Swept

Interior with a barrel,” by Cyprian Norwid

I’ve been thinking today about sustainable change. It’s true that a daily focus on repentance is ennobling and liberating. (See Russell M. Nelson, “We Can Do Better and Be Better,” General Conference, April 2019). Consistent, incremental progress can result in tremendous growth over time.

It’s also true, however, that we can get into a rut: repenting and then slipping back into old habits. I think this is the meaning of the following parable of Jesus:

When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.

Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.

Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.

Matthew 12:43-45

Is it possible to repent and not really mean it? Is it possible to give up a sin half-heartedly, but leave the door open a crack just in case the sin happens to drop by?

So here’s my question: As part of my daily repentance, how can I modify my habits, my schedule, and my environment so that my sins don’t want to live here any more?

Here are a few thoughts:

  1. Enlist help from friends. If the people I’m closest to know what I’m working on, they can support me in achieving those goals. Alma and the sons of Mosiah were a source of strength to one another following their conversion. (See Mosiah 27:32-33.)
  2. Get busy serving. I know that it’s possible to be too busy, but it’s also possible to be not busy enough. Acts of service fill our time and thoughts with good things, so that there is less room for things we are trying to avoid. (See Mosiah 2:11, 18.)
  3. Spend quiet time in holy places. Nephi climbed a mountain frequently to commune with God. (See 1 Nephi 18:3.) King Benjamin’s people gathered at the temple to hear him preach. (See Mosiah 2:5-6.) The Savior visited a group of people gathered at the temple in Bountiful. (See 3 Nephi 11:1-11.) I can seek out sacred places, and I can strive to make my home a more sacred place.
  4. Invite the Spirit of the Lord to be with me. The Joseph Smith version of the parable quoted above says that the house is “empty, swept, and garnished” because “the good spirit leaveth him unto himself” (JST, Matthew 12:38). King Benjamin reminded his people not to “withdraw [them]selves from the Spirit of the Lord, that it may have no place in [them] to guide [them] in wisdom’s paths” (Mosiah 2:36). The Holy Ghost can help me walk wisely and avoid my former sins.

Today, I will strive for sustainable growth. I will not only repent of my sins, but I will strive to live in a way that keeps them from returning.

2 thoughts on “Swept

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  1. One eternal law in both the physical & spiritual world is that when we create a vacuum, it will always be filled — with good or with bad. It takes effort to fill a spiritual vacuum created by repentance. If we do not conscientiously fill it with good, it will fill with bad. (The very essence of why most drug rehab programs do not work)

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    1. Great insight! While it is possible to be overscheduled, it is also possible to be underscheduled. Empty spaces in our calendars, in our homes, and in our budgets can so easily be filled with worthless things if we’re not careful and intentional. Thanks for the comment!

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