A famous Brazilian poet once wrote: “Repentance brings a tearful eye and a heart that seems almost to die.”
These are interesting observations written by someone who may not have had any knowledge of the gospel. Its contents, however, are in profound agreement with gospel principles.
Sincere repentance brings about a profound feeling of sadness. This feeling comes after one recognizes the mistake made, the first and essential step of the great journey towards repentance. There is no way to regain peace with oneself and with the Savior unless we follow this path.
Many men and women in the course of their lives face that crucial moment of their existence when they recognize their actions have been contrary to the principles of eternal life.
Many individuals whose names we reverence with admiration and respect went through this hard and indispensable experience. One could not forget Alma, a priest to King Noah and also a descendant of Nephi. “And he was a young man, and he believed the words which Abinadi had spoken, for he knew concerning the iniquity which Abinadi had testified against them; therefore he began to plead with the king that he would not be angry with Abinadi, but suffer that he might depart in peace.
“But the King was more wroth, and caused that Alma should be cast out from among them, and sent his servants after him that they might slay him” (Mosiah 17:2–3).
As he heard the words of the prophet Abinadi, Alma faced the fact that he was living under laws and doctrines that were not true. He obviously felt regret and sadness, and committed himself to a new way of life. This decision brought about a radical change in his behavior. And though he knew that King Noah had sent an army to destroy him and his followers, Alma walked secretly among the people teaching them the words of Abinadi. He taught them about the resurrection of the dead and the redemption of the people, that this would be brought about by the power and death of Christ, his resurrection, and his ascension to heaven. He preached the doctrine of faith, repentance, and love to all those who wished to hear the truth, and he taught the principles that should guide the lives of those who accepted the new covenant (see Mosiah 18).
Another great example is that of his son, Alma the Younger, and the sons of Mosiah, who also faced a crucial moment of their existence when an angel of the Lord appeared unto them, having descended as it were in a cloud, and spoke with a voice of thunder and caused the earth to shake where they stood. That experience caused great changes in the lives of those young men—extraordinary changes (see Mosiah 27:8–37).
Perhaps the most visible evidence that Alma and his friends had repented can be seen in their complete change of attitude: “By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). Forsaking one’s old way of life is a concrete and obvious evidence of repentance.
Peace to the soul is one of the greatest rewards received through repentance. It is impossible to gain peace with oneself and with the Lord without complete repentance.
Life is a succession of exchanges. We exchange darkness for light, sadness for happiness, pain for relief, and affliction for well-being. The exchange from sin into forgiveness and remission is obtained through this transformation called repentance. The opportunity to repent is an extraordinary gift of God.
No one can follow the path of repentance for someone else. No one can do it for us—not even a father for his son, no matter how much he loves him. These steps must be taken by each individual. We may pray to the Lord for help, support, assistance. We might feel the presence of the Holy Ghost at our side. It will encourage us and give us incentive. And yet the steps taken through this path will continue to be a personal requirement.
The rewards and blessings are personal as well. Salvation is a gift of God given to each person individually.
Eternal happiness is a gift of God to all those who seek it. If an individual does not seek it, does not reveal himself sufficiently interested, he will not deserve it. And this seems to be very just. All things are free gifts of God, but the benefits derived therefrom require effort in order to be enjoyed.
The air we breathe, so necessary to life, is found all around us and fills all space. However, in order to benefit from it, the individual will need to make an effort through the muscles of his respiratory system to absorb it. Unless he makes this effort in his own behalf, the air will not enter his mouth and nose by itself, will not fill the lungs and renew the blood to revitalize the cells.
The same requirements apply to repentance. Even though it is a gift, it needs to be exercised with faith and wisdom, because a person will not be seen as innocent if, after professing repentance, he goes back to making the same mistakes (see D&C 58:43).
Confessing and forsaking the sin are characteristics of true repentance and enable the soul to enjoy blessings. We understand the difficulty of these actions. Rationalization, self-justification, and pride are great obstacles that get in the way.
However, when we show sufficient humility, when we let go of our pride, the Lord will help us, giving us the strength we need to overcome all obstacles.
“I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).
Repentance brings the sinner to the ways of the Lord. It takes him from darkness into light. It reconciles him with eternal principles, brings him back to the congregation of the just, and allows him to once again enjoy communion with the Holy Ghost. All this will open the doors to happiness in the days of this life and full joy in the eternities.