“Do we have time before dinner for our walk?” said Mr. Knight (names have been changed) from his wheelchair.
“Of course,” I responded, “I always have time for a walk.”
As I rolled my 90-year-old friend through the front door of the nursing home and across the street, we talked about skiing, slopes, and snowdrifts. Mr. Knight had been on ski patrol until an accident forced him to retire at age 86.
On our walks, I’d pour out my senior-year problems, and Mr. Knight would tell me stories several decades old, giving me courage to face the mountains of life that he had already conquered.
“So,” Mr. Knight asked, “did you have a date last night?”
“Yep,” I responded, dreamily thinking of the good-looking guy I had gone out with.
“Well, how did it go?”
“Great! He is so cool! I can’t believe he actually wants to date me!” I said, bubbling over with excitement. Brock was the star of the high school swim team. He was every girl’s dream boy. He wasn’t an active member of the Church and not exactly a good guy either, but he was incredibly good looking, and I was flattered he had asked me out. I thought as long as I didn’t do the bad things he was doing, I could still go out with him and have fun. Brock’s good looks hid many of his flaws.
I kept hanging out with him even though my parents weren’t crazy about the idea. I rationalized to them that his habits didn’t have any effect on me. Not surprisingly, they didn’t agree. When I told Brock this, he promised me he had quit drinking and smoking. But after a while, I could tell he was lying.
My parents taught me I should only date guys worthy to go on missions—guys who could one day take me to the temple. Brock was definitely not that type. Still, I had a hard time separating the excitement from the impending trouble.
As the weeks went by and I kept going out with Brock, I started lying to my parents about where I was going. And even though I wasn’t the one drinking or smoking, I knew I had crossed into a danger zone.
After going out with Brock one night, I sneaked into my house and headed to the bathroom to wash off my makeup. As I looked in the mirror I met a scrutinizing eye.
“Well, here you are,” scolded my reflection. “I see you finally made it home tonight.”
“Of course I made it home,” I countered.
“Surprising, though,” the girl in the mirror continued, “don’t you think? Brock was so drunk. It’s amazing he didn’t crash.”
I pictured myself mangled and bleeding in a coffin of twisted metal. The image seemed almost real, and I didn’t want to think about it.
I lashed back at the image in the mirror: “Quit overreacting! You’re starting to sound like my mother!” I slammed my fist against the light switch, and brushed my teeth and washed off my mascara in the dark.
After yet another week of sneaking around, fighting what I knew I should do, it was time to see Mr. Knight again. I tried to act natural, but Mr. Knight knew I was in trouble.
“You’re in a mess because you’re breaking the rules,” he said.
“What rules?” I asked, innocently raising my eyebrows.
“Your rules and God’s rules. When people go against the laws they know, they are sinning.”
If I had heard this from anyone else, I would have felt as if they had called me a sinner. Yet I knew Mr. Knight loved me and cared about my happiness, so I listened to what he had to say.
“You know that lying to your parents, even stretching the truth a little, is wrong. You know that lying to yourself is wrong. You know that dating someone who drags you down is wrong. You can’t expect to stand barefoot in the snow and not get cold.”
“Mr. Knight, I’ve lied so many times though. I don’t know how to start telling the truth. If I tell my parents the truth now, they’ll ground me until I graduate.”
I was afraid of facing the truth. I thought if I told the truth, I’d spend my senior year dateless and friendless.
“Mr. Knight, I’m not sure I can fix this mess.”
“Trust me, you can. Remember, you don’t have to do this all by yourself. You need the help of the Lord and His Atonement.”
“Hey, this isn’t a big enough problem that I need to repent. I don’t need the Atonement. Remember, I’m not the one smoking and drinking.”
“I know, but you still have things you need to change. Repentance means changing, and it’s possible because of Christ’s Atonement. You need to repent because you’ve broken God’s rules.”
I stopped pushing the wheelchair, realizing for the first time that I had offended God and not just myself. Now, instead of fearing my own face in the mirror, I was afraid of facing the Lord. I knew He was aware of everything I had done. I wanted to bury myself under a mountain.
Mr. Knight gave me instructions on how to get back to where I needed to be. I told my parents the truth about going out with Brock behind their backs. I knelt and told the Lord the truth. Still, a confession wasn’t enough. I changed my behavior. I quit dating Brock and only dated guys who lived Church standards. Lots of kids at school teased me, telling me I was stuck up, but I knew that what I was doing was right. Most importantly, faith and hope returned to my life, replacing the guilt and despair I had felt.
My fear of being friendless and dateless never happened. By being true to myself, I found friends who were true to me. Mr. Knight helped me see the need for the Atonement in my life so I could change and look at myself in the mirror. When I look to Christ and then look at myself, I am able to recognize in my reflection something of divinity and what He expects me to become.
“‘We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression’ (A of F 1:2). This not only means that we will not be punished for what Adam did in the garden, but also that we cannot excuse our own behavior by pointing a finger to Adam or anyone else. The real danger in failing to accept responsibility for our own actions is that unless we do, we may never even enter on the strait and narrow path.”
—Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy, “Repentance,” Ensign, May 1991, 13.
How could an experience with a broken refrigerator teach about the Atonement of Jesus Christ? Find out next month in the Articles of Faith series.