Repentance is re-aligning yourself with God.
Sometimes we look at repentance as simply wiping out a sin. A quick "I'm sorry" to God will do. But repentance can be so much more than that. Repentance is using our agency to align ourselves with God. Because we are flawed mortal beings we need constant re-alignment. The repentance process is less about a quick "I'm sorry" to God and more about seeking to better ourselves on our eternal quest to seek after God.
One of the most important things we can do in our lives is to learn how to truly repent and teach it to others. True repentance is powerful. It provides any willing heart the power to access the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and truly change for the better.
I hope you will indulge me as I share what I have come to know as the 12 steps to repentance, based on the Alcoholics Anonymous 12-step program as well as the LDS version in the Addiction Recovery Program. As you will see, these steps apply to every individual who seeks to reconcile themselves with God and align their lives to His will.
Step 1: Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless and imperfect.
This step involves humbling ourselves and admitting that we have numerous flaws and imperfections that keep us from God. This isn't about any specific sin or circumstance, but rather a general humbling where we are willing to figure out where we are weak and where we need improvement.
Step 2: Come to know that the power of God and the Atonement of Jesus Christ can change you and restore you to complete spiritual health.
Study the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Learn about His mission, His life, and His ability to help you heal and change you. You can't have faith in something you don't know about. Sometimes we need to renew our knowledge and faith.
I love this quote from Elder James E. Faust because it teaches us that no matter where you are in your knowledge and testimony of the Atonement, there is still more to learn.
"My reason for wanting to learn all I can about the Atonement is partly selfish: Our salvation depends on believing in and accepting the Atonement. 1Such acceptance requires a continual effort to understand it more fully. The Atonement advances our mortal course of learning by making it possible for our natures to become perfect. All of us have sinned and need to repent to fully pay our part of the debt. When we sincerely repent, the Savior’s magnificent Atonement pays the rest of that debt. Any increase in our understanding of His atoning sacrifice draws us closer to Him. Literally, the Atonement means to be “at one” with Him."
- James E Faust Nov 2001 “The Atonement: Our Greatest Hope”)Step 3: Decide to turn your will over to God and His son, Jesus Christ.
This sounds so simple, and yet it is so hard to actually put into action. It takes a conscious effort to makes the changes needed in our lives to truly repent and align ourselves with God. This is your moment to make that conscious effort and truly ready yourself to turn your will over to God. As you repeat these steps over and over in your life this step will have more and deeper meaning as each time you more fully give your will to God. Our agency is the only thing that is truly ours. To give that back to God is the greatest gift we can give.
Step 4: Make an inventory of the things in your life that are keeping you from God.
Here is where you list out your sins and shortcomings. I like to think of this as cleaning out your attic. When you first start there are a bunch of boxes and dirt up in your attic. So, you organize them, get rid of some stuff, and sweep the floor, and feel proud of all you've accomplished. As you repeat the steps of repentance over and over you keep coming back to the attic and seeing there is more you can do. With each cleaning you see more you can get rid of and more you can clean. Even once it is empty you find that, as with all attics, dust and cobwebs accumulate and must be swept out and taken care of on a regular basis. As we repeat the steps of repentance over and over in our lives we will one day end up with a sparkling clean attic that we've spent a lifetime cleaning. This is much better than simply accumulating a lifetime's worth of junk up there. We will use this attic analogy in some of the other steps.
Step 5: Admit to Heavenly Father the exact nature of your wrongs.
This is the moment where you humbly kneel before your maker and confess all those things from your inventory. If necessary, you also confess those sins to someone else like appropriate Priesthood Authority. Priesthood Authority is necessary when a sin is so serious that guidance is needed to work through the issue. Think of this as a box in the attic that is too heavy to carry alone.
Step 6: Become ready to have God remove your weaknesses.
Once again, this is easier said than done. There are a lot of weaknesses, sins, and shortcomings in our life that we like to hold on to. Are you really ready to let them go? Think about those boxes in the attic. Even though we know the boxes are doing us no good in there, it can still be hard to get rid of them. This is entirely a mental exercise, but a necessary to step that can take some time. As we repeat these steps we can see the improvements in our life that have come from giving up these weaknesses and it can become easier to let go of the weaknesses we carry with us.
Step 7: Ask God to remove your weaknesses and make up for your shortcomings.
We've already found in Step 1 that we are nothing compared to God. No matter how hard we try, we all fall short of the glory of God. We need his help. A humble prayer of supplication for God's help in our lives is all that is necessary here, but it can be a powerful moment in our lives as we connect with our Father in Heaven.
Step 8: Make a list of people you have harmed, or steps you need to take to reconcile yourself.
Just like our inventory in Step 4, it's time to make a list of the people we've harmed. Perhaps you have harmed no one and simply need to take corrective measures in your life. It's time to list them out and figure out exactly where you need to go from here. If you've been gossiping about someone, the person you've gossiped about should be on the list as well as all those you've told the gossip to. If you've been neglecting personal scripture study this would be the time where you list out a plan of action to make daily scripture study a part of your life.
Step 9: Make restitution to those you have harmed or take action to correct your wrongs.
Now is the time to take that list from Step 8 and do something about it. This is where you get to right your wrongs and take the necessary steps to improve your life and re-align yourself with God. This step requires complete humility. You cannot repent without this step. This is where you change and strive to be better.
Step 10: Continue to take inventory of your life, and when you are wrong promptly admit it.
Repentance is a constant process in our lives. These steps should be repeated continually. If we want forward progression on our eternal journey then we better start walking. These steps propel us forward.
Step 11: Seek through prayer to know the will of God for your life and to have the power to carry it out.
If we want to align ourselves with God then we need to stay in contact with him. At this point, you've cleaned up some of the problems in your life. You are closer to the spirit and have your eye on God. Now is the time to ask Him how He wants you to move forward and what He wants you to do in life. Keep in contact.
Step 12: Bear witness of the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
This step is special. I believe it is a requirement of true repentance. After experiencing true change in our life and seeing the power of the Atonement in action, we need to share it with others. This step is perhaps the easiest of them all. After experiencing such power in your life, it is nearly impossible to keep it to yourself. You will find yourself naturally testifying of the Savior and His miraculous ability to save.