“I’m a good person, really. I go to church. I pray and keep the commandments of God. I should be receiving the blessings that come with being good. But I keep making mistakes, I keep falling short. Why am I stuck in a spiritual rut?”
Have you ever felt this way? What could possibly be getting in the way of your progression? Maybe it’s not just about keeping on top of the things you should do—maybe it’s about doing the things you’ve convinced yourself you don’t need to do.
One of the most horrific experiences of my undergraduate life was the time we had to video tape ourselves teaching a mock lesson to our peers. Correction—watching the video tape of myself teaching was the horrific part. Facing my mistakes was like being at the head of the line while walking through a mine field. When you’re forced to watch your own mistakes, the embarrassing moments explode in your face, leaving you in a pile of woe and discouragement. After you pick up the pieces of your shattered ego, you realize the exercise actually helped more than it hurt. You learn from your mistakes and use them to move forward. The times I face my faults with the intent to iron them out are the times I improve. In contrast, when I go along my merry way thinking everything is fine, I stagnate, and wonder why.
What drives the forward momentum is two-fold. It consists of the willingness to admit you are not perfect and the desire to improve—to aspire to be something better today than you were yesterday. It takes guts to look back at yourself and say, “What are my flaws? What am I doing wrong?” After all, what if my flaws are so vast, I’ll never be able to improve on them? It’s easier to bury your head in the sand and act as if everything is going just fine, but you remain in a rut. If you chose the path of denial, you face the problem of not going anywhere at all.
This problem often bleeds into our spiritual life, like the “woe is me” mantra from above. We follow God’s commandments and wonder why we are depressed. We think because we are righteous, this shouldn’t be happening. We feel we are exempt from the trials that other people experience. Or, we get in a rut and think we can never get out. What we fail to recognize is the cycle of faith that accompanies our existence, and how this cycle works for our progression.
There were two primary nations in constant struggle with each other in the Book of Mormon—the Nephites and the Lamanites. In the approximate 1000 year span of the book, both sides flip-flopped between being righteous and being wicked. I won’t tell you how the book turns out—you’ll have to read it for yourself. But there is one cycle that repeats throughout: I’ll call it the faith-repentance cycle. When the righteous people were experiencing prosperity, they soon became puffed up with pride, slacked off in keeping the commandments, and eventually found themselves in bondage. When they humbled themselves, repented of their ways, and exercised faith in Christ, they were delivered from bondage and became a prosperous people again. This is the cycle—from prosperity to bondage and back again, spiraling down like a whirlpool, then up again through repentance.
Logically, you would think that they would “learn from their mistakes,” stay in a state of humility and righteousness, thus never fall into bondage, especially after they witness the mercy of the Savior the first time. But this did not happen. Why? Perhaps their trials act as a teaching tool for us. The faith-repentance cycle is not something to overcome; rather it is a pattern that moves us forward toward our home in heaven.
Even the best of us make mistakes. Even the best of us get complacent in our faith. Just because we are “good people” or “we don’t commit the major sins, (murder, immorality, theft), this does not absolve us from struggles and pain. We all know this, and yet we judge ourselves poorly when we can’t lift ourselves up on our own or we can’t seem to stay on the spiritual high we crave. We try to overcome the cycle we studied in the gospel, saying, “I won’t be like the wicked Lamanites (or substitute any other ‘Ites” in the previous sentence). Then we beat ourselves up when we find ourselves falling short.
Here’s the little lie we tell ourselves—we can overcome the cycle. We may be able to learn much from observing the faith-repentance cycle, but what we cannot learn is how to get out of it. That’s what we really want to do—to become so good, we won’t ever fall into complacency or neglect, we will never commit an unrighteous act, and as long as we are faithful we can overcome all sin and become perfect before we die. Sin, after all, is what bad people do, not us. This is the lie that gets us stuck spiritually in the mud of our own making.
Think of a wagon wheel. It has many spokes holding up the outer frame of the wheel. Each spoke is vital in keeping the shape of the wheel. If the spokes are bent, the wheel is bent. If the spokes are missing, any of them, the wheel will falter. If the wheel is not perfectly circular, it will not turn and your wagon will be stuck.
This wagon wheel represents our life, every day, every minute even, until we leave this life for heaven. Each spoke represents a portion of the faith-repentance cycle—prosperity, complacency, sin, repentance, faith, forgiveness, prosperity again. In order for us to progress we need to roll through all the ups and downs of life. We cannot stay in a perpetual state of bliss, nor should we stay in a constant rut—otherwise our wheel stops where it is. There is no forward momentum. Heavenly Father knew this. He knew mistakes were part of the progression of life. He knew the only way to overcome those slip-ups was to provide a Savior, Jesus Christ, to atone for our flaws, to heal our hearts, to pick us up again and put us on the path toward heaven. Thus we will never be perfect in this life—the wagon wheel rolls through our imperfections. It continues to roll onward as we allow our humility to bring us to bended knee and pray for companionship of the Holy Ghost, blessings from Heavenly Father, and forgiveness through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Our Savior provides the spiritual relief to get through the down side of the cycle and gives hope on the upward climb. And the wheel turns and moves forward from trial to trial, again and again.
The lie is in thinking we can move forward without making mistakes. The lie is that we can get to heaven without the Savior. The lie is that we will never get out of our rut. The lie stops the natural movement of the wagon without letting it roll through its cycle—without letting our Lord and Savior be our Lord and Savior.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
This is the truth—Christ made a covenant with you to help you get back to heaven. His Atonement added the necessary spokes to the wheel to keep it rolling forward. Following His commandments—especially repentance—provides the way to make this happen. He turns the wheel of faith and gets you where you need to go. He knew you would need to repent daily. His forgiveness (through the atonement) rotates the wheel, inching you toward your heavenly home.
Will you stop getting in the way of the wheel?
“Come unto Christ and partake of the goodness of God, that (you) might enter into his rest.” (Jacob 1:7).
Stop thinking you are too good to repent. Stop thinking you are absolved from sin. Stop thinking mistakes make you a bad person. Stop thinking you can never be forgiven. Stop getting in the way of the covenant that Christ made with you. Let him let you progress. Earth-life will not last forever, and one day you will be perfected in Him—when He comes again. Until then, let the faith-repentance wheel move forward, and enjoy the ride.