Being Clean Again

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“Being Clean Again,” Ensign, Sept. 1996, 20

Being Clean Again

I learned that I could overcome my weakness. When my wife and I left the bishop’s office that evening, I felt as though I was freer than I had ever been in my whole life.

Since I was a child, I have enjoyed reading stories in books and magazines to explore the worlds that authors create. It has been exhilarating to live moments with the heroes, whether piloting rocket ships to distant planets, fighting off antagonists, or solving mysteries.

Unfortunately, not all publications and authors hold to the standards my parents taught me. Many publishers and authors are simply trying to sell their product, so they include material to excite baser passions. For the most part, these people unfortunately succeed: Many people buy their products and keep coming back for more.

As an avid reader, I came across inappropriate stories even at a young age. The feelings these materials elicited caused me to desire more. I began to seek out opportunities to look at inappropriate pictures to imagine new fantasies. As time passed, I found opportunities to view more explicit pictures. I also discovered that many respectable-looking books and magazines contained inappropriate materials. Even though I knew it was wrong, I still sought them out.

My passage into adulthood only increased my access to these types of materials. Though I did not spend money on pornography, I found it surprising how much material I could find by leafing through books in stores or spotting pornographic magazines in the apartment dumpster when I took out the trash. I knew that the adversary was working to ensnare me because as my desires increased, it seemed that opportunities to view such materials came more and more often. I knew my behavior was wrong, and a part of me loathed myself whenever I spent time with pornographic materials. I hid my actions from everyone I knew.

As time advanced, I served an honorable mission and later married in the temple, and for more than a decade I hid my interest in pornographic materials. I did not bring any such materials home, and I acted as if I didn’t know, or was uninterested in, what was in such books and magazines. During all this time, I held Church callings and attended my meetings. Anytime I received praise for something, I would discount it by thinking, If they knew what I do, they would be repulsed.

But as time went on, there grew in me the self-centered spirit that pervades all pornographic material. My wife sensed my increasing selfishness, and it bothered her immensely. Increasingly, I neglected my family, leaving the burden of raising our children to my wife.

As my occupational career progressed, occasions came for me to travel to seminars and training sessions. On these trips I almost always found opportunities to look at obscene books and magazines, and the memories and effects of those materials stayed with me when I returned home. During one business trip, I stayed in a hotel that offered an “adult” TV station, on which I viewed a pornographic movie. The guilt after this indulgence was significant, and when I returned home I sought more than ever to escape through reading.

Finally my wife confronted me. She didn’t know what was happening, but she knew that something was affecting me. Over a series of discussions, she encouraged me to tell her what was wrong. She had feared that my problem was possibly adultery, yet she was determined to find out rather than continue with what I had been putting the family through. Telling my wife my sin was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and it was clear she felt betrayed and was deeply hurt. But once it was all out and she saw the sincerity of my desire to repent of my sin and to not return to it, she hugged me and thanked me for letting her know. “Now we can begin to work on it together,” she said.

She encouraged me to see the bishop that very night. Because it was December and the bishop was conducting tithing settlements, it was fortunate that he had a block of time available that no one had signed up for. My wife went with me, for which I was grateful.

Though I did not want any more dishonesty in my life, telling the bishop of my behavior was almost as hard as telling my wife. Yet it didn’t take long and he was compassionate. He asked several pointed questions to determine exactly how far I had gone in my behavior, and then he gave me some excellent advice to follow, which included frequent prayer and daily scripture study, especially of the Book of Mormon. I should have been doing these things all along, but I had not been diligent. I committed to do as I was supposed to.

When I left the bishop’s office that evening, I felt a beautiful feeling—I felt as though I was freer than I had been in my whole life. As a result of that experience, the story of Moses and the brass serpent (see Num. 21:6–9; 1 Ne. 17:41) took on new significance for me. Before I confessed my sin I thought it would be too difficult to do; but afterwards I couldn’t believe how simple and straightforward it had been, though the hard road of complete repentance still lay ahead of me.

Because all of this occurred during the holiday season, I had a chance to see and hear the wonderful story of Ebenezer Scrooge. Charles Dickens must have truly known repentance in his own life, because his story is a masterful tale of how repentance can change a person. Scrooge throws off the shackles and bonds of miserliness and goes on to live a better life. It is a pity that his name has come to be associated with selfish, even mean, behavior; the way he acts at the end of the tale would be a much better way to remember him. As I watched Scrooge’s walls break down and as I observed his sincere repentance, I received a witness that I too was facing an opportunity to repent in my life. I too could change. I too could throw off the bonds and shackles of my sinful, self-serving, self-focused behavior and start anew.

Anyone who has needed eyeglasses knows the feeling of wonder and awe that comes from wearing the correct prescription. Instead of seeing masses of green, one sees trees with individual leaves. Instead of vague blurs for faces, figures on a stage have real human features. Wearing a new pair of eyeglasses is the best analogy I can think of to explain how the Holy Ghost affected me after my confession and as I put into practice the counsel of the bishop. I felt as if I were truly seeing the effects of the Spirit for the first time in a long time. During my many years of sinful behavior, I had been present at occasions where the Spirit of the Lord was ministering. I had even felt promptings once in a while, but it had been as though I was spiritually nearsighted. I had been able to get some idea of what was going on, but it was not a clear view.

Though I continued to wrestle against my weakness and face the remorse and hard consequences of sin, during the first weeks after that first talk with the bishop I felt like a starving man who had been invited to a feast. The scriptures began to mean more to me, my prayers became more meaningful, and talks in sacrament meetings touched my soul in ways they never had before. In the intervening time, I have found that it is difficult to maintain the same intensity of that feeling, but by reading the scriptures and praying daily I have been able to remain much closer to the Spirit. I have been able to feel the Lord’s influence as I make decisions and struggle to resist temptations.

I am very happy that I have stopped viewing pornography. I feel I know a little of the torment of a damned soul; I lived for years with guilt for sins that literally were damning me. I know I must remain vigilant against allowing this temptation and my weakness to enter my life again. Fortunately, another thing that has changed is my attitude. I now know that I can overcome this weakness. I don’t have to live with the guilt, self-centeredness, and selfishness I had been harboring.

About three weeks after I saw the bishop the first time, I heard a departing missionary mention in her talk that she felt her life had been preserved at various times. She thanked people who had saved her from drowning or being run over by a car. My mind went back to a time when, as a boy, I pulled my baby brother from a pond. If I had not been there, he probably would have drowned. I’m the oldest child in my family, but as I sat there pondering, I realized that I too have someone who cared enough to save me from drowning. I received a witness that day that the Lord Jesus Christ did pay for my sins if I would repent. Tears ran down my face as the Spirit testified to me that this was so.

Yet the Lord Jesus Christ did more for me than I did for my brother. It didn’t hurt or cost me anything to save my brother, but Jesus had to suffer in order to save me. The gratitude I feel for our Savior, who willingly took our sins upon himself, is inexpressible. Without him, I would have drowned spiritually. Truly, Jesus Christ can save us all if we will let him.

Illustrated by Anne Marie Oborn

Detail from Christ and the Rich Young Ruler, by Heinrich Hofmann