Scott Taylor: Repentance and remembering — and not remembering

President Nelson invites all to “discover the joy of daily repentance,” adding, “Pure faith keeps us moving forward on the covenant path.”

As returned missionaries welcomed home their returning mission leaders at an outdoor gathering, one young man cautiously watched from a short, deliberate distance as peers greeted the couple.

Noticing the returned missionary tentative and hovering nearby, the mission president received promptings to go to him, sensing and understanding his apprehensions.

The leader discreetly broke away for a private moment. Calling the young man by name, he said: “The Spirit tells me you are hesitant to come talk with us, because you think that when I see you, I’ll remember a certain time we spent together.” The young man nodded, biting his lip.

“I remember you coming to me to resolve some matters from before your mission. I remember meeting and spending appropriate time to help you through your process of repentance, directing you to the Savior and His Atonement.

“But I can’t for the life of me remember anything of the transgressions shared or details from our meetings. I didn’t recall them after you resolved everything and continued serving as an exemplary missionary, and I don’t recall them now.”

The two then embraced, grateful for the Lord’s blessings of repentance, His mercy and His forgiveness.

I was the returning mission leader in the anecdote; my young friend has granted permission to share it.

The moment is representative of experiences in ward, stake, mission and missionary training center leadership assignments where I’ve helped connect repenting individuals with the Savior and His Atonement.

It also represents how the Atonement of Jesus Christ helps and blesses counseling leaders — in part by not remembering.

I recall as a new bishop listening to an individual tearfully recount mistakes in a desire to repent, return to God and be forgiven. I remember thinking, “How am I ever going to forget this?”

But I have — nearly completely. I can’t remember anything about the individual, including name, age, gender, circumstances or resolution — nothing other than “how am I ever going to forget this?” And I believe I remember that phrase simply to be reminded how and why I have forgotten everything else.

Doctrine and Covenants 58:42 reads: “Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.” As a counseling leader, I regularly shared it as a reassurance that not only would the Lord not remember, but neither would I.

The scripture often prompted questions: “But why do I remember the mistakes I’ve made? If I can’t forget them, does it mean I’m not forgiven?”

We remember our sins not as a punishment but rather as a protection. We remember them not to beat ourselves up or drag ourselves down, as the adversary would want and helps us to do. Rather, we remember our mistakes as we strive to repent and not repeat them. Remembering our mistakes and comparing how we felt then versus how we feel now is a way to know we have learned, grown and repented.

After mistakes, we can have feelings of guilt, shame and embarrassment, as well as emotional and spiritual burdens that weigh on our minds and souls and almost feel like physical weights on our shoulders. We don’t want to feel that way again.

Through repentance, those feelings, those weights and those burdens are lifted. We still remember our mistakes and errors, but we feel different, more free and unencumbered. We can feel the cleansing power of repentance, with “a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself and about the world” (“Repentance,” Bible Dictionary).

In an April 2022 general conference message, President Russell M. Nelson invited Latter-day Saints to “discover the joy of daily repentance,” adding: “Repenting is the key to progress. Pure faith keeps us moving forward on the covenant path.”

Constantly thinking and focusing on mistakes we’ve repented of in the past is like trying to walk forward on the path while looking backward, obsessed with something behind us. Not facing and progressing forward increases the possibility of tripping, stumbling or veering off course.

We instead should face and continue forward, perhaps with an occasional glance back — not to be frustrated at length with what is in our past. Rather, we see it as resolved, we witness the distance of progress made since, and we resume the proper direction and our faithful focus on the desired destination. All with the Lord’s encouragement and help.

I remember how I feel when needing to repent — and the change I feel when I do. I remember the importance of facing and moving forward on the covenant path. And I remember that as a counseling leader, I have forgotten much.

Most of all, I — like you — strive to remember the Lord and His promise to remember my sins no more.

Related Stories
Sarah Jane Weaver: How Relief Society sisters in Belgium shared peace that transcends language
What this BYU study found about how repentance strengthens families
How an Apostle of the Lord taught repentance and the Atonement of Jesus Christ to training missionaries
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed