After years of inactivity, my dad announced out of the blue one day that we were going back to church again. 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. Besides, what would my friends say if they found out?
Finally my dad and I agreed that I would just try it out for a while and that if I decided against it he wouldn’t force me to go. Sunday came. I sat through sacrament meeting and Sunday School as if I were deaf. Then came Young Women. I sat in the corner, arms crossed, eyes glaring. (Later I found out that I had actually scared my adviser as much as I had hoped to.) With that Sunday over I vowed never again! The following Sundays I contracted everything from a cold to tonsillitis in order to avoid going.
Although I would have denied it at the time, I felt something that Sunday. I felt something from this adviser who really seemed to care about this strange new girl in her class. I felt something, too, from an LDS schoolmate who took an interest in my spiritual well-being. Somehow she convinced me to go back 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 such 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 that 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. Some of them didn’t care. Some hated me and my new religion. Some were very hurt and just didn’t understand. But I understood, and I knew that 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.
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 that I had done. 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. Like the scripture that asks how we can love God whom we have not seen when we hate our brother whom we have seen (see 1 Jn. 4:20), how can we grow closer to Him when we hate and refuse to forgive ourselves?
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 comfortings 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 BYU, that I found understanding in a verbalized form. In However Long and Hard the Way, President Holland discussed the analogy of life being a board. Each time we sin we drive a nail through that board. Unfortunately, many people think that when we repent the nails are removed, but the nail holes remain. 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.
The truth that the Lord has promised not to remember the sins we have repented of is vital knowledge for each of us as we try to repent (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 how everything is relevant and for a purpose. A 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 a order to gain charity. Wickedness never was nor can be happiness regardless of what is gained after. 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.