Hi. I am a young woman and I do not feel like I belong to the Mormon Church anymore. I have made some pretty bad decisions, and I feel that I have done everything I can to repent for them. I have talked to my bishop and told him about these decisions I made, I have prayed and asked our Father in Heaven what to do, I have read the scriptures, but I do not feel like I have been forgiven, and therefore, I feel like I do not belong to the church anymore. Please give me your advice. Thank you.
Let’s talk first about repentance. In the first place, you’re not alone! Everyone has made some pretty bad decisions in their lives, but how does one repent? You say that you’ve done everything that you can to repent. That’s wonderful. The concept of repentance is quite simple; however, the act of repentance is not so simple. In a nutshell it is simply this: get whatever you have been doing, or saying, or thinking out of your system. When we have repented we wouldn’t be caught dead doing what we had done before, the inclination for such actions would be overcome.
As an example, consider repenting from the habit of smoking cigarettes. That habit is addictive, so the desire to smoke does not leave simply by making a decision not to smoke. We actually must overcome the desire. Even so, from time to time there will come the temptation to smoke again, depending on the environment we are in. But a person who has repented from the habit would be disgusted by what used to be desirable to him. The disgust, or change of attitude, is intrinsic to repentance.
Now, if you have gotten out of your system whatever has been bothering you, it is no longer a part of your life. You are now a different person than you were. The Lord has said:
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more (Doctrine & Covenants 58:42).
The Lord does not bring them to mind because they are no longer a part of you, and therefore it is meaningless to dwell on them. If you understand that those sins of which you have repented are no longer laid to your accountability, you can forget about them and get on with your life. The experience of Alma the Younger in repenting from the bad decisions that he had made is instructive:
Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! (Alma 36:18-20)
What Alma couldn’t remember was the pain he had been in; he could remember his former sins, but he was harrowed up the memory of those sins no more. In other words, recalling them didn’t bother him because he understood that they were no longer a part of his life.
As you adopt these concepts and this procedure, you will find a joy that will be as exceeding as the trouble of mind that you now express.