Repentance is not an incidental or casual thing: wise King Benjamin spoke to his people of “retaining a remission of your sins from day to day.” (Mosiah 4:26; italics added.) I have long been impressed with the “day to day” aspect of being spiritually clean. It seems that, like many commonplace things in life, repentance and forgiveness need to occur in a regular pattern of daily orderliness.
The house we live in sits on a normal block in an average American community. Every blade of grass, every shrub, and every tree on the lot was planted by different members of the family during the years we’ve lived there. During that time, we’ve found through trial and error that the grass looks best when it’s mowed every fifth day. Cutting it after three days is a waste of energy; there’s not enough there to cut. If we wait eight or nine days, it’s too long and thatches into an ugly yellow layer. Yes, five days is just about right.
But some things can’t be done properly at five-day intervals.
Recently, I’d just parked my car in downtown Lubbock, Texas, when a colleague came by, looked at it and said, “Just had it washed, huh?”
Said I, “As a matter of fact, it hasn’t been washed for several weeks.”
He looked at its glittering red surface and then, suspiciously, at me. But it was true.
A few days later, I drove into a service station and the attendant asked where I’d had it waxed. “The truth of the matter is,” I said, “it hasn’t been waxed since I bought it sixteen months ago.”
“You don’t say,” he muttered, somewhat confused.
My car does shine, but not because I wash or wax it frequently. Instead, I take a few minutes and go over it with a damp chamois every morning. Because it’s clean, the paint doesn’t oxidize so fast and it’s actually shinier than it was when I bought it. The right time for preserving paint jobs on cars seems to be every day.
Now, what is the “right” time for repentance? Fortunately, we don’t have to experiment to discover the answer. The Lord has revealed through King Benjamin—and other prophets as well—that the right time to be spiritually concerned about our sins is every day. Once a week is not enough. Once a month or once a year could prove spiritually fatal. (Of course, repeated repentance of the same sin is not repentance at all.)
An essential aspect of true repentance is daily prayer. And it must be meaningful as well as regular. No man genuinely repents if he nonchalantly asks his Father to overlook his shortcomings just before he heads out the door to work. The right way to repent of sins is by going before our Maker in secret prayer, identifying the specific transgression, confessing it, forsaking it, and continuing in the Lord’s Spirit. As the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph: “I will forgive you of your sins with this commandment—that you remain steadfast in your minds in solemnity and the spirit of prayer.” (D&C 84:61.)
When our oldest boy went away to school, we instructed him to write home every week and to call at specified intervals. His doing so made the relationship between us even closer and more secure. When he needed to call on us in emergencies, we were happy and grateful to respond. In much the same way, I imagine, our Heavenly Father appreciates regular communication from us.
A few years ago my father needed to drive to Chihuahua City, Mexico, with some other businessmen, none of them members of the Church. When the business had been completed and they were packing the car to return, my father said that he had “forgotten some things upstairs” and went back to the bedroom for his daily prayers. One item of that prayer was a plea for protection on the return journey. His prayer was answered. Their car was involved in a terrible accident that killed the man next to my father instantly and injured the other men critically. My father was barely scratched, and to his expression of grief for the death of his associates was added a great outpouring of gratitude to our Heavenly Father for that protection in answer to his prayers, those daily prayers.
Yes, five days may be right for mowing the lawn, but repentance in the “spirit of prayer” works best when, it happens every day.