Life is hard; it is hard for me, for you, for everyone. I have made mistakes that could have ruined my life and the lives of those I love. In fact, “making mistakes” is a universal earthly experience, with the one very important exception of Jesus Christ. The real dilemma is that all sin, big or small, causes feelings of guilt and shame. The solution to this dilemma is found only through the Savior’s atonement; only through the atonement can we forever be freed from these feelings.
What is the relationship between sin and guilt? Sin is defined as, “an offense against religious or moral law.” Guilt is defined as, “the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously.” I would like to share two experiences that each left me with feelings of guilt.
The first time I remember actually feeling guilty for something I had done was at a time when I was much younger and accidentally did something very dumb. Then I kept doing it. One day, however, it “hit” me, the guilt for what I had been doing. I sat down between the couch and the wall hiding myself from the world, crying and ashamed of what I had done. A few minutes into my self-reproach, my mom found me. I fell into her arms bawling uncontrollably and told her what I had done. She comforted me.
The second experience happened on my mission. My companion and I taught a man named Bob whose main struggle was addiction. Acting out on this addiction finally caused his wife and young daughters to leave. One day while we were teaching him he mentioned that if he relapsed again we would “find him on the tracks” or, in other words, he would commit suicide. During one of our lessons I felt the distinct impression that we should arrange to meet with him again that Friday instead of the usual Monday. I ignored this prompting, however, because we were late to our next appointment.
The following Monday arrived and we knocked on his door, but there was no answer. We called him but there was still no answer. We called one of his friends, but he knew nothing. Finally, we talked to his boss at his place of employment and learned that Bob had not been to work since the previous Thursday.
I began to panic. I went home and cried. My very motherly landlady held me as I cried, but there was very little comfort; I knew I had killed Bob. Because I had not followed the prompting I had received he was dead at his own hand.
Thankfully, after a very long and remorse-filled two days, we received a call from Bob. He had relapsed Friday. He had relapsed one hour after we would have met with him had I followed that prompting.
These experiences are very dissimilar to each other, but, interestingly enough, they elicited similar reactions from me; in each case I felt a crippling sense of guilt and sorrow. The remedy for both of these situations has already been provided through the Savior’s infinite atonement because the atonement covers both situations. Christ suffered and died so that I do not have to be plagued by feelings of guilt or hopelessness forever. Because of the merciful power of the atonement, I was able to move beyond these feelings.
The way we access the atonement is called repentance which is defined as, “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.” How do we turn from sin? The simplest answer is that we turn from sin by turning toward the Savior. By turning toward the Savior we are turning toward the atonement and toward the bright springtime of hope. I know that the atonement is real because I have used it in my life and have helped others use it in their lives. All sin, big or small, causes feelings of guilt and shame, but feelings of guilt and shame can be alleviated. Through the atonement we can forever be free from these feelings. “Hopeless” can finally and eternally be replaced by the Savior’s sweet message of hope.