A Repentance Experiment: Swinging the Pendulum

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Repentance pendulum

When it comes to change and repentance, I’ve swung back and forth along the repentenace pendulum of “Meh, I’m okay. I’m way more righteous than that person” to “There is no way I can ever repent of all of my mistakes!”

One thing I’ve noticed is that the closer I draw to God, the more I see my spots – sins, transgressions, wrongdoings, mistakes, whatever you want to call them. I’ve learned that that sudden, clear vision of myself is a good sign because it means the Holy Ghost is manifesting in my life.  The Holy Ghost brings things to our remembrance, especially things we need to clear up through repentance to become more holy, pure, and without spot.

However, feeling convicted this way sometimes makes me want to run the other direction because feeling convicted is super uncomfortable.

Hands outside covered in mud.

The Pharisees and the Adultress: A Lesson on Repentance

I think of the Pharisees prepared to stone the adulteress who, in the presence of Jesus, became convicted in their conscience. They “went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.”

Jesus was left alone and the woman.  She remained, repentant. “Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

The Pharisees returned to their comfort zones despite the opportunity to cast their burden on the Lord’s grace through repentance.  Did they ever choose to repent?  We don’t know their whole stories. But in this cirmcumstance, they publicly compared their righteousness to hers and chose to walk away.

Jesus offered the woman repentance without condemnation

Repentance Can Move Us From Spiritual Plateaus and Stuckness

I hit spiritual plateaus at times and feel “stuck.” When I finally recognize the stuckness, I usually recognize that I need to course correct.  One particular time, I felt so stuck and knew I obviously needed to repent.

I hadn’t done anything extra sinful but because of how stuck I felt, I figured I’d done a million small sins of commission or small or major sins of omission. I felt convicted and created a quiet spot to talk to the Lord.  I planned to ask the Lord to give me a list of all the sins I needed to repent of so I went prepared with a pen and an almost empty notebook.

Writing alphabet learning mission language

I figured the list would be long and I wouldn’t be able to remember everything, so I planned to write every sinful thing down that the Holy Ghost brought to my mind. And I expected to be writing for days.

I actually wasn’t very excited to approach the Lord expecting such a smackdown and procrastinated the inevitable for a few days. But I knew I was stuck, and I knew I didn’t want to be stuck in my relationship with Him.

So I knelt against the bed, pen in hand on that notebook, and I told the Lord why I’d come and that I was prepared to bear the stripes of the many things I needed to correct because I desired to feel His presence more strongly in my life.

I felt warmth pour into my heart, which for me is one way the Holy Ghost communicates with me. I felt peace as I prepared to hear the infinite list of my sins and write them down.

Feeling Grace in Repentance

Then something totally unexpected happened! Through the Holy Ghost, the Savior pressed a pattern of thought in my mind. I suddenly understood how that thought pattern, that I believed and acted on, had negative repercussions. I saw the cause and effects in my mind’s eye.

Stunned, I sat there for a minute as the most important lesson about the Savior’s Grace rebounded in my ears. “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”  He was not there to condemn as I wallowed in misery. He compassionately showed me the truth of my error and accepted my repentant petition.

In other times and seasons, I’ve been required to do something to fully repent – confess and/or make retribution – but in this significant moment, the Lord taught me the cause of my painful effects, invited me to change, and I felt an outpouring of His love and grace.

There really are times when I’m cruising along and feeling pretty okay generally. Then I read scriptures like 1 John 1:8-9 and remember where I am on my road to complete redemption.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

The Repentance Experiment

When I feel at all spiritually smug, I try a little experiment I learned from Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Franklin Graham.

She said she was reading a pamphlet on revival and the revivalist wrote out a list of sins and said to read through the list three times. (Alma 5 also has a great list to use.)

“And the first time you would read it, maybe you wouldn’t think anything of it. And you’d read it the second time, then the third time. And so I just thought, well, you know, to humor this old-timey guy who’s since gone to heaven, I would just read through his list of sins three times.

Reading Through the List

And the first time I read through the list, I felt so good about myself because I didn’t see one of those things in my life.

The second time I read through the list, I could see a couple of them. So I felt very spiritual that I was really looking closely.

Third time I read through the list, I saw every sin on that list in one form or another in my life. I cannot tell you the devastation. And I had been a believer for years. I’ve been in ministry for years.

Seeing Her Need for Repentance

And one sin after another, for seven days, the Lord convicted. Every time I opened my Bible, every time I read something, every time I went to pray, there was another sin that I felt He was convicting me of.

And finally, after about seven days, He spoke to me from scripture and said, ‘Anne, you’re clean.’ And I said, ‘Are you sure? Because this is such a miserable experience, I don’t want it to be repeated. I want to make sure You got everything.’ And He assured me that for that time I was cleansed.  And I can’t tell you – on the inside, I felt like I’d had a bath. On the inside, I felt somehow freer. …

So in the event that your sins are difficult for you to see and you might need a little help, I brought a list of sins. And this is a list of sins that I’ve written. And some of these are mine, and some of these are yours, but I’m not going to tell you which is which. … Just think about it carefully.

Ingratitude

List all the favors God has bestowed before and after salvation. Which ones have you forgotten to thank Him for? … Is there evidence you’re lessening in your love for Jesus?

Neglect of [scripture study]

Double-check to see if daily [scripture] reading has been pushed aside by an overfull schedule. Or, as you read your [scriptures] are you constantly preoccupied with other things? How long has it been since reading your [scriptures] was a delight? …

Unbelief

Refusing to believe or to expect that He will give you what He has promised is to accuse Him of lying. What promise do you think He will not give you? What prayer do you think He will not answer?

Neglect of prayer

Prayers are not spiritual chatter offered without fervent, focused faith.  Have you been substituting wishing, daydreaming, or fantasizing for real prayer?

Neglect of family

Do you put yourself and your needs before theirs?  What effort are you making, what habit have you established, for your family’s spiritual good when it requires personal sacrifice?

Lack of concern for the salvation of others

Do you stand by and watch friends, neighbors, coworkers, even family members on their way to hell, yet not even care enough to warn them, or pray for the, or even admit that’s where they’ll end up if they don’t put their faith in Jesus? Have you become so politically correct that you don’t apply the gospel to those you know and love?

Love of the world and material things

Assess what you own. Do you think your possessions are yours, that your money is yours, that you can spend it or dispose of it the way you choose?

Pride and vanity about your appearance

Do you spend more time in getting ready for church than preparing your heart and mind to worship when you get there? Are you offended or even slightly irritated if others don’t notice your appearance?

Envy

Jealousy of those who seem more fruitful, or gifted, or recognizable than you. Do you struggle with hearing others praised?

A critical spirit

God gives discernment, but do you use it to find fault with others who don’t measure up to your standards?

Slander

Telling the truth with the intention of causing people to think less of a person. Whose faults, real or imagined, have you discussed behind their backs? Why have you?

Lack of honor towards God

Showing disrespect for Him by the way you sleep through your prayer time or show up late for church as though He doesn’t really matter. Do you give Him the leftovers of your emotions, your time, your thoughts, your money?

Lying

Designed deception, anything that is contrary to the unvarnished truth. What have you said that was designed to impress someone but it wasn’t the whole truth or was an exaggeration of the truth?

Hypocrisy

Pretending to be something that you’re not. Are you pretending to be anything that you’re not?

Robbing God

Wasting your time on things that have no eternal value, exercising your God-given gifts and talents for a fee. What are you not doing for God that you’re willing to do for others at a price?

Temper

Losing patience with a child, a coworker, friends, spouse, or staff member, what cross words have you spoken lately?  A bad temper, losing control of your emotions, thoughts, and words so that you abuse someone verbally. Have you lost your temper?

And the list could go on and on, couldn’t it? Meanness, unkindness, unforgiveness, bitterness.

Prayerfully read the list three times

I won’t read the list three times, but it’s worth getting on your knees and asking God to reveal the [things you can’t see] in your life. I’d rather He reveal them to me than to have it pointed out by somebody else … but whatever it takes, we’re to be holy as He is holy” (Jesus in Me, Session 7, Anne Lotz).

young man football player praying on sideline

Repentance Is a Way For Us to Examine Ourselves

Paul exhorted the Corinthians, and us,

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

The crux of the matter is is if we’re not in alignment with God’s will and holiness, then … we’re not in alignment and are rebelling against God.

All of those quiet promptings, those subtle stirrings of the Holy Ghost prompting us to act, to change, and to choose repentance are divine revelation for our lives! And yet, sometimes I procrastinate taking action.

Repentance Brings the Blessings of the Lord

I appreciate Amulek’s honest clarity.

“Nevertheless, I did harden my heart, for I was called many times and I would not hear; therefore I knew concerning these things, yet I would not know; therefore I went on rebelling against God, in the wickedness of my heart….”

Repentance enabled Amulek to change his unwillingness to hearken. He testified that the Lord “hath blessed mine house, he hath blessed me, and my women, and my children, and my father and my kinsfolk; yea, even all my kindred hath he blessed, and the blessing of the Lord hath rested upon us according to the words which he spake.”

The sweet spot of the repentance pendulum is an open heart and mind willing to quickly observe and adjust behavior and humbly accept the Lord’s corrective action.

As we do, we can feel like Anne Lotz, that we’ve gotten a bath on the inside, freer.  For as we repent, the Lord makes us free.

I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I love exploring the world, experiencing nature, assimilating truth, and hanging out with my husband. One of my life goals is to visit every LDS temple in the world. I've been to 101.