Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Power and Beauty of Repentance

When I was a child, we had the series of beginning readers for the scriptures that are put out by the Church Distribution Center. One picture in particular caught my attention. It showed a young woman kneeling at Jesus’s feet, washing them and anointing them with precious oils. The picture stuck with me because of her hair. It was long, dark, and beautiful, and I wanted hair just like hers.

From the scripture account, we learn that her name was Mary, and she was a sinner. She took His message so to heart that she sought Him out and not only used her expensive ointment to soothe His travel-weary feet, but she dried them with her lovely hair. Hers was an act of submission and humility. She not only wanted to be forgiven of her sins—she wanted to demonstrate her complete willingness to change her life. Christ recognized her sincerity and defended her actions to the Pharisee who denounced her.

Sometime later, Christ paid Mary, His new disciple, a visit in her own home. She was still filled with the desire to learn all she could about the gospel and wanted nothing more than to listen to Him teach. That’s right—Mary from the story of Mary and Martha is the same Mary who washed His feet with her tears. (John 11:2)

I don’t know why I never made this connection until recently. I’ve always pictured Mary, the sister of Martha, as being a goody-two-shoes, that girl who went to all her church meetings and thought reading her scriptures was actually fun and had a different marker for every topic so she could color-code her footnotes as she read. But to make the connection that this Mary and the Mary of the foot washing was the same woman—it put both stories into a completely different perspective for me.

The gospel of Jesus Christ makes complete change absolutely possible. We may think that we’re too far gone, that our sins are too great, that we can never come back to Him. We may feel that we’re unlovable or that we can never be washed clean, but this story proves that He can and He will heal us. Mary was a sinner. The scripture doesn’t tell us just what her sins were, but we can imagine they were pretty big, based on the amount of sorrow she felt as she repented of them. Her grief over her mistakes was so great that she wept upon His feet and washed them with her tears. But later, when Christ came to her home, He held her up as an example of someone who was earnestly seeking after righteousness. He no longer condemned her for whatever her mistakes might have been. He recognized what she had become, not who she had been in the past. He said He would remember her sins no more, and He meant it.

It’s not easy to repent. It requires that we look at ourselves from every angle and see things about ourselves we’d rather not see. It means that we have to put aside our pride, listen to the Spirit, and identify ways in which we need to change to draw closer to Him. I don’t know of one person who has come face-to-face with his or her sins and enjoyed the process, but I’ve heard, time and time again, people speak of how freeing it is to turn those mistakes over to Christ and to ask Him to make them clean through the power of the Atonement. I’ve felt for myself the joy that comes from knowing I’m now on the right path. It’s instant—you don’t have to wait until you’ve completely given up that sin. It comes as soon as you start getting rid of it. It carries you through each step and makes it a beautiful experience. You are guided and comforted as you set your life in order and make better choices.

I can’t express enough how grateful I am for the gift of the Atonement and for everything it makes possible in my life, and I know that as you turn to Him and tell Him of the things you would like to change, with real intent, He will walk you through the process as He has me, countless times, and He will remember those sins no more.

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