Mentoring, repentance, and coming closer to Christ

This is a talk I wrote that I gave years ago. I decided to write it up as a post and share it. I hope you enjoy!

My story is that I work with youth in the community in my free-time with those who are termed “at-risk.”

Going back in time, ten years ago [this would have been 2007 now], I first found out about Big Brothers Big Sisters of Utah, a community organization run by United Way where individuals are matched with a “Little Brother” to go spend time with them. I’ve had two matches through that program.

Four years ago, I found out about another program, which is the same style of volunteer commitment to spend time one-on-one with an individual youth, but the difference here is that it is run through the juvenile court. Or, in other words, these are kids who have some kind of criminal charges, are involved in the court system, and are on some kind of restriction, such as house arrest, probation, in detention, residential centers, and so on. I had six kids that I was matched with through there.

I met with them at least once a week, for a few hours, and we would go spend time together, talk about how they’re doing, do some kind of activity, and most importantly get them out of their home or environment, and let them spend time with an adult role model on a regular basis. It’s a lot of fun, and very rewarding as I get to see these kids grow and change over time.

I got asked to give a talk today on repentance, and how it ties into the lives of these kids I mentor, and also how it applies to me as well.

As a single adult, not only do we have our own wards we can go to (which, I have to say, is optional … I find I do better in a family ward) we also have our own scripture study classes we can attend. It’s a lot of fun because as older adults we all find ourselves in similar life situations, and we have really cool discussions on what challenges we have in our lives when it comes to trying to live the gospel.

One time, not too long ago, the lesson was on repentance, and the question came up, “why do we sin?” Some people raised their hand and gave answers like, “Well, sometimes we sin because of omission and don’t realize it,” and “Maybe it’s us just backsliding a bit and we need to do some minor course corrections.” These are indeed true, but my answer was a bit different. Perhaps unorthodox, but certainly more direct.

You know how in every group there’s always “that guy” who does something really awkward and weird? I feel like it’s my personal calling in and Institute class to be “that guy.” So I raised my hand and said, “I know the reason that I sin … because it rocks!” If you’ve seen the movie “The Emperor’s New Groove,” then you’ll get the reference.

Okay, so I didn’t actually raise my hand and say that, because I didn’t want to advocate doing the wrong thing, and partially because there might be someone in that room that I want to date, but the answer was honest, and it really did run through my head. Sometimes I knowingly make the decision to do something that’s wrong. Why is that the case, though?

At the time, it doesn’t seem that bad, or I can justify it, and I don’t anticipate regretting it. The time does come, however, when the awareness of my sense of rebellion that I had kicks in, and I knew it was wrong and I did it anyway. That awareness of something wrong doesn’t always come from myself, though, and can be any external factor. For these kids I work with, the only external factor may have only come through the court system. That’s part of repentance, is seeing things differently. And with these kids in court, part of my job is to help them do that.

(As a general aside, I want to throw in one piece of advice that has stuck with me in times of temptation: “you can either experience the pains of discipline, or the pains of regret. I’ve done both. I recommend the discipline path. It’s shorter.)

There are two stories from the life of Jesus Christ recorded in the New Testament that I want to use as a comparison to how He comes into our lives and changes it. The first is the man living in the caves, and the second is the prodigal son.

I love the story of the man living in the caves, who was stuck with a legion of devils, because it gives insight to how people who have messed up so much are treated by those who may not have had the same past, or made the same mistakes. The story is in Mark chapter 6.

1 And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes.

2 And when he [Jesus] was come out of the ship, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit,

3 Who had his dwelling among the tombs; and no man could bind him, no, not with chains:

4 Because that he had been often bound with fetters and chains, and the chains had been plucked asunder by him, and the fetters broken in pieces: neither could any man tame him.

5 And always, night and day, he was in the mountains, and in the tombs, crying, and cutting himself with stones.

6 But when he saw Jesus afar off, he ran and worshipped him

The man had been put in chains at some point, but he had broken them. They tried to tame him, but that didn’t work either. He had also been using self-harm as a coping mechanism. At some point, since they stopped trying to help him, they gave up and left him to his own designs. Likewise, some youth are ones that society has simply thrown away.

Similar to my situation from earlier where I may want to take the path that rocks, is the story of the prodigal son. He not only took his father’s inheritance, or in other words, his own future potential, but he had already planned to party as well. He spent his time in riotous living among friends. Yet once the fun ran out, his friends left as well. Similar to that experience, and something I teach my kids, is that when they go to court and have a hearing before the judge, their “friends” who were the ones around who helped him got into trouble, are now nowhere to be found. It’s his family, myself, and the others who are sincerely committed to making his life better, are the ones that do show up.

In each story, someone returned to Christ, but each one went at different speeds. The young man walked in humility and fear, but the possessed man ran in desperation. I think that how quickly we get there is far less important than the direction we are headed. Another lesson here is that sometimes we are the one who returns to the father, by walking the lonely path by ourselves, but sometimes it is us that must go to him, when nobody else is willing to do so. Perhaps the ability for one who is in trouble to rescue himself is far out of his own reach, either because it’s a long walk home, or a lonely cave at the edge of town. Sadly, the society that rejected the man with the devils, rejected the man with the angels as well, and asked Christ to “depart out of their coasts” even after being witness to the man being healed.

The final settings in the stories’ restoration are interesting as well, as the prodigal son was returned to his family, and the man with stones to his friends. Perhaps that is the location God wants us to go as well. In each case, to become a part of society again, equal to the level of support we can best receive or give — or in other words, families are reunited with families, and friends with friends. We do not have to have a specific social standing in our lives before the Atonement and effects of repentance apply to us, but in each case, returning to a social environment where can we can find support is paramount to us helping us to resist sin in the future and feel welcomed back home. Just as the prodigal’s father did, it is our task to have the robe and ring ready to share — a willingness to restore that family or friend to a level of respect, and a place in our lives. Repentance, therefore, is not designed to be an individual experience that is supposed to end in being alone.

To continue on this point, we can look at the parables where someone is found again through the help of one, then to enjoy the company of friends afterwards. The parable of the lost coin in Luke 15 illustrates this point as well.

8 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?

9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.

In Christ’s own words, there is more joy in heaven over one who has repented than the just who have no need of repentance. That abundance of joy is not simply because of an increased amount of happiness, but because more people come to enjoy the repentant person return. And that’s where part of the rewards of working with my kids come from — part of the reason I’m qualified is because I’ve made similar mistakes and have experienced the joy that comes from changing one’s life through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The people you work with, you may be the only friend they have, and the only person that believes in them. For one kid, I’ve had multiple people tell me a number of times, that I’m the only positive thing in his life. That’s not so much an awesome admiration for me as it is a sobering realization of the responsibility I have.

These kids I work with through the court systems are also introduced to others who can help them through group and individual counseling, so not just myself or family members. Those who have shared similar problems are people who understand their predicament and are willing to help them, and look at the other person’s offenses and problems objectively, and without reserved judgment. I’m able to look at my own repentant past now, and can teach my kids to view things in a positive light in the sense of the potential progress that awaits them as they learn to change and become a better person. That admittance of guilt and wrongdoing then, on my part, allows me to move on and accept myself for who I am now, while remembering the person I was then.

Through repentance, God has promised that He will remember our sins no more, but it does not say that I individually will lose my ability to emotionally or mentally recall them. If the Lord can let it go, for others as well, then I can do the same. Like the Lord who makes promises of a brighter future though, we can remind others that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and then teach them through example and hard work of how to get there.

It’s my realization that I’ve made a mistake that puts me on the path to repentance. Some of these kids don’t realize they’ve made mistakes in the sense that no one has ever told them that it’s wrong — except the courts. So the mentoring program needs someone who can help them model good behavior. I can connect with my teenagers by letting them know I make mistakes.

One of the first things I tell them is that as adults, we magically no longer make mistakes that we did since we’re not teenagers anymore. Them gaining that perspective helps them make a closer connection to me. The reason that’s important is because they get to learn how I changed my life. Where I started. How I recognized something was wrong. How I worried about and tried to figure out how to make things right. And also how I felt during the entire process. Our own path to repentance is a model to kids … or children … on how to change their own lives.

I have a list of stories from my life as a teenager that my kids love to hear. Some of these are very serious, and a lot of them are very funny, and some are sensitive for me to talk about. The point is we that we do make serious mistakes as teenagers. They do, too. By sharing these stories, I’m also seeing them in prison, and coming unto them.

Now the question is, where does someone start if they want to get involved? The answer is found in Matthew 25.

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

The more difficult the scenario that someone is in, the less likely someone on the outside is to get involved. However, the deeper the problem, the more personal the connection is when we do step in. From the order of those specific situations just mentioned, there is also an increasing amount of embarrassment for the person with the problem, and the less likely they are going to reach out and ask for help.

39 “When saw we thee .. in prison, and came unto thee?”

When I would choose a match, I had the option of reviewing the type of backgrounds I are able to work with — the idea being that the mentoring relationship will be most successful if we find someone we are most compatible with. It’s not “Build-a-Bear” by any means, but it is a process where we are able to discover what we are comfortably capable of. Likewise, the Lord chose to send to us individually in mortality to the place where we can not only reach our highest capacity, but also where we can do the most good for others. If you’re wondering where to start, use those previous scriptures as a reference for some great ideas.

“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” I interpret that as “the least likely to listen,” “the least likely to change,” and “the least likely to be visited by someone else.”

Somehow, Jesus Christ is able to feel the service we give to others, as if He was the actual one receiving it. And to quote from someone else’s testimony I heard in church once, “where do these good feelings come from when service is given? It comes from Christ.”

By living the gospel and serving those in need, at the last day we may find ourselves surprised to see that there are so great rewards with it, asking the Lord at what point were we directly helping him? This shock shows that meekness and humility is a natural part of someone who helps others, and by that attitude and through those actions, we may unexpectedly find ourselves exalted.

It is both my belief and my experience that change comes best through helping others change themselves. Mentoring is never a one way-street, where only one person learns, and only the intended recipient actually benefits from anything. By helping others change, we change ourselves. It is through helping someone else repent, that through our charity our own multitude of sins are covered.

The gospel is real because it really works. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true because it is truly brings us to Christ. We can use the instructions given through the scriptures for helping others in difficult situations — “freely ye have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).

Repentance changes people. Repentance changes me. We do not simply go on vacation from the person we were for a while, but instead we learn to leave that life behind completely — and when we do backslide a bit, at the very least we know that there’s a possible way out. Even beginning the process of repentance teaches us that there are other options. And we can use that memory from our own lives to help others achieve the same goals. Again, while God has promised to remember our sins no more, He will still continue to remind us how to get to where we want to be.

Although there is my self-proclaimed mission is to be “that guy” in Institute, for these kids, it is my actual mission to visit them, those who may have never been visited before.

From 3 Nephi 16, I love this as Christ is talking about “the other sheep”:

1 And verily, verily, I say unto you that I have other sheep, which are not of this land, neither of the land of Jerusalem, neither in any parts of that land round about whither I have been to minister.

2 For they of whom I speak are they who have not as yet heard my voice; neither have I at any time manifested myself unto them.

3 But I have received a commandment of the Father that I shall go unto them

I love working with youth, and I love that repentance is an option. That positive feeling we experience from helping others does indeed come from Christ. I invite you to come closer to Christ by bringing someone with you.


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