I keep my head bowed as the sacrament is passed. I say a prayer, listing to Heavenly Father the things I’d done wrong the past week, the ways I could have been better. I promise to change. I think of the Savior. I take the sacrament. Then I do the exact same thing the next week, repeating pretty much the same things.
For a long time, that’s what I thought the sacrament was: thinking of the Savior, repenting, and promising that this week would be different.
I was vaguely aware that this process wasn’t helping me progress. Each week really wasn’t that different from the previous one. My personal prayers were still repetitive and infrequent. I still directed negative thoughts toward people who talked loudly on the morning train. I still watched too much TV in my downtime after work. These behaviors seemed fixed, and even though I felt bad about them, I wasn’t sure what else to do to get rid of them. Something was clearly missing. I just didn’t know what.
During general conference I found that missing piece. President Dallin H. Oaks, First Counselor in the First Presidency, taught: “Another source of spiritual uplift and growth is an ongoing practice of repenting, even of seemingly small transgressions. . . . Such repentance should precede our weekly partaking of the sacrament.”1
Suddenly, it was obvious why I was having trouble: I was only repenting on Sundays. By only reflecting on my sins during the few minutes of the sacrament, I was allowing myself to grow complacent during the rest of the week, ultimately preventing the possibility of change.
President Oaks’s teaching helped me identify three ways I could incorporate this missing piece into my repentance process.
Jesus Christ’s Atonement is for everything, even bad habits or temporal distractions—basically anything that may be preventing us from becoming more like Him. The Savior understands that even the smallest things can eventually drive us from His path, so He wants to help us overcome those things as well. To allow Him to do that, I decided to start thinking about those things in a different way—as things that were keeping me from drawing close to the Savior.
Doing this helped me see my shortcomings more clearly and has helped me take them more seriously. I feel a greater urgency to get rid of them accompanied by a new optimism that comes from knowing that Christ can help me in this. It makes sense that if I want to shake these habits, it’s not enough to pray about them once a week. I need to consult the Lord daily.
Daily repentance allows us to analyze our progress realistically as we report back to Heavenly Father. We are better able to see where our weaknesses lie and ask Him for specific help while seeking forgiveness. By facing those little things that keep me distanced from the Savior every day, my prayers have transformed, and so have my actions. Instead of settling into my routine as the week goes on, I constantly feel a desire to improve. I feel the Spirit influencing my decisions. I have more willpower to “choose the harder right,”2 which I know comes through the enabling power of Christ’s Atonement.
Although I had good intentions when I tried to deal with my sins on my own, relying on God throughout the week is what has made all the difference. When I do this, I feel Him near me as I’m trying to change; I no longer feel as though He’s simply waiting at the end of a really long tunnel.
As President Oaks explained, the sacrament does not encompass repentance—it’s a weekly step in a recurring cycle. It’s a time for us to evaluate our week, express gratitude for the Savior, and recommit to do better. As I repent daily, the sacrament takes on a new meaning for me. I no longer have to cram the whole repentance process into 10 minutes. Instead, I actually think about Christ’s sacrifice and marvel at His infinite love and mercy. As I partake of the bread and water, I truly feel cleansed and ready to improve a little more the next week.
Repenting during the week gives us a chance to appreciate the sacrament for the miracle it is. Understanding that repentance is a daily process has empowered me to face my shortcomings with courage and optimism. I no longer feel like I am alone with my problems. Rather than feeling weighed down and discouraged in those moments, I can recapture the hope and joy that I experienced at baptism.