Living in the back of my brain are the sins of my childhood. I know, I know. I was a kid. But some of them creep up and surprise me at funny times, making the corners of my mouth twitch with regret.
A few years ago, walking out of the temple with Rick and my parents, I turned to my mom and said, “Mom, I love you so much. And I’m so sorry that I used heavy duty spray glue and graffiti-ed ‘I hate you Mom!’ across the entire side of your car.” Thankfully, she was over it--or at least was calm enough by this time to act like she was--and frankly forgave me.
And then there’s that time that I had to return to that one store, stolen goods in hand, head hung low, lump in throat, to confess to what I’d done. Interestingly enough, they didn’t press any charges, but wanted to know how I’d done it, so that they could better their security. Those were the nineties when we wore our clothing as baggy as we could. It wasn’t difficult.
I have spent a good chunk of my adult life dusting my past under the rug. Fear that my kids won’t take me seriously or won’t respect me if they know what kind of kid I sometimes was, has often kept me from sharing some of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned.
They are the lessons that eventually brought me to my knees in a small room in Rexburg, ID. I was twenty and living by myself in a crappy little apartment above a dance club and realized that, though I had been raised a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I hadn’t actually been fully converted to the gospel. I felt much like Alma, though my sins were maybe not as grievous.
Alma had spent his life in uproarious sin. Evidently, God had finally had enough, and He sent an angel down to chasten Alma and his friends. Being so awed at the ordeal, Alma fainted and didn’t hear much of what the angel said. His record tells us:
And the angel spake more things unto me, which were heard by my brethren, but I did not hear them; for when I heard the words—If thou wilt be destroyed of thyself, seek no more to destroy the church of God—I was struck with such great fear and amazement lest perhaps I should be destroyed, that I fell to the earth and I did hear no more.
Yea, I did remember all my sins and iniquities, for which I was tormented with the pains of hell; yea, I saw that I had rebelled against my God, and that I had not kept his holy commandments.
… yea, and in fine so great had been my iniquities, that the very thought of coming into the presence of my God did rack my soul with inexpressible horror.
Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.
I knew the pains of sin to some degree. And they were painful. They really did make me want to shrink and hide my face at times. But I, like Alma, also remembered “the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.” I sank to the floor and with all my heart, I asked for forgiveness of the things I’d done. I asked whether the gospel I’d learned each Sunday was the truth. Whether the Book of Mormon was really God’s word, translated by Joseph Smith. I asked if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s one true church on the earth. And again, I found that the words of Alma echoed my feelings:
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!
And I knew that that was my answer. Yes, it was all true. Yes, I could be forgiven for the mistakes I’d made. And more than anything, I knew (and still know) that the Lord loves me.
I still make mistakes. Pretty much every day. Pretty much several times every day. But I know that Jesus Christ came into the world and He felt my pain so that, if I will believe Him, trust Him, and lean on Him, I won’t have to dwell on them.