But Elder Holland reminds me that despair and discouragement can have their root in the whisperings of the adversary:
There is, of course, one source of despair more serious than all the rest. It is linked with poor preparation of a far more serious order. It is the opposite of sanctification. It is the most destructive discouragement in time or eternity. It is transgression against God. It is depression embedded in sin.
Here your most crucial challenge, once recognizing the seriousness of your mistakes, will be to believe that you can change, that there can be a different you. To disbelieve that is clearly a Satanic device designed to discourage and defeat you. When you get home tonight, you fall on your knees and thank your Father in Heaven that you belong to a church and have grasped a gospel that promise repentance to those who will pay the price. Repentance is not a foreboding word. It is, following faith, the most encouraging word in the Christian vocabulary. Repentance is simply the scriptural invitation for growth and improvement and progress and renewal. You can change! You can be anything you want to be in righteousness.
If there is one lament I cannot abide—and I hear it from adults as well as students—it is the poor, pitiful, withered cry, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” If you want to talk about discouragement, that is one that discourages me. Though not a swearing man, I am always sorely tempted to try my hand when hearing that. Please spare me your speeches about “That’s just the way I am.” I’ve heard that from too many people who wanted to sin and call it psychology. And I use the word sin again to cover a vast range of habits, some seemingly innocent enough, which nevertheless bring discouragement and doubt and despair.
You can change anything you want to change and you can do it very fast. That’s another Satanic sucker-punch—that it takes years and years and eons of eternity to repent. It takes exactly as long to repent as it takes you to say “I’ll change”—and mean it. Of course there will be problems to work out and restitutions to make. You may well spend—indeed you had better spend—the rest of your life proving your repentance by its permanence. But change, growth, renewal, repentance can come for you as instantaneously as it did for Alma and the Sons of Mosiah. Even if you have serious amends to make, it is not likely that you would qualify for the term “the vilest of sinners” which is Mormon’s phrase in describing these young men. Yet as Alma recounts his own experience in the 36th chapter of the book which bears his name, it appears to have been as instantaneous as it was stunning.
Do not misunderstand. Repentance is not easy or painless or convenient. It is a bitter cup from hell. But only Satan who dwells there would have you think that a necessary and required acknowledgement is more distasteful than permanent residence. Only he would say, “You can’t change. You won’t change. It’s too long and too hard to change. Give up. Give in. Don’t repent. You are just the way you are.” That, my friends, is a lie born of desperation. Don’t fall for it.
So what does this say to me? It's spring, the season of renewal and rebirth. Elder Holland says I can change "anything you want to change and you can do it very fast." Is it true?
My challenges, the source of my self-loathing...it all comes down to self-control or my lack thereof. I am ready to go to sleep earlier, to waste less time, to stop procrastinating, to stop eating seven cookies in one sitting, to go for a run whether or not someone's waiting for me, to live by my word, to look inward and feel at peace, rather than infuriated. These weaknesses are keeping me from being the instrument in God's hands that I really truly want to be.
So how do I become more? This is what Elder Holland suggests:
Immerse yourself in the scriptures. You will find your own experiences described there. You will find spirit and strength there. You will find solutions and counsel. Nephi says, “The words of Christ will tell you all things [that] you should do” (2 Ne. 32:3).
Pray earnestly and fast with purpose and devotion. Some difficulties, like devils, come not out “save by fasting and by prayer.”
Serve others. The heavenly paradox is that only in so doing can you save yourself.
Be patient. As Robert Frost said, with many things the only way out is through. Keep moving. Keep trying.
Have faith. “Has the day of miracles ceased?
“Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
“Behold I say unto you, Nay; for … it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men.” (Moro. 7:35–37.)
I'm going to keep working, keep trying. I'm going to study the scriptures. I'm going to fast weekly for the next few weeks. I've done it in the past when I've needed extra spiritual strength, and it is a sweet way to grow closer to Heavenly Father, and a wonderful way to grow stronger. I'm going to choose to have faith that Heavenly Father can make my weaknesses strengths so that I can serve Him better. I'm finding that choosing to have faith is both easier and harder than I ever thought it would be. Sometimes I make the very conscious choice to say, "I have faith. I believe that Heavenly Father can help me change" and to really believe it.
And I'll try to be patient with myself.
That may be the hardest thing of all.
The battle with my weaknesses is very personal. I would keep all of this in my journal, but I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one struggling. There's a flood of despair covering the earth right now. The antidote? It's where it always is and where it always has been...in the Atonement of our Savior Jesus Christ. Whatever your battle is, whether it is anger, jealousy, unkindness, greed, self-control, dishonesty, despair or any of the myriad ways Satan drags us down, the cure resides in Christ.
So I'll let you know if my experiment pays off. Studying the scriptures, fasting and prayer, serving others, patience and the choice to have faith...Here goes. I'm ready to hope again.