What Does Autumn Have to Do with Repentance?

by Darla Isackson (Posted on Meridian in 2002)

We drove the Alpine Loop last week. In the lower elevations shades of green still dominate. But after we took the 7-mile cutoff to Cascade Springs, we turned a corner and suddenly an entire landscape blazed breath-taking red.

I love autumn, and it has come to symbolize repentance to me. One long-ago fall I had two experiences that led me to write a poem called Autumn Awakening. First, I was sitting in silence by a picnic table up Millcreek Canyon watching golden leaves fall from quaking aspen. I had always assumed that the wind blew the leaves off the trees. That day there was not a sign of a breeze, yet one by one the leaves simply let go and fluttered to the ground. A few days later we had an early, heavy, wet snow that broke many leaf-filled branches in our valley. Subsequently I wrote:

My golden maple groans, bowed down by sudden snow;
Caught unaware, boughs break, fall to the ground below.
My winter maple’s limbs, up-reaching, not bowed down,
Wear snow’s adversities as nobly as a crown.

Its price of leaves was paid when colors were still bright,
For undeceived, the tree was warned by inner light.
While Autumn days seem warm, cold storms of trial draw near.
Prepared, the leafless tree stands free from wintry fear.

My Autumn, Lord, is here; help me to rid my life
Of all excess and dross, frivolity and strife.
Then calmly, willingly, as limb and red leaf part
May I repent of sins, and cast them from my heart.

Dear Lord, because I take thy Spirit as my guide,
I too will be prepared, be stripped of sin and pride.
After the furious storms of wintertime have passed,
When in Thy presence, Lord, I find spring warmth at last–
In strength, I’ll stand with Thee, adorned in newest green
Found valiant in the test; spring-fresh, at peace, serene.

Repentance and Godly Sorrow

I feel even more urgency in this new millennium to prepare, and I keep learning more about repentance. Just last year I received a real wake-up call, when I was reading in James B. Cox’s manual Becoming One with Christ. He explained the difference between worldly sorry and godly sorrow: worldly sorrow includes vain regrets, self-condemnation, and grief for the pain caused to self and others by sins and inadequacies. It accomplishes nothing except to keep us in the bondage of those mistakes. On the other hand, godly sorrow grieves for the pain caused to the Savior who already suffered for those sins; godly sorry leads immediately to a spiritual focus of gratitude for the atonement of Christ. Because Jesus already paid the price, our job is to accept that price. He wants us to “turn and live”–not grovel in self-flagellation and useless regret.

President Benson said, “Godly sorrow is a gift of the Spirit. It is a deep realization that our actions have offended our Father and our God. It is the sharp and keen awareness that our behavior caused the Savior, he who knew no sin, even the greatest of all, to endure agony and suffering. Our sins caused Him to bleed at every pore. This very real mental and spiritual anguish is what the scriptures refer to as having ‘a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Such a spirit is the absolute pre-requisite for true repentance.” (Ensign, Oct. 1989, p. 4)

Seeing the Fruits of True Repentance

I see in retrospect that most of the sorrow of my life has been worldly sorrow. I thought I was repenting, but was actually being deterred in my progress by the adversary. Too often I was hanging onto the past and not taking advantage of the blessings of the atonement–not receiving what was right there for the asking.

I’m finally receiving. Studying the manual He Did Deliver Me from Bondage and attending Recovery meetings (sponsored by the Church for those with compulsive addictive behaviors and their families) have helped me greatly in my quest.

In a Recovery meeting a couple of years ago I heard a humble young man, newly released from prison, tell this story: “In prison I began studying He Did Deliver Me from Bondage and attending Recovery meetings. I finally learned how to truly repent and turn to Christ. I experienced the Savior’s love for the first time.” He wept telling how he felt, and said, “In all my years growing up in the Church, I had never understood the truth of the atonement or the power of Christ’s love. How had I missed it? However, as I followed the Twelve-Step program, admitted my own powerlessness, turned my life over to God as best I could, and immersed myself in the Book of Mormon, amazing things began to happen. For so long I had believed I would never be happy again,” he confessed. “I had committed crimes serious enough to get me incarcerated in a federal prison and I was battling addictions I thought I would never conquer. I disgraced my family and hurt them in a hundred ways. I lost my job, my wife, my children, my membership in the Church. But I bear testimony that the Savior has forgiven me and I am clean and sober. The Atonement is real. I have been rebaptized and am at peace and happier than I’ve ever been.”

And I, who had been sitting there doubting I could ever be happy again because of my co-dependency and the choices of others, found new hope. Even though I thought I’d always understood and accepted the atonement, I forged a new determination to know for myself in a new way–in as deep and life-changing way as this brother knew it–that the atonement is real, that the Savior’s promises apply to me as much as to any other person on earth. I came to believe I could change, transcend the patterns that were making me miserable. I am keeping that commitment, but learn over and over that repentance is a process, not an event. We do not “arrive” and suddenly have no need of it while in mortality. President Benson said, “Becoming Christlike is a lifetime pursuit and very often involves growth and change that is slow, almost imperceptible. . . For every Paul, for every Enos, and for every King Lamoni, there are hundred and thousands of people who find the process of repentance much more subtle, much more imperceptible. Day by day they move closer to the Lord, little realizing they are building a godlike life . . . The Lord is pleased with every effort, even the tiny, daily ones in which we strive to be more like Him. Though we may see that we have far to go on the road to perfection, we must not give up hope.” (Ensign, Oct. 1989, p. 5)

When I become discouraged because I find myself in a low place again after I have felt great spiritual growth, I go back to the following quote from Colleen Harrison: “The mighty change of heart does not bring us to a state of perfection, but rather convinces us of our own powerlessness to be perfect, and turns us to know and trust Him who is perfect enough for us all. The word repentance means literally to ‘turn again.’ As that process of turning again to God and to the principles of truth and righteousness becomes more and more consistent and continuous, our lapses from it grow shorter and shorter. They go from being years, months, weeks, or even days in length to only hours, eventually minutes, and ultimately nothing more than the turn of a thought, which is discarded instantly.” (He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, Fifth Edition, p.83)

Leaning on Sacramental Promises

Unless we have been excommunicated as was the brother I quoted above, we do not need to be rebaptized as part of our repentance process. Partaking of the sacrament, when understood and applied with earnestness, acts as a weekly rebaptism. Whenever we repent, then take the sacrament, the Savior washes us clean of the mistakes we’ve made, and we can start anew.

The “Willing” Principle

The sacramental prayer on the bread includes the words: “are WILLING to take upon them the name of thy son and keep his commandments and always remember him that they may have his Spirit to be with them.” (D&C 20:77, emphasis mine.)

I`ve learned that my willingness is the very key. It doesn`t mean I know I can keep the covenants perfectly, and certainly not that I am capable of keeping them by my own strength or power. It means what it says: that I am willing to, that I want to, and my very willingness places me in a position to get His Spirit to help me. The Lord literally covenants to help us keep his commandments–in the sacrament prayer as well as in other scriptures. Nephi reminds me that He does not give a commandment without preparing the way for us to accomplish it. (1Nephi 3:7)

Sublime Invitation

One Sunday I felt in my heart during the sacramental prayer, a deeper meaning than I had thought of before in the words: “witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy son” (D&C 20: 77 emphasis mine). I realized those words “take upon them the name of thy son” mean we are invited into the family of Christ and offered the extra protection and privileges that family members are given. When I think of the love I have for my children, and realize how imperfect that love is compared to Christ’s, I am overwhelmed at what that concept really entails. I am willing to extend and inconvenience myself for my children’s well-being to the uttermost limits of my abilities and strength, yet am constantly aware of my limitations. The Savior has no limitations of time or love or resources or wisdom. He not only knows what is best for us, but has the untiring ability to give it. Being a member of His family is surely one of the best blessings we could be promised.

Remember Him, Have His Spirit to Be with Us

I continue to be impressed each time I hear the sacramental prayers that to have His Spirit to be with us–the very thing we need to repent and keep our covenants–all we are asked to do is to remember Him.

I realized one day when I was feeling low that I hadn’t been remembering Jesus. I tried saying his name reverently, and thought of the song, “Jesus, Name of Wondrous Love.” Instantly, the light came flooding back into my heart, and the Spirit returned. I’ve learned that simply remembering Jesus really is a key for climbing out of darkness, getting the Spirit back, transcending low moods. Unless my body was so depleted or fatigued I couldn’t think, unless the chemicals in my brain were completely out of balance, or my spirit “past feeling,” simply focusing my mind on the Savior opens my personal conduit to the Spirit of the Lord. It’s the best therapy I’ve ever tried. When I read His words, think of His love, and remember Him, I do have his Spirit to be with me. I am lifted out of my natural man state. I can’t make this transition by myself; I need the mercy and grace of Christ.

Colleen Harrison said, “We have labored too long under the fallacy that in our sins we have cut the Lord off from us. The truth is, we have cut ourselves off from the Lord. He is always ‘with’ us, in the sense that He is always aware of us and awaits our genuine, heart-deep turning to Him. Even in our unrighteousness we can turn to Him and find mercy and grace. Mercy and grace are not forgiveness. Mercy and grace are gifts of power beyond our own, extended to us from God even while in our sinful or darkened state, thus enabling us to repent. Without these gifts we have no power to turn again, no matter how much we might want to. Our will must be joined to His power. Will-power: OUR will + HIS power.” (He Did Deliver Me from Bondage, Fifth Edition, p. 89)

So it is that I can daily claim the promise that if I remember Him, I will have His Spirit to be with me, and that Spirit will aid me in my repentance. No matter how righteous I may become in the future, this process is still essential.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote: “It follows that the sins of the godfearing and righteous are continually remitted because they repent and seek the Lord anew every day and every hour.” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Vol. III, p. 343)

The Autumn of My Repentance

This year, as the leaves blaze red and gold then willingly let go, I’m reminded of my commitment to let go, to repent daily. I don’t want to wait for latter-day winds of adversity to strip me of my sins. I want to prepare for wintry storms now, to let go willingly, as the leaves do. Here are some of the things I’m determined to let go of:

  • Let go of the need to be right. Having to be right negates the atonement in my life. Repentance is only possible when I recognize I am wrong or could be doing better.
  • Let go of false spiritual self-reliance–thinking I have to repent or accomplish the purpose of my life on my own. The Savior said, “Without me ye can do nothing.”
  • Let go of trying to look good. Growth requires honesty and pain and starting from where I am and moving upward.
  • Let go of comparisons–they are all symptoms of pride. I am not inferior or superior to anyone else. I am running my own race, am in process and en route. No-one’s path is the same as mine and there is no such thing as a fair comparison.
  • Let go of regret for the past–repentance doesn’t require long years of regret and anguish, but a decision to turn from the past, access the atonement, and grow and live in the light of truth today.
  • Let go of the idea that life should be fair and I should be perfect. This life is not fair and perfect means “finished, complete, fully developed.” I will never be “finished” in mortality. And I can’t repent of being human.
  • Let go of the need to prove my worth. Instead, open my heart to the reality of God’s unconditional love and my unconditional worth.
  • Let go of the need to hurry. Follow the Savior peacefully and remember that inner charity more than rapid outer motions define a true disciple of Christ.
  • Let go of the need to appear happy all the time. The Savior was a man of sorrow and acquainted with grief. In the final analysis, joy is not the absence of pain, but the presence of God.
  • Let go of fear and decide to love–remembering that only one thing is needful and that feeling and radiating the pure love of Christ is the ultimate accomplishment.
  • Let go of criticizing, blaming, or trying to change others. I am not accountable for what I can’t control–and the only things I can control are my own thoughts, feelings, and actions.Letting go does not mean to stop caring–but it means I stop taking responsibility for people and things I can’t control. Letting go is not to deny, but to accept what is real and true. Letting go is to quit trying to adjust the world and everything in it to my desires, but to take each day as it come and cherish myself in it. Letting go is to turn the universe back over to God and trust him with it, and to turn my heart over to God and let him transform it.

    I have lots of “leaves” to let go of, but autumn is a lovely time to renew my determination for the task!

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