That headline is John Baptist (slightly) paraphrased from Matt 3. I have lately been reviewing ideas about repentance. There is hardly any disagreement among Christians as to the necessity to repent. I checked the PMG for a reference, and didn’t have to go further than page 8 to find a good definition:
“Repentance involves a change of heart and a desire to forsake sin and serve God. It involves humbly yielding to the Spirit and submitting to God’s will. It requires that people increase their commitment to live in agreement with God’s will. Repentance requires a sincere and lasting change of thoughts, desires, habits, and actions. It is a positive experience that brings joy and peace.”
That is repentance in a nutshell. I have personal experience with this process. I was a young adult when I was baptized. As young as I was, I was an alcoholic and involved in lots of things I didn’t want to be doing anymore, because I came to realize they were wrong. The big issue was, of course, getting dried up. I really felt the Lord’s help in changing my life and was grateful for it. For 20 years I was completely happy.
Then things started happening. I was starting to lose my ability to work. That created stress and depression, and one day I found myself downing a bottle of bourbon to dull the pain. Big mistake! I plunged into depression and got stuck in a vicious circle. I didn’t do the classic substance-abuse related stuff (no violence), but I just imploded (turned into a vegetable almost). Finally by a miracle I can’t quite explain, I was able to quit the drink. My wife played a big part in showing me how much I was hurting her and the kids by making myself even more unable to function, and I really didn’t want to hurt them.
But it wasn’t enough that I quit drinking. I had to climb out of the deep hole called depression. That took five years. So for some time it was a victory for me to get out of bed and get dressed. My ability to handle stress or conflict was zero (never been good at handling conflict). To make a long story short, after many tears and inspired Priesthood blessings followed by months in a kind of rehab, I started feeling myself again.
So what did I come away with? For one, a new appreciation for repentance, and how to approach it. I had to tackle my biggest stumbling block first. I found new meaning in Nephi’s lament (see 2 Nephi 4:17). Not being able to go to the temple was big for me. I had to acknowledge that I was lost without help, both human and divine. I realized that a big part of my problems was pride. I realized that a half-hearted approach doesn’t work; I figuratively took myself apart and tried to see what needed fixing, as you would a classic automobile. I learned that tears can be good friends, and they can have a cleansing effect. I also relearned that changing your attitude is tough, it takes work and you can’t be discouraged by setbacks.
I have never felt prayer as I do now. My memory doesn’t work like it used to (I’ve read that can be a side effect of severe depression), so I need more time to study. Somehow I manage to believe that “all things shall work together for good to them that walk uprightly” (see D&C 100:15). I am focusing on things I can learn and do, not the negatives. I find I can relate to Alma when he talked to Corianton (see Alma 42:30) about not excusing himself, and letting himself be brought down in humility.
I have learned not to underestimate the power of the Atonement. I appreciate that “he [took] upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:12).