“Fasting and Prayer: Detergent for Sin,” New Era, Oct. 1975, 15
Scientific breakthroughs and technological innovations bombard us on every side. Among these innovations are transistorized radios and tape recorders, sugar-frosted corn flakes, and high-powered detergents capable of removing the most stubborn stains from clothes without harming the fabric.
All of us are guilty of occasionally spilling our gravy on our shirt or getting grass stains or automobile grease on our trousers. How convenient and helpful these marvelous cleansing agents are in improving our outward appearance.
But what about our inward appearance? How do we go about removing stains of sin from our soul? The Lord promised us through his prophet Isaiah, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:18.)
How comforting it is to receive the Lord’s assurance that our stained spirits may be restored to purity and our inward appearance become pleasing in the Lord’s sight. The Lord expects us to undergo sanctification or cleansing as evidenced by him when he spoke in these, the latter days:
“For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance;
“Nevertheless, he that repents and does the commandments … shall be forgiven.” (D&C 1:31–32.)
Just as a careless youth is expected not to get grass stains on his Sunday clothes, the Lord expects us to keep our spirits and bodies unspotted from sin. Like our earthly parents, the Lord realizes that we will all occasionally be tempted by soul-staining activities. However, he reminds us that “there hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (1 Cor. 10:13.)
We are often personally concerned and sometimes discouraged at our apparent inability to resist certain temptations despite the promise that the enticings of Satan will never be greater than our capacity to resist. But as the Lord explained to the prophet Moroni, we are given weaknesses for a wise purpose:
“And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” (Ether 12:27.)
We’ve all seen the television commercials where ecstatic housewives use magic brand X detergent to remove impossible stains from clothing and then exclaim wildly, “My! They’re bright as the sun and white as snow!”
A similar, though more lasting, reaction was expressed by Alma the Younger as he succeeded, with the Lord’s help, in cleansing his sin-stained soul:
“And it came to pass that as I was thus racked with torment, while I was harrowed up by the memory of my many sins, behold, I remembered also to have heard my father prophesy unto the people concerning the coming of one Jesus Christ, a Son of God, to atone for the sins of the world.
“Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.
“And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more.
“And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain!” (Alma 36:17–20.)
The light and joy of complete forgiveness is ours for the taking if we’re willing to follow the Lord’s advice in the scriptures. He requires “a broken heart and a contrite spirit” (3 Ne. 9:20) and humble acknowledgement of our sins and weaknesses. Then, as with Alma, we must cry unto him for forgiveness. We often hear of the four R’s of repentance: (1) recognition, (2) remorse, (3) restitution, and (4) return to righteousness. Forgiveness also includes the confession of sins to those offended or, in the case of more serious transgressions, to the bishop. Unfortunately, many youth (and adults as well) find it difficult to repent and enjoy the feeling of light and purity experienced by Alma.
The questions many youths ask are “How can I once again feel clean? What kind of detergent action will purify my soul?” May I suggest two simple steps as a positive start in this direction:
1. Sincere, honest prayer of long enough duration to reach the throne of God. For Alma this took three days and nights. Enos cried unto the Lord all day and night before he heard the Lord’s assurance that his sins had been forgiven.
The absolute length of one’s prayer is relatively unimportant. What is extremely important, however, is the two-way communication process. We often ridicule certain religions that prescribe the use of a fixed prayer, and yet we are often guilty of the same vain, repetitious form of prayer. We should pray until we receive the confirmation in our hearts and souls that someone is really listening, that we are really communicating.
2. Fasting. Just as we often confuse saying a prayer with actually praying, we neither pray long enough nor fast long enough to commune with God. The detergent action of fasting and prayer can only be fully effective when the detergent is in prolonged contact with the stains of the soul. Then, and only then, can we begin the process of becoming perfect and can experience overwhelming joy like Alma the Younger as we achieve sanctification in the sight of the Lord.