No one wants to talk about the dreaded ‘S’ word—sin. But right now, I do. And trust me, you’ll want to listen (or read, rather.)
Sin is a natural part of life. We knew we’d sin here on earth and God knew we’d sin. I promise it’s not a surprise to Him when you do. Thankfully, the purpose of His Son is to save us from that morbid thought. Most of what we talk about at church involves sin and repentance, but there are a few things I think we oughta know that can sometimes get lost in translation.
Mistake #1: Thinking that sin is relative
Except for denying the Holy Ghost (a.k.a. Sons of Perdition), there is no sin you can’t repent of if you truly desire to. I’ve even known people with murder on their record who’ve repented and been baptized for the remission of sins. If they were washed clean, you can be, too.
The fact that you may struggle with a pornography addiction is not any worse in God’s eyes than someone else’s struggle with theft or cheating or violence. True, certain sins have more extreme consequences than others—especially when they affect the people around us—but sin is sin, and God expects each of us to overcome it (with His help, of course.)
My mother once told me a story about my grandpa at church. They were sitting in their typical pew on Sunday when two visitors reeking of cigarette smoke appeared on the row in front of them. The stench wafted through the air, and it wasn’t long before the women two rows back started judgmentally whispering to each other about the malodorous couple.
When my grandpa finally had enough of their commentary he turned around, smiling, and said, “Aren’t you glad no one can smell your sins?”
I wish I could have been there to see their faces! My mom learned (and taught me) a valuable lesson through that experience: you have no right to judge someone just because they sin differently than you.
Mistake #2: Holding everyone to the same covenant standards
Growing up, my very best friend was not a member of our church, and one of her favorite things was (well, is) coffee. I remember discussing this with my mom, and she said to me, “It’s not a sin for [her] to drink coffee because she hasn’t made the same covenants with God that you have.” This was such an eye-opener to me! Of course, it wasn’t a sin for my friend to drink coffee. As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we promise God that we’ll follow the Word of Wisdom, but my friend never made that promise.
Sometimes, when we make covenants, we hold everyone to the same high standards. But everyone is on a different path, and we need to be accepting of where they are in their journey.
We must encourage and strengthen when necessary, but never minimize.
Mistake #3: Misusing the feeling of guilt
As a missionary, it was easy for me to get down on myself. I was constantly thinking of what I could improve on, but hardly ever thinking of what I already had. One day, after a Zone Conference, the mission nurse asked my companion and me how we were doing. Physically, we were doing great, so we replied positively.
Then she asked how we were feeling mentally. My answer wasn’t so upbeat. I’ll never forget what she said next, “Sisters, listen here. You’re all using guilt the wrong way. You use it to beat yourselves over the head rather than letting it motivate you to repent and move on.”
I was stunned. But she was 100% correct. Guilt is a God-given emotion that’s meant to quickly inspire change, not shame and self-loathing. Use it as intended.
Mistake #4: Having a negative view of repentance
For the longest time I thought that repentance was terrifying—still do sometimes. But I think it’s important to understand that it’s why we’re here and it’s why Jesus Christ died.
I have a page in my mission journal that says, “Repentance IS the plan.” I can’t remember who said it, but it’s obviously stuck with me. Without repentance, we would never have the capacity, nor the opportunity, to become like Heavenly Father.
Try your hardest not to be afraid of it, but seek it out regularly. View repentance as the gift that it is.
Mistake #5: Withholding forgiveness from ourselves
One of the easiest mistakes to make (in my opinion) is to seek forgiveness from God, but not from ourselves. If you still feel shame about something you’ve done, you probably haven’t fully forgiven yourself. This was evident to me in an experience I had with my roommate (we’ll call her Jane):
Jane quickly became one of my closest friends. I felt like I could tell her just about anything, and she felt the same. One day, however, she confided in me some of her past experiences with sin. I couldn’t believe that Jane would share something so personal, but she didn’t seem embarrassed or ashamed. She simply saw it for what it was and knew that she was past it—that God had completely taken care of it.
I realized then that there were some things in my life I hadn’t lain to rest. I knew God had forgiven me, but I still felt so much shame for what I’d done. In that moment, I resolved to let it all go. Jane taught me what she had learned from those mistakes, and it helped me to view my previous sins as lessons, too.
When sin contaminates your life, don’t forget to get SUDSY.
Get it? Suds? Cheesy, I know. Just work with me:
S – Sin is NOT relative
U – Use guilt correctly
D – Don’t confuse covenants with commandments
S – See repentance as a positive thing
Y – You need to forgive yourself, too