This year, my second child was baptized on his birthday. He was so excited! We talked with him on many occasions about the importance of his baptism and the covenants he was making. We reflected on Jesus’ baptism, and how he is following His example by being baptized by immersion. We shared our testimonies of the importance of receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and how he would have the Spirit as a constant friend from now on. He understood the importance of the Priesthood authority that his dad has to baptize him and perform his confirmation ordinance. 

Since his  baptism, we have talked with him about his covenant path, and the commitment he made when he was baptized to keep following Jesus’ example to represent Him in the things he does. (By the way, did you know that “covenant path” was mentioned more times in this past General Conference than in the previous seven Conferences combined? I guess it’s pretty important!) I am very proud of our son and his desire to follow Jesus’ example. I am grateful that he will have the Holy Ghost to guide him throughout his life.  

I had the privilege of teaching a strong woman on my mission. She had been taught by several sets of missionaries, and regularly attended church meetings. She lived in a highly populated area of church members, and demonstrated just about every commitment she had been asked to do by the Sisters. But for some reason, she just could not commit to baptism. One day, my companion and I sat down with her to discuss her commitment to the gospel, and what it meant to her. She told us that she loved the church and the scriptures, but she just couldn’t see why our church was the only way. We talked to her about Priesthood authority, and the Restoration, and finally I had an inspiration to share with her a scripture I had read in my personal study that morning.

It was in 3 Nephi 14:13-14: “Enter ye in at the strait gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, which leadeth to destruction, and many there be who go in thereat; Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” I testified to this sister that she had found that strait gate, and that her commitment to the Savior hinged on her willingness to enter. It was the first time I had ever born such a powerful witness, and one that was so stringent. She closed her eyes and she nodded her head slowly. Somehow, I had been the mouthpiece she needed to help her see the importance of her baptismal covenant. Several of the sister missionaries who had taught her had the blessing of attending her baptism, and I am grateful to have been a part of her story. 

Referring to the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist, Nephi says, “it showeth unto the children of men the straitness of the path, and the narrowness of the gate, by which they should enter, he having set the example before them. And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me. Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? And the Father said: Repent ye, repent ye, and be baptized in the name of my Beloved Son” (2 Nephi 31:9-11).

Luke 3 says that John the Baptist, “came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; As it is written in the book of the words of Esaias the prophet, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:3-6). And he cried out “repent ye, and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel is the Plan of Redemption. It is the “great and eternal plan of deliverance from death” (2 Nephi 11:5, emphasis added).

When I think of the mighty change that would come over the landscape described here — mountains made low, valleys filled, crooked becoming straight, and rough made smooth — I can begin to imagine the incredible power of the plan of deliverance, and the mighty change that can come over even the roughest, toughest sinner that ever lived. But John the Baptist invites us all to prepare ourselves for such a mighty change. He says we are all sinners, even a “generation of vipers” (yikes!), and that we should, “Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance” (Luke 3:7-8). What are “fruits worthy of repentance”? I want to go into that thoroughly, as I have thought about this a lot!

But first, I want to explore why we all need this deliverance, and mighty change John the Baptist describes. I was grateful to accept President Nelson’s challenge during the last General Conference to read The Book of Mormon. I love that I can get something new every time I read it. This time, a major theme stood out to me. Nephi introduces it in the very first chapter: “But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20, emphasis added). This message of deliverance is personal to me. I have spent a lot of time thinking about and praying for deliverance in many circumstances over the last decade or so of my life. This message of deliverance is a message of hope. It is “the great and eternal plan of deliverance” (2 Nephi 11:5). 

Deliverance and Mighty Change

Deliverance means salvation, rescue, escape, ransom, and redemption. In The Book of Mormon, deliverance is often coupled with, and a remedy for bondage or captivity. Remembering their captivity was an important attribute of the Nephite culture. They talked often of remembering the captivity of their fathers, and the bondage of the Children of Israel. The narrative of remembering their captivity was perpetuated and passed down throughout their generations as an important tradition. 

Storytelling and family history are always an important characteristic of a strong family culture. When stories are retold again and again, those principles and values are reinforced and become woven into the fabric of our family identity. This story of deliverance was foundational for maintaining the Nephite’s culture of faith. There are many instances in The Book of Mormon when prophets remind the people to remember the captivity and deliverance of their fathers (1 Nephi 17:23-32; Mosiah 25:10 and 16; Mosiah 27:16; Alma 9:9-10; Alma 29:11-12; Alma 36:2; Alma 62:50; Alma 58:11). I wanted to spell out each of those scriptures and why remembering the captivity of their fathers was so important. I hope you will look into it and see why forgetting this history was so detrimental to their peace.

The power of deliverance is what John the Baptist was referring to in Luke 3:5-6 when he talked about the mighty changes that would happen to the landscape. I cannot say it better than the lesson manual: “If something as permanent as a mountain can be flattened, then surely the Lord can help us straighten our own crooked paths.” This straightening of our crooked paths is the difference between bondage and deliverance, despair and hope, fear and love, sorrow and joy. This straightening comes through the power and grace of Jesus Christ’s deliverance.

There is a talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson linked in the lesson this week called “The Divine Gift of Repentance.” Elder Christofferson talks about how “potential despair turns to hope,”  and “whatever the cost of repentance, it is swallowed up in the joy of forgiveness.” He quotes a story told by President Boyd K. Packer about the Donner Party who “spent the ferocious winter trapped in the snowdrifts below the summit” of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. When the party finally arrive at Johnson’s Ranch in the Sacramento Valley in the spring, fifteen-year-old John Breen described waking up the morning after their arrival and viewing the ranch. He said: 

The weather was fine, the ground was covered with green grass, the birds were singing from the tops of the trees, and the journey was over. I could scarcely believe that I was alive. 

‘The scene that I saw that morning seems to be photographed on my mind. Most of the incidents are gone from memory, but I can always see the camp near Johnson’s Ranch.’”

President Packer goes on to explain how this memory could eclipse all the brutal memories of that winter for John Breen: “I have seen some who have spent a long winter of guilt and spiritual starvation emerge into the morning of forgiveness. When morning came, they learned this: “‘Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more’ [D&C 58:42]” (“The Divine Gift of Repentance” General Conference, October 2011). 

While I cannot imagine the hardships the early pioneers experienced crossing those mountains in such harsh conditions, I think the winters we are called to endure in our day can seem pretty ferocious. Everyone experiences different trials, and they are each uniquely fit to our perspective in order to prepare us for exaltation. All of us will go through our own ferocious winters, but all of us will also experience the bright dawn of a spring morning through the power of deliverance.

Bondage and Deliverance

Death is bondage. Though a necessary part of the Plan of Salvation, we are delivered from two forms of death through the power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ: temporal and spiritual death. 

“O how great the goodness of our God, who prepareth a way for our escape from the grasp of this awful monster; yea, that monster, death and hell, which I call the death of the body, and also the death of the spirit. And because of the way of deliverance of our God, the Holy One of Israel, this death, of which I have spoken, which is the temporal, shall deliver up its dead; which death is the grave. And this death of which I have spoken, which is the spiritual death, shall deliver up its dead; which spiritual death is hell; wherefore, death and hell must deliver up their dead, and hell must deliver up its captive spirits, and the grave must deliver up its captive bodies, and the bodies and the spirits of men will be restored one to the other; and it is by the power of the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel” (2 Nephi 9:10-12, emphasis added). 

We are delivered from the bondage of death and hell by the Atonement of Christ. 

Sin is bondage. In Elder Christofferson’s talk, he discusses Nehor and Korihor preaching to the Nephites that there is no need for repentance. They claimed sin is a myth, and that “values, standards, and even truth are all relative. Thus, whatever one feels is right for him or her cannot be judged by others to be wrong or sinful.” To those who believe that truth is relative, commandments and obedience are bondage! But, “wickedness never was happiness”, and we cannot be restored, or delivered from sin to happiness (Alma 41:10).

Peace and deliverance come through obedience, and repentance when we mess up. We are all subject to sin and experience this kind of bondage. John the Baptist taught the baptism of repentance, and the people “were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6). He then taught them to “bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8). Repentance is our deliverance from sin.

Sometimes, life itself can feel like bondage. We make mistakes. We are subject to our human nature. We are burdened by temptations, and weakness. We have yearnings, and holes in our hearts. Our perspectives are finite. We are imperfect beings, and we are subject to illness and disease. We suffer sadness, loss, and depression. Sometimes the advice to “find joy” in the winters of these afflictions can fall flat until we know the true source of joy. The Savior has prepared deliverance from this bondage, too: 

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me” (Alma 7:11-13, emphasis added). 

So you see the “tender mercies of the Lord” are available to everyone who has faith on Him “even unto the power of deliverance.” Our deliverance is made possible because of our Savior. 

Mighty Change

Deliverance is mighty change. When you contrast those feelings of despair in weakness to that of strength in deliverance, it is like night and day, or winter and spring. Think of Alma’s testimony of his conversion: 

“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). 

One day in Fast and Testimony meeting, a sister got up and talked about how she’d found some of her old journals and she started reading them. When she read her old journals, it was cringe-worthy! She said she felt so embarrassed, and laughed at how she’d written some silly things. Then, she went on to say that if she wasn’t embarrassed, if she could still relate to her former self, that would mean she hadn’t changed. I think it’s ok to look back at our former selves and even if we don’t cringe, we should at least feel some sense of growth. I recently saw a quote that reminded me of this sister’s experience: “If you’re not embarrassed by who you were last year, you haven’t grown enough” (ADB @gapingvoid). While much of the change we experience is overcoming sin, so much of our change comes through personal development, and by overcoming sin and weakness.

Wendy Ulrich, PhD, MBA, is a practicing psychologist, and is the author of “Forgiving Ourselves: Getting Back Up When We Let Ourselves Down” and “Weakness is Not Sin: The Liberating Distinction that Awakens our Strengths.” She talked with me about how often we are loathe to forgive ourselves, especially when we view weakness as sin. When we view weakness as a sin we tend to hold onto our guilt. But when we view weakness as a deficiency, we see it as an opportunity for growth, and we know we need to be patient, get help, and allow grace to help us. We forget that we may struggle with weakness for a long time, and we need to learn to work on ourselves over and over for as long as it takes. 

Forgiveness is a process. Dr. Ulrich told me about an example that if we are struck by a drunk driver and end up with a chronic condition, we may say we forgive the incident, but then we relive our resentment every time we endure the difficulties of the chronic situation we are left in. We cannot go back and change the past, so we need to be in the present and see what we can change about our situation going forward. During our discussion she quoted Beverly Flanigan, who writes about forgiveness, saying “forgiveness is giving up hope of ever having a better past.” This liberation from the shackles of our past is deliverance to a better future. Brené Brown, author and research professor says “when we own the story, we can rewrite a brave new ending” (BrenéBrown.com).

The lesson this week quotes the Bible Dictionary saying, “True repentance is ‘a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world. … [It means] a turning of the heart and will to God’” (“Repentance”). Imagine if we exerted ourselves to experience true repentance, becoming a new person. I like to imagine that in ten, five or even one year from now, I won’t recognize myself for the amount of change I can experience if I commit myself to a “fresh view about God, about [myself], and about the world.” Repentance is the quickest way to experience this! The call to repentance is an invitation for peace. The beautiful thing is that we have the power to change through the covenants we make, namely baptism and renewing our baptismal covenant through the sacrament.

Change can sometimes feel impossible, but through the “tender mercies of the Lord” and our faith in Him, He can “make [us] mighty even unto the power of deliverance” (1 Nephi 1:20), and “make weak things become strong unto [us]” (Ether 12:27), and we will begin to see the “fruits meet for repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

Fruits of Repentance

Some of the fruits John the Baptist describes are things that related to his audience. Things like “He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none; and he that hath meat, let him do likewise” (Luke 3:11). Or to the publicans, “Exact no more than that which is appointed you” (Luke 3:13). And, to the soldier, “Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages” (Luke 3:14). But what are some of the fruits that demonstrate that we are overcoming our sinful tendencies?

While repentance and overcoming weakness may not be synonymous, they both bear fruit. With both sin and weakness, we may find ourselves trapped in the rut of repeated mistakes. We have bad habits, and false beliefs about our capacity to change. I want to see if I can suggest some ways that we can all work to change those beliefs. 

Number 1, start with faith and a whole lot of grace. Remember, “[His] grace is sufficient…[to] make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27). We cannot overcome our weakness alone. We must allow grace to help us recover when we experience the stress of a mistake, the trauma of a heartache, or the regret of sin. Repenting is just the beginning. A full change of heart requires total recovery. Recovery means “recuperation or a return to a normal state of being” (dictionary.com). Recover to normalcy, balance, and calm. From there, you can prepare your soil to bear those fruits of repentance. 

Of course, if you’re like me, you might be wondering what it takes to recover to normalcy. When we experience stress, we crave to recover to normalcy so we adopt a variety of coping strategies that range in their level of effectiveness. We come home from a stressful day at work, and binge on a show for a few hours until we feel “normal” again. We sleep at night in hopes to recover from the stress of the day. We stretch out after a workout. We cry when we get hurt. Maybe when we start to feel overwhelmed by a stressful situation we pause to quiet our minds and might even say a prayer. All of these are strategies to try to recover ourselves back to normalcy. When we don’t get this chance, at some point we break and are forced to recover because of illness or catastrophe. We cannot just put a bandage on the wounds that disrupt our personal sense of “normal”, whatever that means to you. True recovery comes through grace and making the kinds of choices that don’t mask our need to recover. Recovery = deliverance. 

Number 2, be able to recognize when a habit or belief is triggered. In the book “The Power of Habit” I learned that our habits are based on triggers that impulsively activate a sequence of behaviors and rewards. The more we follow this sequence of events, the neural pathways in our brains start to form stronger connections to create a propensity for that behavior. When we notice and catch ourselves being triggered and repeating this sequence of events, we have the power to change the behavior, and offer ourselves a new reward for better behaviors. Our ability to change these behaviors are the fruits meet for repentance. 

These habits, again, are triggered by our need for recovery. When we are triggered, our normalcy is disrupted, and our neural pathways lead us to habits that will help us to recover. Let’s say the trigger for a habit is feeling a hunger pang. This can be a good form of stress depending on who you are. Your body requires recovery from this pang. So, you get up and look for relief. At this point, you may recognize the trigger, but to recover you might be in the habit of reaching for something satisfying but unhealthy. Instead, you can change that habit by filling yourself with nutritious foods and rewarding yourself with a small treat. “Balance restored!” (As Captain Literally would say from Studio C on BYUtv. HA!). But seriously, how would life be different if we recognized our anger is triggered by feeling overwhelmed or stressed and we found a different way to recover than shouting (insert your version of what you struggle with). When we catch ourselves being triggered by some habit we can find some other way to recover that is rewarding, healthy, and constructive.

Number 3, start tracking victories and “done” lists rather than failures and “to-do” lists. We will never ever be able to tackle all the things on our to-do lists, and we will always feel weak and inadequate unless we recognize our victories. Start a victory journal, or use an app on your device where you can record them. These victories are the fruits of change.

Number 4, get really nitty-gritty about what is creating the sin and weakness and open up about it. In his talk “Wilt thou be made whole?”, Elder Matthew L. Carpenter talks about how he would meet people who would postpone their repentance because they were afraid of hurting their loved ones. He said, “In their minds it was better to suffer after this life than go through the repentance process now.” Then he goes on to say, “Brothers and sisters, it is never a good idea to procrastinate your repentance. The adversary often uses fear to prevent us from acting immediately upon our faith in Jesus Christ.

“When loved ones are confronted with the truth about sinful behavior, while they may feel deeply wounded, they often want to help the sincerely repentant sinner to change and to reconcile with God. Indeed, spiritual healing accelerates when the sinner confesses and is surrounded by those who love them and help them to forsake their sins” (General Conference, October 2018). 

I have found that being open about my situation is helping me to “own the story” and “rewrite a brave new ending” as Brené Brown says. Brown also says that vulnerability and empathy are the remedy to shame. Sometimes recovering from the stress, trauma, and regret requires powerful coping strategies that dig deeper to harrow up buried wounds. But it’s important to remember that, as President Boyd K. Packer said so poignantly, “Our spirits are damaged when we make mistakes and commit sins. But unlike the case of our mortal bodies, when the repentance process is complete, no scars remain because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ” (“The Plan of Happiness,” General Conference, April 2015). This is the mighty change, and the fruits are the sacrifices we make to experience that change. 

As I reflect on my ferocious winter over the last decade of my life, I sometimes wonder how it is possible to recover and be delivered from such a harrowing experience. My hope and my belief is that the “tender mercies of the Lord…[can] make [me] mighty even unto the power of deliverance” through the power of His Atonement (1 Nephi 1:20). I imagine myself waking up on the morning of that spring day feeling like the Nephites after defeating the Gadianton robbers: “And their hearts were swollen with joy, unto the gushing out of many tears, because of the great goodness of God in delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; and they knew it was because of their repentance and their humility that they had been delivered from an everlasting destruction” (3 Nephi 4:33, emphasis added). 

Try These Individual and Family Activities:

  • John the Baptist had the Aaronic Priesthood and with that authority could baptize. What other responsibilities do Aaronic Priesthood holders have?
  • As a family go for a walk through hilly or mountainous terrain, if available, and discuss God’s power that “Every ​​​valley​ shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways ​shall be​ made smooth” (Luke 3:5)
  • Watch the video of Jesus being baptized and discuss thoughts, feelings, and impressions each member of your family had during the video.
  • Share pictures from your baptism or your children’s baptisms, if available, and talk about your memories of your baptism with your children or write them in a journal. Encourage your baptized children to do the same.
  • Discuss the importance of following the prophet and apostles and modern revelation to not become confused about the doctrines of the gospel as the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  • Read the Bible Dictionary entry for John the Baptist to become more familiar with him and his life.
  • Read Mosiah 18:8-10 and discuss the baptismal covenant and what it means. You can then follow up by discussing the importance of taking the sacrament each week and renewing that covenant.
  • The Holy Ghost appeared at the Savior’s baptism as a dove. Discuss with your family or in your journal how the Holy Ghost has touched you in your life. Share some specific examples of when you’ve felt the Holy Ghost the strongest.
  • Deliverance – Have you felt delivered from a trial? What did you feel when it was over? Is it something you can share with your family? If not, what are some scriptural examples you could share? Examples: Alma and Amulek’s experience with the people of Ammonihah (Alma 14), Nephi being bound in the desert (1 Nephi 7), Nephi being bound on the ship (1 Nephi 18), Lehi and Nephi in prison (Helaman 5), Daniel in the Lion’s Den (Daniel 6), and Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Daniel 3)
  • Pleased when you did the right thing when it was difficult – The Lord is pleased when we choose to follow Him by making covenants and keeping His commandments. Have you felt the Savior’s joy at decisions you’ve made? If so, write them in your journal or share them with your family.
  • Sing “Baptism” from the Primary Songbook with your children to help them understand the story of the Savior’s baptism and prepare them for Primary.
  • Read, watch, or listen to Elder D. Todd Christofferson’s October 2011 talk titled “The Divine Gift of Repentance.” With your family or in your journal discuss the message of repentance and how we can apply it more readily to our lives.