When I was a Senior in High School working at the local IGA market in Evanston, WY. I had to call my dad to come down and jump start my car. It wasn’t too late, maybe 9 pm. It wasn’t too cold, maybe early October. But my dad showed up visibly annoyed. The reason: this wasn’t the first time I left the lights on and drained the battery. He hooked the jumper cables up to our vehicles, and turned the car on and it fired up. Before he left he imparted one of those bits of wisdom that my dairy farm raised father was legend for saying. “Once is accident, twice is stupid”
I don’t know why that particular dadism has stuck with me over the years. It might be because this wasn’t the last time I needed a jump for leaving my lights on. Nor was it the last time I repeated a mistake which involved a vehicle (like locking my keys in the car, once I locked both mine and my wife’s keys in each of our running cars. I didn’t want them cold or stolen, I just forgot the spare keys for each were on the other car’s key ring). There really are few things in life that make things more frustrating than repeated mistakes.
And so we find ourselves at the end of another year. It’s natural, I suppose, for us to think about the next year with a resolve to be better than we were during this last one. We certainly want to learn the lesson’s of past mistakes and avoid repeating them. The problem is repeating mistakes is so easy to do.
Certainly there are categories of severity with mistakes. My vehicular mishaps, though annoying and stupid, aren’t life ruiners. But some mistakes may precipitate a viscous cycle that can consume and destroy lives. Things can get pretty serious if this cycle isn’t broken.
That’s why I’m grateful for a story that is told in the Book of Mormon. You can read it for yourself here. It’s found in Alma chapters 23-24 (but really begins all the way back in chapter 17). I will summarize since my goal is to keep these posts to 500 words.
A civilization of savage people called the Lamanites live about 100 years before Christ. They have a culture of war and murder. They believe that anything they do is right. A couple of missionaries from the Nephite nation (hated by the Lamanites), who underwent a conversion to Christ in their own lives, want to bring the gospel to these lost Lamanites. How they convert is a great story full of miracles, but I’ll cut to the chase. A whole multitude of Lamanites repent and are baptized, including many of the ruling family. They change their name to the Anti-Nephi Lehi’s. They’re whole way of life has changed as they come unto Christ. But the rest of their nation is angry, and ready to overthrow this monarchy, and kill every last one of the converted group. So what do the Anti-Nephi Lehi’s do? They bury their weapons.
This action has caused some people to ask: Isn’t it permissible to kill if you are defending your family, your country, your way of life? Why would these people not just refuse to fight back, but make it almost impossible to fight back? These people answer that question in their own words.
11 And now behold, my brethren, since it has been all that we could do (as we were the most lost of all mankind) to repent of all our sins and the many murders which we have committed, and to get God to takethem away from our hearts, for it was all we could do to repent sufficiently before God that he would take away our stain—
12 Now, my best beloved brethren, since God hath taken away our stains, and our swords have become bright, then let us stain our swords no more with the blood of our brethren.
13 Behold, I say unto you, Nay, let us retain our swords that they be not stained with the blood of our brethren; for perhaps, if we should stain our swords again they can no more be washed bright through the blood of the Son of our great God, which shall be shed for the atonement of our sins.
What they do teaches an important principle about how to avoid repeating a mistake. President Spencer W. Kimball articulates the principle well when he wrote:
“In abandoning sin one cannot merely wish for better conditions. … He must be certain not only that he has abandoned the sin but that he has changed the situations surrounding the sin. He should avoid the places and conditions and circumstances where the sin occurred, for these could most readily breed it again. He must abandon the people with whom the sin was committed. He may not hate the persons involved but he must avoid them and everything associated with the sin” (The Miracle of Forgiveness, 171–72).
This is what I know to be true. When I am ready to really stop repeating a mistake, I change the conditions surrounding that mistake. What that looks like must be as inspired as it is specific to each of our individual circumstances. But I know that change is always possible.