It would mock the Savior’s suffering in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross for us to expect that He should transform us into angelic beings with no real effort on our part. Rather, we seek His grace to complement and reward our most diligent efforts (see 2 Nephi 25:23). Perhaps as much as praying for mercy, we should pray for time and opportunity to work and strive and overcome. Surely the Lord smiles upon one who desires to come to judgment worthily, who resolutely labors day by day to replace weakness with strength. Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving. Divine forgiveness and healing flow quite naturally to such a soul, for indeed “virtue loveth virtue; light cleaveth unto light; [and] mercy hath compassion on mercy and claimeth her own” (D&C 88:40).
With repentance we can steadily improve in our capacity to live the celestial law, for we recognize that “he who is not able to abide the law of a celestial kingdom cannot abide a celestial glory” (D&C 88:22).
Third, repentance means not only abandoning sin but also committing to obedience. The Bible Dictionary states, “Repentance comes to mean a turning of the heart and will to God, [as well as] a renunciation of sin to which we are naturally inclined.”1 One of several examples of this teaching from the Book of Mormon is found in the words of Alma to one of his sons:
“Therefore I command you, my son, in the fear of God, that ye refrain from your iniquities;
“That ye turn to the Lord with all your mind, might, and strength” (Alma 39:12–13; see also Mosiah 7:33; 3 Nephi 20:26; Mormon 9:6).
For our turning to the Lord to be complete, it must include nothing less than a covenant of obedience to Him. We often speak of this covenant as the baptismal covenant since it is witnessed by being baptized in water (see Mosiah 18:10). The Savior’s own baptism, providing the example, confirmed His covenant of obedience to the Father. “But notwithstanding he being holy, he showeth unto the children of men that, according to the flesh he humbleth himself before the Father, and witnesseth unto the Father that he would be obedient unto him in keeping his commandments” (2 Nephi 31:7). Without this covenant, repentance remains incomplete and the remission of sins unattained.2 In the memorable expression of Professor Noel Reynolds, “The choice to repent is a choice to burn bridges in every direction [having determined] to follow forever only one way, the one path that leads to eternal life.”3
Our willingness to change is reflective in our behavior. The change is suppose to happen first, and the humble and meek spirit that accompanies repentance should continue. We are suppose to continue to change the things in our lives and hearts that are not in harmony with the teachings and example of our Savior.
It would appear to me that many of us would like everyone to believe that is what is happening in our hearts because our behavior looks the part. But inside, we have not made much effort. I think that is the impression the young student from the Catholic school came away with from her, or her mother's, interactions with those of our faith.
How tragic is that?? To have those who are not of our faith, believe that the Church of Jesus Christ offers no real opportunities for change because of the example of those of us who profess that belief?? What a tragedy! Our lives should reflect the faith we profess to believe. That means sometimes, others will see us fail, struggle, work, change, fall and pick ourselves back up, and become successful in our attempts to really change who we are.
You need to know that you are not alone in this fight. I fight it too. I want my family to all be dressed in the right church clothes, with dark socks, on time for church, happy with each other, not fighting, kind to strangers, to always have the right doctrinal answer in church, etc... My idealist self wants my family to be the poster children who can be seen on the cover of the Ensign.
The truth is, we are not perfect. Please do not just stop by my house, it will not be clean. My children fight. My husband and I put in countless hours in emotional and spiritual counseling of our children to help them BECOME the kind of children and adults we hope for them. Sometimes I simply cry over my inability to help a particular child understand a particular concept. Sometimes I am not a kind person. I say mean things. It happens. I usually recognize it right away. I repent and ask for forgiveness from my children, my husband, and yes, even my ward members. But the point is, in my efforts, I recognize things I need to work on. I pray for help. I make effort, and I change. It .......takes..........a........lot......of...........t....i....m....e.......
Some days, when I am in the right place and all the planets align and I am listening to the Spirit, and rereading my journals, guess what I find??? I have made progress, because real and lasting change, the kind spoken of by Elder Christofferson, is simply continued and sustained effort over a lot of time.
And if I have enough self-esteem to rip off the mask of perfection and allow others to see and share my struggles, then I have help along the way and I do not have to hide myself when the reality of my life clashes with the perfected expectations of others. Will others judge me? Yes. Will they have nasty things to say to me? Maybe. Will they talk about me behind my back? Probably. Why? Because they aren't perfect either. Maybe, just maybe, I can choose not to let their personal struggles offend me and wound my self-esteem. Maybe I can provide them enough room to grow and learn too, so they can experience the lasting changes expressed in the doctrine of repentance we profess to believe.
I hope each of us serves to be a greater example of the doctrine of repentance our Savior teaches. I want others to be able to look at me and know that I am striving to really change who I am on the inside, not just that I participate heavily in my church community.
What do you see inside of you? Are there places you would like to change? Do others know you are trying to become like the Savior? Have you received His image in your countenance?