Every decision we make, good or bad, carries an accompanying consequence.
I grew up in what some of you might call a boring farming community: Virden, New Mexico, population 135. One summer night when I was a boy, my cousins, some friends, and I were looking for ways to create some excitement. Someone suggested we play a harmless prank on a neighbor. My conscience whispered it was wrong, but I didn’t have the courage to resist the enthusiastic response of the group.
After performing our mischievous act, we sprinted down the dark country road to make our escape, laughing and congratulating ourselves as we ran. Suddenly, one of the group stumbled, crying out, “Oh no, I kicked a cat!” Almost instantly we felt a very fine mist settle over us. It carried a horrible odor. What my friend thought was a cat was actually a skunk. It had sprayed us in self-defense. Very few odors are as nauseating as skunk spray, and we smelled terrible.
Dejectedly, we went home in search of a little parental comfort for our pitiful plight. As we stepped inside the kitchen door, Mom took one sniff and shooed us out into the yard. We were cast out of our home. Then she launched the cleansing process. She burned our clothes. Then, it seemed that every home remedy or concoction in the community was volunteered in our behalf. Among them, we endured a variety of baths: first tomato juice, then cow’s milk, and even harsh homemade lye soap.
But the stench remained. Even my dad’s powerful aftershave lotion could not overpower the stench. For days we were condemned to eat outside under a tree, sleep outdoors in a tent, and ride in the back of the pickup truck.
After a while, naively thinking the smell was gone, we tried to approach some normal-smelling girls. They would not allow us within yards, shattering our fragile teenage egos!
Now, I must admit that being sprayed by a skunk is not a common consequence of sin. Most consequences are not as immediate or dramatic. But sooner or later, for all sin, a consequence will be paid.
At times, consequences of sin may appear to be very subtle to the sinner. We may even convince ourselves, as we did before approaching the girls, that no one will be able to detect our sins and that they are well concealed. But always to our Heavenly Father and often to spiritually sensitive leaders, parents, and friends, our sins are glaringly apparent.
While attending a youth fireside with Elder Richard G. Scott, I noticed five youths scattered among the congregation whose countenances or body language almost screamed that something was spiritually amiss in their lives. After the meeting, when I mentioned the five youths to Elder Scott, he simply replied, “There were eight.”
God has declared, “He that sinneth and repenteth not shall be cast out” (D&C 42:28). Just as my cousins and I were “cast out” of our earthly home as a consequence of our prank, we will be cast out of our Heavenly Father’s home if we do not repent.
“When we undertake to cover our sins,” as I tried to do with my dad’s aftershave lotion, “the heavens withdraw themselves; [and] the Spirit of the Lord is grieved” (D&C 121:37).
We lose our spiritual gifts. The Lord has declared, “He that repents not, from him shall be taken even the light which he has received” (D&C 1:33).
Each one of us has the light of Christ, or a conscience. It constantly prompts us to choose good. Good choices yield good consequences. On the other hand, delaying repentance and continuing to commit sin is like continuing to kick the skunk. The stench will become stronger with each sin, alienating us further and further from God and those we love. Soon we could become like Laman and Lemuel, who, after continually making bad choices, became “past feeling” and could no longer feel the still small voice (see 1 Ne. 17:45).
If I had responded to my conscience when it first whispered that the prank was wrong, I would have avoided the whole stinking ordeal.
Through Nephi, the Savior taught that “no unclean thing can dwell with God; wherefore, ye must be cast off forever” (1 Ne. 10:21).
But our loving Heavenly Father, with a foreknowledge of our frailties, and knowing that you and I would all sin and become unclean, provided a cleansing process from sin that—unlike tomato juice, milk, and lye soap—actually does work.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Christ demonstrated perfect obedience, His anguish caused Him, “even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit” (D&C 19:18). Then He allowed Himself to be “lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world” (1 Ne. 11:33).
“He suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. … And how great is his joy in the soul that repenteth!” (D&C 18:11, 13).
The Savior has indicated how to know “if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them” (D&C 58:43). Then comes the miraculous promise, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18).
If the Spirit is pricking your heart to correct something in your life, know this: your soul is precious. Heavenly Father wants you to be part of His eternal family.
I lovingly plead, “Do not procrastinate the day of your repentance” (Alma 34:33). Start the process now. Your bishop will help. Remove the stench of sin with the remedy of repentance. Then, through the Atonement, the Savior can wash you clean.
To learn more about the Atonement and repentance, read the following articles in the Gospel Library at www.lds.org: “Three Choices” by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (Ensign, Nov. 2003) and “The Atonement, Repentance, and Dirty Linen” (Ensign, Nov. 2003) by Elder Lynn A. Mickelsen.