Questions and Answers

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    Questions of General gospel interest answered for guidance, not as official statements of church policy.

    I feel that I’ve done everything I can to repent of a transgression, but I still feel guilty. What else can I do?

    Dale F. Pearson, director, undergraduate program, Brigham Young University, and bishop, Pleasant View Fourth Ward, Provo, Utah.

    Probably only your bishop can help you decide if you’ve done everything necessary to repent of a particular wrongdoing; but the problem of feeling guilty isn’t always a simple one. Guilt can be a good sign—telling us that we’ve sinned and need to apply the Lord’s plan of repentance. But guilt after genuine repentance can also be extremely harmful, and some people suffer guilt long past any reasonable point or even when they haven’t done anything they need to feel guilty for.

    People I’ve counseled who seem to have the first problem—they can’t stop feeling guilty even after repenting from a transgression—usually have another problem: that of very low self-esteem. They feel that there’s nothing they can do to gain control over their lives because they’re such worthless people. For instance, one woman I know made an unsuccessful suicide attempt after months of feeling desperately lonely and isolated from her family. She blamed herself for this isolation (“If I were a better mother, we’d be a closer family”) and after her attempted suicide simply switched the blame to another aspect (“How could I have committed such a terrible sin?”). Even though her husband, her bishop, and her stake president worked with her in a sustained and loving way to assure her of the Lord’s love for her, she refused to stop feeling guilty because she really didn’t believe she was worthy of forgiveness. In a way, feeling guilty was her reason for living because it enabled her to keep on punishing the “worthless” person she had become.

    The second type of harmful guilt—feeling guilty for no apparent reason—frequently develops out of similar self-esteem problems caused by an individual’s inability to take charge of his life. I counseled with one such person, a forty-five-year-old successful business executive who really wanted to be working with young people instead. But he felt that he couldn’t ask his family to go through the lifestyle adjustment necessary for this kind of career change. He found himself avoiding work as much as possible because he disliked it, but he also found himself avoiding his family. This paralyzing ineffectiveness in both areas made him feel guilty.

    The solution for both the sister and this brother was basically the same. They started making plans and carrying them through. As they saw that they could make decisions, their self-esteem rose, their guilt decreased, and they were able to see their guilt in perspective.

    Someone who finds himself feeling guilty long after he has repented might try asking himself these questions:

    1. Have I completed all the steps of repentance (recognition, remorse, confession if appropriate, restitution, etc.)?

    2. Have I asked forgiveness of the Lord?

    3. Have I allowed the Lord to take my burden by trusting his power to do so and his love for me?

    4. Have I fully forgiven myself for my wrongdoing?

    On the other hand someone who finds himself feeling guilty when he hasn’t done anything wrong might ask:

    1. Do I tend to see things as extremes—such as totally perfect or totally evil—rather than as a mixture of good and not good? Do I need to develop more balance?

    2. Do I have close relationships with my family? Do I have good friends whose company I cherish?

    3. Do I truly like myself?

    4. Do I feel that the Lord truly loves me?

    5. Why do I “need” to feel guilty?

    Answering these questions honestly may identify some specific areas where a person needs to work, honestly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. Frequently it is helpful to talk over these areas with a trusted friend or Church leader. Sometimes professional counseling can be valuable.

    Guilt is normal; it’s the danger signal that flashes when a transgression has occurred and needs to be repented of. But unhealthy guilt that persists for no reason, or even when repentance has been completed, can undermine our whole relationship with a loving Father in Heaven.

    Our Sabbaths seem to be long and boring to our small children. What can we do to promote happy Sabbaths?

    Sharon and Wayne Dequer, parents of three children, Monrovia Ward, Arcadia California Stake.

    The Savior clearly taught that the Sabbath is a day to distinguish between idle wants and real spiritual and physical needs. Little children are irrepressibly active, and we must recognize that need in planning their Sabbaths. Rather than asking, “Should they be active on Sunday?” we could probably more appropriately ask, “How should they be active on Sunday?”

    We want our children to learn that Sunday is a day for being able to do different things than we get to do the rest of the week. They can readily see that daddy doesn’t go to work or mow the lawn on the Sabbath, and mommy doesn’t shop or clean or bake cookies—we do different, more restful things. How can the day be different for our children as well?

    First of all, we save Sunday as a day to be together with just our own family, rather than a day to play with friends or to spend watching television. Then it’s up to room and dad to make it an interesting and enjoyable day. To accomplish that, instead of stressing the things we should not do we begin teaching our little ones to ask—and answer—the question, “Is it appropriate?”

    That question led us to such activities as reading, coloring, singing, and playing musical instruments. But while these seemed to be quite appropriate, they didn’t give us enough to do for the whole day. So then we learned to turn to other ideas: helping one of our children “write” a letter, acting as scribe for another while he dictated a page in his personal history, having personal interviews with each child, just talking together and sharing thoughts and ideas.

    Quiet, calm creative play, we feel, is entirely fitting on the Sabbath. The question of appropriateness can generally be answered by looking at the amount of preparation and clean-up work a particular activity requires. We also choose games that are different from those normally shared with friends. We’ve decided that playing in the dirt, for instance, isn’t a Sunday activity, but blocks and other construction games seem more acceptable. And they can be tied in with the gospel. So after reading the story of Noah’s ark or Lehi’s journey to the New World, we can have each of the children build his own representation of their ships.

    The key to helping our children have an enjoyable Sabbath seems to be our spending time with them. Certainly other Sunday activities also demand our time, but a half hour here and there with our children, strategically placed, can do a lot. Many families find that walking to church, at least part of the way, really helps the children sit restfully and quietly when they arrive. We have also made a special effort to help our children appreciate Sunday church services. Here, again, the question of appropriateness has proven useful. Quiet toys and coloring books are valuable for occupying the littlest ones, but of course they must be closely monitored, since nearby children and even adults find these distracting. We always rejoice when we find a book that is gospel-centered; those we use only in church and at other special times. The child soon learns that the book is different from his other books and hopefully will associate church and reverence with it.

    We feel we must begin this training as early as possible. A 1 to 3-year-old child may co-operate for short periods of time, so we encourage him or her with comments about how special it will be for them and the whole family when they are big enough to stay in the meeting with the rest of the family.

    It does happen occasionally that we must take one or more of the children out of the meeting. When we do, we’ve found it important to help the child act as if he were inside the chapel—seated and quiet. Otherwise, going out of the meeting becomes a “reward” for his behavior. We feel that threatening our children with punishment would make our children dislike going to church, so we try to make separation from the rest of the family the alternative they’ll want to avoid.

    When our children begin to be able to stay in the meeting and to postpone coloring and playing with toys until after the sacrament, we as parents really try to make the service more meaningful for them. We do this in several ways.

    We encourage even our littlest children to participate actively in the singing. We share a song book—letting them hold it—and point to the words and notes as we go along. At home we sing the more familiar hymns, and teach a few special ones (“Come, Ye Children of the Lord,” Hymns No. 23, and “All Creatures of Our God and King,” Hymns No. 4, are among our favorites) so that when they are sung in church it will really be a special occasion for our children. Some parents even find out in advance the songs that are to be sung each Sunday, in order to prepare their family to participate.

    Encouragement to participate in other “standard” parts of sacrament meeting, such as sustaining and releasings, and especially partaking of the sacrament itself, is also helpful. Some wards regularly incorporate a children’s story into the service, further enhancing children’s appreciation of the meeting.

    Discussion of the speakers’ remarks after the meeting is good, but usually too late to meet the need. During the talks, then, we whisper in a child’s ear brief comments about the speaker’s topic. (Any other conversation is firmly refused.) This is where the scripture stories we’ve read to the children begin to relate to their lives, where they find elements of the worship service which are truly of value to them. This is also where they begin developing the capacity to wean themselves away from coloring books and other distractions.

    In planning suitable Sabbath activities for children it is important to remember the Savior’s love for them and his statement that we must become as a little child to inherit the kingdom of heaven. Did he see the childlike qualities of boundless energy, curiosity, and enthusiasm as characteristics merely to be tolerated, or as divine attributes to the nurtured? With his perspective in mind, we can use appropriate activity, goal-setting, and quality family time as keys to helping our children discover and share the joy of the Sabbath day.