I have some strange childhood memories. One of the most vivid is my baptism day. October 31, 1981. Unfortunately, the memories of the baptism itself are somewhat hazy, but what I remember clearly is this feeling of being completely cheated by happenstance. I had an October birthday, and our stake did primary baptisms on the last Saturday of the month. In 1981 that meant I was getting baptized on Halloween, and there lay the problem. In my eight year old wisdom, I knew that I’d be pure and sin free upon getting baptized, but I thought that the chances of getting through an entire Halloween without sinning were slim to none. I was mad that the other kids weren’t baptized on so tempting a day, and therefore their “cleanliness” would last much longer than mine. That just was not fair, in fact, it was so not fair that I distinctly remember the feeling 23 years later.
I’d like to think that my understanding of baptism and the atonement is much more sophisticated now, but honestly, there are things I just don’t understand. I can live with questions. I think that ambiguity forces us to search and think, and I appreciate the opportunity to use my mind as well as my spirit in my attempts at eternal progression. But here’s a question that I would love to discuss with the group, because I’ve never been fully satisfied with any answer I’ve come up with. How do was practically apply the atonement, specifically the process of repentance, to our lives which are filled with small, possibly unnoticed transgressions?
Again, in younger days, I was wondering how I could reconcile what I knew was the need to repent of all of my sins, with the fact that I couldn’t remember them all. I asked my dad if we had to repent and be forgiven of every one of our sins, and he said yes. That was pretty deflating, because I was pretty sure I’d never catch up. So I started these blanket prayers at night: “Please forgive me for everything I’ve done wrong today.” (Had I been a lawyer then, I would have asked for retro-active application…back to 10/31/81–the fateful Halloween…)
As I matured(?) in the gospel, it occured to me that perhaps the process of change was the most important one. Was my eye single to the glory of God? Was my heart intent on improving? As my life progressed, was I, line upon line, receiving His image in my countenance? Well….I guess I’m trying. But my life is still filled with those small sins. I take my blessings for granted, I’m prideful, I don’t always keep the Sabbath day holy, I cuss at people who cut me off in the morning commute, I gossip, I don’t magnify my calling, I “forget” to fast etc. etc. etc. If I’m really struggling with something, or it’s interfering with my life (like harboring ill feelings toward someone) then I work on it, repent, and then sadly, forget the lesson and do it again. We could all make our own lists, and they would probably look a lot the same. To use a common metaphor, these are all tiny “spots”, but if I don’t repent, they are keeping me from a perfect cleanness. They are holding me back.
How do we apply the universal atonement to our lives when we are so flawed we can’t even keep up with the repenting. Is a general shift for the positive good enough? Does the cleansing power of taking the sacrament weekly apply if we aren’t even thinking about, or recognizing, what we’ve done wrong? How do we access the Savior’s grace for the sum of our small failings?