When I was nine years old, I committed a crime. I made a decision to steal a comic book from the small town store which kept an old twirling black metal rack over in the corner by the stacked wooden cases of bottled soda pop. The owner did not catch me stealing, but at home my parents were suspicious, knowing that I had no money to purchase the comic book. Prying the truth out of me, my mother finally marched me back to the store, where I confessed my guilt to the owner. He let me decide how to make full restitution and how I was going to go about learning not to steal again.
The store’s floor was made of old-time hardwood, and each evening he would throw sawdust down and sweep it to get up all of the dust balls and grime from the foot traffic of the day. That chore was assigned to me. I was sure that I would only have to do it for a few days. As I came into the store each afternoon after school to do my sweeping, the proprietor would nod his greeting and motion toward the broom and cardboard box of sawdust in the back. It was weeks before he told me one night that he thought I had swept long enough.
I relate this particular incident, not to rehash the sin, but to point out that it is the sweeping and the price I had to pay that I remember vividly. I still have the memory of taking the comic book, but the feelings of guilt, heartsickness, distress, and deep sorrow are long gone because I was helped to repent. I remember those long hours of sweeping now to remind me of the price of stealing. That encourages me not to be dishonest again.
Several years after I was married, I was called to teach a Sunday School class of 15-year-olds. It was a large class of enthusiastic and energetic students. I had to prepare well each week in order to stay ahead of them.
One Sunday after class a young man waited for the room to clear and then asked if we could talk privately for a moment. He poured out his heart to me about a moral transgression that he was involved in. He cried, and I could see that his heart was filled with great remorse.
I encouraged him to go see the bishop, and eventually I went with him to his appointment and waited outside. Of course, I was not privy to what happened from there, but almost immediately I saw the dark veil of sorrow, grief, evil, and contempt lift from this young man’s face. In time he was back to being the normal and fine young man that I had known him to be for some years previous. Repentance cleansed his soul and it cleansed his heart, mind, and even his face. His eyes were brighter, his smile broader, and his walk and the way he carried himself suggested happiness.
Near that same time, I read an obituary in the newspaper of a 17-year-old girl. At the bottom of the article describing the lovely young woman in the picture, the lines read, “We are filled with sorrow that Ellie was never able to see the blue skies of life because of the dark clouds of gloom.” It reminded me of how my young friend had been on that Sunday of repentance, and I compared my feelings of compassion toward this unknown young girl to how my friend had recovered from his darkness and gloominess. My heart felt glad that repentance had helped him recover. I prayed the “dark clouds of gloom” would not rain down on any others.
Later, as a bishop, I learned that to fully repent we must follow five basic steps:
Recognize that we have done wrong.
Forsake the sinful action.
Confess our sin.
Forgive ourself and seek forgiveness from God.
While I served as bishop, one of the Mia Maids in my ward came in for her annual interview. It was a sunny early summer day, and the rays of the afternoon sun were causing the dust in my office to float around like a million little gliders. She and I talked about the significance of the small things in life versus the highly visible parts of what we are doing.
Without any warning she suddenly burst into tears and wept and wept. I left the chair behind my desk and walked around to where she was seated and sat down next to her. I attempted to comfort her and give her solace.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
“I am so awful!” she cried out.
“What have you done that you think is so awful?” I asked.
“I am so cruel to my best friend. I go out of my way to play jokes on her and to embarrass her in front of others. I am just awful.” Then she cried some more.
“Could you give me an example of how you treat her?” I asked cautiously.
She described several situations that really were vicious, well-planned attacks on this other young woman that she claimed was her best friend.
“What am I going to do, bishop?” I remember her asking me.
As kindly and gently as possible, I explained to her that she must repent.
“How?” she asked.
“Well,” I said, “you have recognized that you are doing wrong toward your friend. That is the first step. Now you have to decide if you really want to repent. Do you really want to go all the way with this decision?” She nodded her head that she did.
Through the following days and weeks, this fine young woman worked hard at learning how to stop being quietly vicious. She changed her plans to hurt into plans that would help and lift.
She confessed her sins to me, as her bishop. Then kneeling together in prayer I listened while she confessed them to God. Finally, she went to her friend and made peace. In an attempt to make restitution, my young friend went out of her way to make life easier and less complicated for her true, understanding friend. I learned firsthand how it is equally as important to forgive as it is to seek forgiveness. Fortunately, these were two special young women.
Within a few months my young Mia Maid friend had forgiven herself—her friend had forgiven her weeks earlier—and she had been forgiven in heaven.
Her heart and mind are now at peace. I am certain that she still remembers how she treated her friend. That will help her remember not to ever do it again. However, she feels no heartache or torture of mind because she has fully repented.
In the sermon given by Amulek while he and Alma were teaching the multitudes, it says: “Therefore, I beseech of you that ye do not procrastinate the day of your repentance … for … if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed” (Alma 34:33).
We have a loving, kind, and forgiving Heavenly Father who will lift the burden of sin from us if we will repent. My prayer is that we will allow Him to lift “the dark clouds of gloom” and that we will choose to experience the peace and happiness that come with true repentance.