After a person becomes somewhat convinced of the extreme gravity of their sinful behavior, how long should they be harrowed up by the memory of their sins? The situation of Zeezrom in the Book of Mormon comes to mind. He was reduced to his sick bed afflicted with a burning conscience, unable to function. I’ve seen a living example of this. Such a person is unable to work at their job, or go about their daily activities because of the extreme condemnation they feel. They’re essentially overwhelmed and unable to function. Their job performance falls flat, and all they want to do is pace the floor and grieve with their arms folded. What is an appropriate period for a “guilty conscience” before they ought to be able to lay claim on the relief available through the atonement of Jesus Christ? When can they start to function again and move on with their life? Are we talking days, weeks or months? Would the Lord let them off the hook, even though they might not have gained a full appreciation for the gravity of their sins?
God does not hold a stop watch to measure our repentance. The process of repentance eliminates the feeling of being harrowed up by one’s sins. But repentance is not merely a recognition of sin, nor merely ceasing from sinful action. Repentance involves a change of heart, a change of character, such that a repentant person would not be caught dead doing what he did before! The situation of Alma in the Book of Mormon comes to mind—
And now, for three days and for three nights was I racked, even with the pains of a damned soul.
And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
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 36:16-20)
Two things in this account are of critical importance to your question. When Alma had come to terms with the Lord, two things happened–he could remember his pains no more, and he was no longer harrowed up by the memory of his sins. He couldn’t remember his pain, but he COULD remember his sins. However, the memory of his sin no longer bothered him, because he knew that because of the infinite suffering of the Savior in his behalf, they were no longer laid to his account. Therefore he was filled with joy.
If we in contemplation of our past sins are not filled with joy because of the suffering of the Savior in our behalf, it simply means that we have not truly repented, and still feel an ownership of the bad things that we have done. Time will not solve the problem. A change of character will.