A few years ago I was troubled by the media coverage of a murder case in Salt Lake City involving members of my church. A husband shot his wife to death because she had discovered that he was living two different lives and had deceived her about his intentions to go to medical school. He hid her body in a dumpster--her remains eventually ended up somewhere in a landfill. He then pretended to not know what had happened to his wife. He was eventually found out, of course, but many were astonished to learn the truth, thinking that he could never have done such a thing. Many people, even those closest to him, were obviously unaware of his secret behaviors. His whole life seems to have been a deception.
One must assume that he did not start out in life to commit a horrible crime. It seems to me that his fall into such awful depths of sin must have been gradual. He must have covered up many sins in his life that he feared to expose to loved ones. I can only imagine that it must have seemed easier to be dishonest about who he was becoming than to allow the world—at least the world that cared about him—to see the real him, to be disappointed in him. Unfortunately, he has obviously come to learn that dishonesty is impossible to sustain—The truth will eventually come to the surface. I hope many of our people, young and old, who are being seduced at this time by the spirit of deception will understand that they are at risk of being sucked down into deeper and deeper depths to where it is difficult to see the light above.
When I was a young man in my teens, I struggled with my conscience. Like many others, I did things that I should not have done. And when I did those things I was rightly ashamed and hid them from people that I respected—people who I wanted to respect me back. I was new in the Church then. I wanted to be good, but though I had been taught to have faith in Christ in our prior religious faith and to try to keep his commandments—I had accepted him as my savior—I had developed some bad habits in my few years and was finding it hard to correct them. Perhaps I was unrealistic and thought I would have plenty of time to repent fully, and I made half-hearted efforts to live the Gospel. But inside, I was tormented by the secrets that I kept about myself. As time went by, I made worse and worse choices, and invariably, bigger and bigger mistakes, and as a result, my self-respect and self-esteem began to erode. And although I had a strong testimony of the restored gospel and the atoning sacrifice of my savior, Jesus Christ, I began to doubt myself and have thoughts that I had gone too far to return, that I lacked the power to repent.
Though I often felt helpless, I had not yet lost the desire to be a better person. I still had good people around me that had influence on my life. For example, there were several older men in our stake for whom I had a great deal of respect. They were gray-headed, often balding men, who reminded me of the comic book characters, “The Guardians of the Universe,” from the “Green Lantern” comics—you only saw their heads in the comics but they were venerable, wise looking, heads none the less. One of these “guardians of the universe,” or stake, in this case—he was a member of our stake high council by the name of Woody Nelson—had a conversation with me that had a big impression on me. I do not remember now what led up to it or the particular context of his words to me, but I am sure that it had to do with being honest and I remember exactly the words he said to me. He said, “It is more important to be trusted than it is to be loved. Your parents will always love you, but they may not always trust you.”
I was profoundly struck by those words. I feel that the Holy Ghost must have still had enough influence on my own spirit to teach me beyond what had actually been said. It occurred to me that it was true: that parents were able to love their children even when they were unable to trust them or even have any respect for them. I understood that my parents would most likely always love, even if they were shown the truth about some of my actions. It also struck me that the same was true with my Father in Heaven: He still loved me even though—as I knew, or felt, He knew—I was undeserving of His trust or respect.
Near the same time, my mother told me of a dream she had about me. She has since written about it in her life story but said that she could not remember which of her children it was about, but I remember, it was about me. In the dream, she saw me sleeping outside with some friends. It occurred to her that I might get cold in the night, so she brought out an extra blanket to cover me up. But as she was about to do so, she reconsidered. It was still relatively warm and early in the night and I might just kick it off, so she folded it and left it beside me so that I would have it when I got cold enough. When she awoke she reflected on her dream. She had been concerned about me. I had been out late a lot with friends and she did not always know where I was. She took the dream as an answer to her concerns for me. She believed I had a strong testimony and she felt that my conscience and the teachings I had received thus far in my life would be a blanket for me if the night got to be too cold for me. She felt she did not have to worry about Randy—she could trust him.
Her dream was a revelation to me as well. It was, of course, a comfort to my mother, but it was also a comfort to me. Even though I knew that she had plenty to worry about, Heavenly Father miraculously told her not to worry. I felt that my mother’s dream was a message to me; that there was still an opportunity for me to cover myself with the warmth of my Father in Heaven’s love and His Son’s atonement. Apparently, my Father in Heaven still loved me and he had not given up on me. I wanted to have more than his love—after all, being my Heavenly Parent, He had to love me—but I wanted to be truly worthy of his trust and respect.
But I still feared the repentance process and the necessity of being honest with myself and to my fellow man. One of my favorite passages from a novel is the Huckelberry Finn story where the hero decides that, because of his insincerity, his prayers are vain. Huck says:
“It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. … I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. … It was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, … but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.”
In my own case, I knew that any attempt to repent had to be sincere—it had to be real. I obviously knew that I could tell my Heavenly Father about the sins I had committed—He already knew about them. Even so, I confessed my sins to him and I asked for his forgiveness, and I prayed earnestly that he would give me the strength to overcome my weaknesses and do the difficult things. I came to know that beyond being honest with myself and my Father in Heaven—or, perhaps, as part of it—I had to be honest with my fellow man. True repentance meant that I must be honest with my Bishop, the common judge of Israel. I realized that as it says in D & C, Section 58: 43:
By this ye may know if a man repenteth of his sins—behold, he will confess them and forsake them.
And I was sobered by the Lord’s words in D&C, 19: 15-20:
15 Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your suffering be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.16 For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;17 But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;18 Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—19 Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.20 Wherefore, I command you again to repent, lest I humble you with my almighty power; and that you confess your sins, lest you suffer these punishments of which I have spoken, of which in the smallest, yea, even in the least degree you have tasted at the time I withdrew my Spirit.
I took the leap of faith that is needed to confess my sins to my priesthood authority and was rewarded with a wonderful new appreciation of my Father in Heaven’s love for me. Through my honest sacrifice, my offering of a broken heart and a contrite spirit, I received a witness by the Holy Spirit of the sweet taste of forgiveness and an affirmation that my Father in Heaven not only loved me, but he also respected me and I felt that he trusted me again. Awhile later, these ideas were confirmed when I received my patriarchal blessing and heard the Patriarch’s words:
Our Father in Heaven is pleased with thee and with the humility of thy heart and of thy desire to pattern thy life after the principles and teachings of the Gospel as thou hast come to understand them…
I was glad in my heart that I had made the necessary changes in my life to bring me back to square one with the Lord. The atonement of my Savior Jesus Christ and my willingness to honestly humble myself and confess my sins had cleaned my slate. I was further impressed by a section of my blessing that came later that stated:
Thou wert born of goodly parentage and thou didst make agreements with thy parents and they with thee before coming here to this earth concerning thy family associations, and thy parents have joy in thy growth and development in the church. It is pleasing unto the Lord that thou shouldst never do anything that would cause thy parents hurt or harm or dishonor them in any way.
I was equally happy to comply with that directive of my Father in Heaven. I could hold my head up and know that my parents and loved ones would not be ashamed of me. Anything I might have done that would have dishonored myself, or others, had been corrected as if it had never happened. Jesus promises us that, if when we truly repent, He will remember our sins no more. The atonement of Christ does not cover our sins, as we do when we dishonestly hide them from the world. When we honestly expose our sins, the Savior is able to wash them clean.
Perhaps honesty is the best policy because it is what the Lord holds in such high esteem. During his earthly ministry, He railed against hypocrisy, “the whited sepulchers” where in dead men’s bones were invariably hidden. Our lives should be open and above reproach and we should do as the Prophet, Joseph Smith, stressed in the Thirteenth Article of Faith:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul—We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
If we do this—seek to be honest and virtuous—we will be truly happy and will be able to bless the lives of all those around and bring honor unto our family, friends, to our Heavenly Father and, perhaps most importantly, to ourselves. We can, and must, stop the downward spiral of our virtue that accompanies continued dishonesty in our lives. Secret sins will eventually destroy us if we fail to expose them and truly repent in a timely manner.
I know that these principles are true. I love and appreciate my Father in Heaven and my brother and Savior, Jesus Christ, and I am grateful for the Father’s great plan of salvation and the Savior’s atonement. And, it is my prayer that we will strive to be honest in all of our dealings with our fellowman and in our worship of our God and Savior. I humbly say these things in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, amen.