In the October 2009 conference of the church, I heard something that I had never heard before. An apostle revealed one of his past transgressions.
Sure, by the world’s standards, Elder Christofferson’s tale of childhood theft was extremely mild – even cute. But there it stood. It caused me to reflect on my own stint with the five finger discount. After we were finally caught in the act when I was 10, I was never the same. My mother taught me about the healing power of Jesus – for the first time it was real.
Not too long ago, a brother in my ward stood up and related a similar story. He had taken something from a store, his father taught him about God’s grace and mercy. I wasn’t alone.
I’ve thought about this concept of sharing our sins since my mission. I have a fairly colorful past and I believe it gave me a unique kind of empathy for those I found struggling in sin. Of course, we were told never to share past transgressions. It proved difficult as I consulted with people about changing their lives. “You don’t know what I’m going through”, was the phrase I often heard. It took a great deal of restraint to stay quiet. They thought we were perfect. And therein lies a problem.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters can teach us a thing or two about this issue. I’ve observed more than one congregation or individual where public/semi public confession of a sorted past was a natural part of community building. We’re all sinners right? Let’s make sure we all know it. Jesus accepts us as we are. Of course, I’ve also met those who can’t discuss anything but their past – even carry it as a badge of honor. As to say: “I appreciate Jesus more than you do – because he pulled me up from the depths.” I see this as a problem too.
It’s a complicated issue – I know. I don’t think testimony meeting should be a time to hang our laundry out to dry. There are certainly details that should remain in private space. But we should cultivate opportunities to be more publicly honest – about our past, our doubts and deepest fears (is God really there?). Not only for ourselves, but especially for others.
When I was a youth, I had a substance abuse problem. At the end of their rope, my parents sat me down for a talk. As a last resort my father, with my mom’s explicit disapproval, told me of his own experiences as a delinquent youth. His words I will never forget – there is more to life than this – much more. Believe me, I know. My mom thought it would give me license to continue in my behavior. Nothing could be further from the truth – and although I didn’t change immediately, my father sharing his past burned in my heart and mind. It gave me an honest picture.
After all, the greatest stories from the scriptures are of redemption and God’s everlasting mercy toward the wicked and disobedient. Paul even suggests that the reason Jesus saved him was to show an example of the depths of Christ’s mercy and grace. If Saul of Tarsus can be redeemed…
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. – 1 Timothy 1: 12-16 (NRSV)
I’ll leave it at that – for now.