We often hear people telling us to not be so hard on ourselves after we have made a mistake, that we should be gentle and forgive ourselves. At the same time, how can we be sure we are not brushing off the seriousness of things too lightly, and not accepting full responsibility for the things we have done? Is there some way to know what’s appropriate and what’s not?
Rob, from Grants Pass, Oregon
I guess that you can hear people say almost anything. Yet, there is something to not being too hard on ourselves. In the first place, we should not be so easy on ourselves that we forgive ourselves for any wrong doing before we have thoroughly repented from it. Having done something wrong should fester our conscience until we put it right. And each person knows when he has done something wrong—
For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night. For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil (Moro 7:15-16).
The problem comes when someone has thoroughly repented of the evil that he has done, and then continues to condemn himself for that from which he was repented. Unfortunately, this happens from time to time. Although the errant person has overcome the sin, gotten rid of it, has got it out of his system, wouldn’t be caught dead doing the same thing again, yet he continues to condemn himself for his past mistakes, continues to feel unworthy and therefore limits his usefulness to the kingdom of God. This is one of the adversary’s more subtle tools. When the adversary can no longer tempt a person to do evil, he tries to make the person condemn himself for having done evil in the past, and since the person feels condemned, Satan wins! Here is the truth of the matter from Doctrine & Covenants 58:42-43—
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more. By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins–behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
Please note that the scripture does not say the same will be forgiven, but rather the same is [already] forgiven. There are two important concepts here–1) having repented, the person is already forgiven, and 2) the Lord does not remember the repented sins–He brings them not to mind. In that great interview with the Savior as we pass from mortality into the spirit world, He will not bring them up. It will be as though they had never been committed. The Lord judges us the way we are, not the way we were! Another important point in the above scripture is the definition of repentance– to confess and to forsake the sin. Confession may be to whomever the sinful person feels it appropriate to confess. If he has sinned against himself, a confession to God would be appropriate; if the person has harmed his neighbor, he should go to his neighbor and beg forgiveness; if the person’s sin would in any way impugn the integrity of the Church, or possibly effect one’s standing in the Church, it would be proper to confess to the bishop of his Ward.
Now, how does one forsake a sin? To forsake something does not mean that by strength of character we have the power to resist the temptation, it means that we change our character so that we give it up completely, thus the temptation is no longer there. So to forsake a sin means that we should become another kind of person–one of whom such an act is not part of our character. The sinful thing that once brought some sort of pleasure now becomes repugnant to us.
Let me tell you a brief story that exemplifies the question you ask. There once was a young man who had received as a Christmas gift a new pair of black dress shoes. So he put the shoes on and proudly walked down the street. While doing so he walked through a mud puddle and got the shoes covered with mud. By the time he had returned home the mud had all dried, so he cleaned the shoes. First, he placed the shoes on a newspaper on the table, and with a kitchen knife he scraped off all the dirt he could. But they still weren’t perfectly clean, so he took the shoes to the kitchen sink, and with a brush and a damp cloth he scraped and rubbed all the remaining dirt from the shoes. Then he got out the shoe polish and gave the shoes a really nice shining polish. By looking at the shoes now, no one could possible tell that they had ever been through the mud. The boy then returned to the table, gathered up the dirt that he scraped from the shoes and folded it into a small piece of paper and stuck it into his pocket. As he would walk down the street he would frequently pull the paper from his pocket, unfold it and look at the mud and say to himself, “What a stupid thing to do! How awful that I stepped in the mud with those nice shoes.” Then he would put the paper back in his pocket, only to pull it out again from time to time and castigate himself anew for having walked through the mud. The question now is, What value is that useless dirt that he is carrying around? What should he do with it? So it is with our repented sins. Get rid of them! Throw them away!