Have you ever said or done something others just won’t let you forget?
Once, when I was between the ages of, um, 5 and 13, I asked my family while on a beach vacation, “Is Bear Lake bigger than the ocean?”
They’ll never let me live it down.
My little sister followed suit with an equally stupid (although that’s up for debate) question. “Is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco or California?”
She joined me in the Hall of Shame that day.
Sometimes we say or do stupid things. And sometimes people like to remind us.
To get a little more serious here, that is Satan’s favorite game. When it comes to the mistakes we’ve made, he loves rubbing it in, especially after we feel we’ve repented and even experienced the miracle of forgiveness.
And that can feel like a sucker punch to the heart.
I bring this up because I’ve recently been one of his targets. I have this self-harming habit of revisiting past sins, mostly when I am making an extra effort to live righteously. I find myself agonizing over who I once was and I cannot believe I did or said something so…..wrong. The adversary capitalizes on those feelings.
It’s as if Satan exploits my desire to be good by reminding me of the less-than-admirable moments of my past. He dethrones my happiness and I inadvertently invite him to wreak havoc on my peace.
In short, he tries to convince me of this overarching, spiritually destructive lie:
If I can remember my mistake this clearly, I haven’t really been forgiven.
I spent several weeks earlier this year obsessing over a time in my life I’m not proud of. I opened a wound that I thought had healed, and the self-loathing started to bite. Even though I’d repented, counseled with a priesthood leader, and cried countless tears of remorse at the time, guilt for mistakes from YEARS ago creeped back into my life.
I just couldn’t stop dwelling on it. I needed answers. I needed closure. So I resolutely began a study of repentance and forgiveness. I’ve learned and felt two truths that have helped combat the adversary’s lie:
- We can simultaneously remember a past mistake AND feel peace about it.
- The reward of complete repentance is complete gratitude.
So let’s talk about truth number one.
Satan isn’t stupid. He knew us in the premortal life. Just like an obnoxious sibling, he knows how to get under our skin. He knows what tactics to use to discourage us and halt our progress, and for many of us that means smothering us with guilt so much so that we forget the grace that once gave us a fresh start. So of course he’ll throw every stupid mistake back in our face.
Said Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Satan will try to make us believe that our sins are not forgiven because we can remember them. Satan is a liar.”
The Lord promises that He will “remember [our sins] no more,” but He never said that we would not remember them. What would be the point of going through it all if the experience and the lesson and the change of heart were just wiped from our memory?
Elder Tad Callister teaches, “The memory of guilt is a warning, a spiritual ‘stop sign’ that cries out when similar temptations confront us: ‘Don’t go down that road. You know the pain it can bring.’”
The mistake I mentioned earlier did bring me a lot of pain. I never want to feel that way again. And if ever a similar temptation or situation is on my horizon, I’m counting on God to remind me of the pain and the guilt I never want to repeat.
When I accept those memories of guilt as warnings from my all-loving God, I can feel peace. I can stop second-guessing whether I was truly forgiven. And if I can recognize that, then I must be living worthy of the Spirit.
That brings me peace. Peace about where I stand with God and peace about what I once did. I can separate my current self from a past sin. As Elder Callister says, “The memory ceases to be part of how we see ourselves.”
That brings me to truth number two.
On my quest for answers, I asked God what He wanted me to learn from all this, why the memory of this particular mistake kept popping up.
I had somewhat of a revelation.
Recalling that mistake serves as a great reminder that I never ever ever want to feel that low again, but more importantly, it is a reminder of my Redeemer’s mercy and the person He saved me from becoming.
And that just renews and intensifies my gratitude for Him. Insignificant me was worth His significant sacrifice.
Without Him, my sins and weaknesses would be quicksand, but with Him, I can be exalted.
Maybe the intermittent feelings of guilt are worth the love and gratitude and appreciation I feel for my Savior.
So while complete repentance might leave you with a memory of the mistake itself, it leaves you with the superior reminder that Christ loved you enough to save you.
I’d like to close with some words of wisdom by Elder Dale G. Renlund:
“In His mercy, God promises forgiveness when we repent and turn from wickedness–so much so that our sins will not even be mentioned to us. For us, because of the Atonement of Christ and our repentance, we can look at our past deeds and say, “’Twas I; but ’tis not I.” No matter how wicked, we can say, “That’s who I was. But that past wicked self is no longer who I am.”
So remember, remember:
- Even the world’s smallest ocean—the Arctic—is vastly larger than Bear Lake.
- The Golden Gate Bridge is in BOTH San Francisco and California.
- Heavenly Father and His Son loved us enough to save us.