Sins Forgiven but Not Forgotten

By Heather O’Brien

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    After years of inactivity, my father abruptly announced one day that we were going back to church. This met with some protest from me. Throughout my childhood I knew only vaguely of the Mormon Church. Basically I knew that there were rules against everything I was currently doing. I viewed the religion as a fanatical organization that demanded self-denial, something that my friends and I didn’t understand and wholly condemned. Besides, what would my friends say if they found out?

    Finally my father and I agreed that I would just try going to church for a while and then if I decided against going any more he wouldn’t force me. Sunday came. I sat through sacrament meeting and Sunday School as if I were deaf. Then came Young Women. I sat in the corner of the classroom, arms folded, eyes glaring. (Later I found out that I had actually scared my adviser as much as I had hoped I would.) With that Sunday over I declared I would never go again! In order to avoid going the following Sundays, I claimed I had all kinds of illnesses, from a cold to tonsillitis.

    Although I would have denied it at the time, I felt something that first Sunday we went back to church. I felt something from the adviser who really seemed to care about this strange new girl in her class. I felt something, too, from a Latter-day Saint schoolmate who took an interest in my spiritual well-being. From then on, every time I did anything wrong she would remind me that some obscure God was watching my every move. Somehow she convinced me to keep going to church.

    Then I met our bishop, a large rancher who seemed too gentle for his intimidating stature. In my first interview with him he asked me to pray. I refused. I knew how to pray, but I couldn’t because I believed God wouldn’t listen to a sinner. The bishop seemed to understand, although I didn’t see how he could because I was sure he had never sinned in his life. But he didn’t condemn me. He seemed to consider me of equal value to all the “saints” in our ward. Feeling so accepted, I continued to attend.

    The next couple of months were filled with something I had never felt before. I came to realize that it was the Spirit of the Lord trying to tell me that everything I was hearing and feeling was true. I don’t think I had a testimony at that time. I only knew that I loved my schoolmate and her funny ideas. I loved my Young Women adviser because she loved me. I loved my bishop because he didn’t condemn me. I loved the feeling I had when I was with these people, and I wanted to have that feeling always in my life.

    I was grateful for that school year to end. The summer was a welcome escape from my old friends who didn’t understand why they saw less and less of me. I knew that the less I saw of them the easier it would be to begin repenting. Every day was a constant struggle. But, by the following August, I ended my relationships with all of those old friends. Some of them didn’t care. Some hated me and my new religion. Some were hurt and just didn’t understand. But I understood, and I knew that from then on I would always be different.

    I caught hold of the gospel and hung on tight. I worked furiously to catch up in knowledge with my friends who had been raised in the Church. Many of my Mormon peers thought I was terribly self-righteous. I suppose it may have seemed that way to them, but I tried to be perfect because I was convinced that I could never escape my sins. I thought that by knowing all of the answers in church and receiving awards in seminary I could somehow make up for all the mistakes I had made. I remember thinking at the time that I could never be free from my haunting past. I accepted that fact and resolved to be perfect in order to compensate.

    One of the hardest steps of repentance (at least for me) was to forgive myself. For four long years I struggled. To everyone around me I seemed spiritual and well-versed in the scriptures. Others told me how far I had come and how well I was doing, but only I knew the black that lined my heart. I had forsaken my past sins, and I was sure that God was pleased with my new life. But I felt that he was holding my past over my head, waiting for me to fall again.

    Finally, in despair and confusion, I asked for a blessing. Words cannot express the peace that entered my heart as I received this personal revelation: I would receive the reassurance of the Holy Ghost and know that I was in good standing with Heavenly Father.

    How could that be? My mind didn’t understand it, but my heart accepted it. So I believed it.

    It wasn’t until I was reading a book by Jeffrey R. Holland, then president of Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, that I found an explanation I could understand. In However Long and Hard the Way, President Holland discussed the analogy of life being a board. Unfortunately, many people think that when we repent the nails are removed, but the nail holes remain. However, he stated that no holes remain because after repenting we have an entirely new board. I found this analogy even more beautiful after realizing that the only holes that do remain are the ones in Christ’s hands and feet. His sacrifice was complete.

    Knowing that the Lord has promised not to remember the sins we have repented of is vital. (See D&C 58:42.) It is impossible to change your life when you believe that you can never be free from iniquity. It is essential to know that He really can make us clean again.

    Still, I wondered why I am not allowed to forget my past sins. What am I supposed to gain from these experiences? I now realize that the memory of these things serves as a reminder of the Lord’s mercy and the power of forgiveness. I am certainly not happy to have done the things I have. But I don’t take the gospel for granted because I know where I would be without it. I have stopped looking at my past sins as leeches on my soul and have found them to be aids in charity. I am not advocating sin in order to gain charity. Wickedness never was nor can it ever be happiness, regardless of what is gained after repenting. But there is a purpose to our inability to forget our sins. And I believe it is God’s purpose that we help others see that a new board is waiting for them with repentance—a board without holes or even splinters—a board made from a tree, just like the cross of Calvary.

    Photography by Craig Dimond