Often when a member of the Bishopric will ask you to give a talk they will ask you to stay within a theme or reference a talk from General Conference. I asked for permission to choose my own and my plan was approved. In previous talks I’ve given I’ve talked about dad jokes, fonts, and oddly specific words. If those things aren’t interesting then you might as well plan on sleeping through my talk. As many times as I’ve slept in church, I wouldn’t blame you for sleeping through my talk. I think one of the reasons why I’ve been asked to talk today is so that way there’d be at least one week where I wasn’t sleeping in the pew.
For a habitual church sleeper like me, it was quite refreshing to hear President Uchtdorf's talk about how Perfect Love Casteth Out All Fear. While it was about that topic, it included a tangential semi-endorsement of those of us who like to sleep in church. In President Uchtdorf's words, “I am pretty sure that church sleep is among the healthiest of all sleeps.”
Sometimes when we learn something new it's easy to do it wrong or poorly or inefficiently. When baptisms for the dead were announced they were initially done in the Mississippi River. Then it was revealed that they should be done in the temple. Now many believe they've been given permission to sleep. If this is your inclination during my talk today I would like to present you with a more perfect way to follow what you might believe is a call to nap from on high.
If you’re one of the one’s blessed with the inclination to sleep today I would like to teach you a trick that will keep those unsightly lines from forming on your forehead. First, you must commit to being a forward sleeper. A backward sleeper is a bit rude, but not unacceptable. Backward sleep tends to lead to more snoring and an unsightly gaping of the mouth. Forward sleeping is good but the pew leaves a line that makes it awkward to socialize in the hallway on the way to Sunday school. To fix this you just need to roll/fold your tie and place it on the pew in front of you as a pillow. Experts will realize that the need to leave enough slack so that their mouth isn’t covered by their tie in case it turns into a drool nap. This way the drool doesn’t get on the tie.
If you think this is bad advice you should see what I’ve taught in youth Sunday School over the years. I’ve taught about multiple sizes of infinity, the math problem in the book of Job, the verb of the atonement, and being fanatically selfish. You should be cautious about calling me to substitute.
Our brains are hardwired to make correlations, but many of the correlations we make are wrong. We often associate a route with multiple turns as being longer than one that is straight even though they may be the same distance. At some point in my life, I associated the repentance process with being something unyielding and difficult. With Satan’s influence, the awkwardness of admitting I had done something wrong grew into a fear of the repentance process. For me, this happened when I was younger and it’s taken me years to overcome this false correlation. Repentance may not be easy, but it is worth it.
Fear and faith cannot coexist. I grew up afraid of repenting because I had only focussed on the part of the experience that was hard. I had convinced myself that this part was so hard that it wasn’t worth going through the whole process. It was a lie, and I believed it. Today I’d like to tell you how wrong that is.
Admitting your mistakes is hard, but it gets easier with practice. In team dynamics, environments where the team fails fast are better environments for building the team. When I was younger I used to work on the Army’s telephone equipment. It was a cumbersome piece of early 1980’s engineering. If the equipment went bad it would sometimes take us a long time to get a part and get back up and running again. I used to adopt the mantra that it was better for me to be what’s wrong with the system not working because I was trainable. This threw a lot of people off. Generally, the military thinks so highly of itself that it creates a social stigma for anyone to admit failure. I was the exception and because of that, I wasn’t afraid to ask more questions and learn faster than my peers. The result was that I learned the equipment so well that I was able to engineer something that no one else had ever done or will ever do again. I wouldn’t have been able to count that among my successes if I wasn’t willing to admit my mistakes.
Practice makes perfect. Repentance takes practice. It’s not something you do once and you’re good at. That sort of thinking leads people to apply death-bed repentance, which may be a thing, but it reduces your ability to be a contributor to this world.
Being a contributor is extremely important. Just take a look at the book of Job and ask yourself, what turned Job’s life around? The only book in the Old Testament to mathematically demonstrate that families are designed to be together forever wouldn’t have happened if Job hadn’t decided to contribute.
We often talk about the fruits of the gospel, but I like to dissect that phrase a little further. What is the gospel? It is the good news of Jesus Christ. What was Jesus Christ’s role? To take our sins upon Him so that way we can be clean. So we can be clean. That sounds like repentance to me. That sounds like Christ’s role was to provide the means by which we can repent of our sins.
One of the greatest stories that talks about this is often misread. It comes from 1 Nephi 11. Nephi asks to see and understand his father’s vision of the tree. The vision his father saw was bout the tree of life. Think of that title for a second. The tree of life.
For Nephi’s vision, he starts off with seeing Mary and is introduced to her as the Mother of the Son of God. But Nephi doesn’t record that he understands this phrase. There’s no typical Book of Mormon explanatory detour. The vision simply continues. The key to the conversation occurs in verse 21 which reads, “And the angel said unto me: Behold the Lamb of God, yea, even the Son of the Eternal Father!”
Here Nephi is introduced to Christ as the Lamb of God. Previous to this, Nephi’s relationship with the repentance process has been assisting his father conducting animal sacrifices. He would literally help with the sacrificing of a lamb. I wonder how often he must have pondered how the lamb being burned as an offering would translate to a forgiveness of sin. He likely didn’t have a good answer but proceeded with faith that this is the process he was to follow. Faith is putting your foot down on the ground in front of you even when you can’t see it. You have to trust that it will be there.
Later in the chapter we get the explanatory detour as Nephi shares his excitement about how the tree represents the love of God. What I always find interesting is how the angel one-ups Nephi’s excitement about Christ being the Lamb of God. The angel describes it as the most joyous to the soul. It’s not often in the scriptures that we get a dialogue as this!
So Nephi is asking what the tree means, and he’s shown Christ but introduced to him as the Lamb of God. What did the Lamb of God provide? The means for repentance! The fruit of the tree of life is the fruit that comes from repentance! It’s at the end of the path with the iron rod. You get there by trusting the word of God and taking steps of faith though your vision is clouded and foggy until you get there. When Lehi took the fruit he looked around for his family. He wanted to share.
I had often pondered the scripture in Matthew 11 where Christ says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” I used to think this scripture was somehow wrong. How could Christ’s yoke be easy and his burden light? He took on the weight of the sins of the world. That doesn’t sound like a light burden to me. That sounds like a bleeding out of every pour situation. But when he was bleeding out of every pore he wasn’t bearing his yoke, he was bearing ours. He was bearing mine. His is light because he is without sin.
Article of Faith 4 lists baptism as happening immediately following the repentance process. In John 3, Christ describes baptism as being born again, and we often discuss taking the sacrament as renewing our baptismal covenants. When we are born the world is new, and we are excited to explore its beautiful treasures. Repentance should lead us to the same feelings of joy as those of the angel who one-upped Nephi in a conversation! It should lead us to a joy so powerful that the awkwardness and fear of admitting failure isn’t an overpowering thought, but a moment of truth that leads to great joy.
Just this morning I woke up to a vivid memory of one of my failures being told me in a dream. Unlike other times when this has happened this time I conquered it with the confidence that only comes from repentance. Repentance gives us the confidence to stand before God and the ability in this life to find all the joy possible.