The member has written a personal plan of action. The member and bishop have worked together to more fully develop that plan which will lead to repentance (change of heart and behavior). The member will have committed to follow the plan completely.
These interviews should provide the member encouragement, hope, instruction, love and accountability. Your loving guidance should reflect the love that the Savior has for the member. As member turns to the Savior and his atonement and fills his life with light and appropriate behaviors, the end result is repentance, forgiveness, peace and joy.
It is recommended that you meet regularly with a member during the ´Following the Personal Plan of Action¡ phase. This should be weekly at first and could be every two weeks as the member is more unwavering in following his personal plan of action. The purposes of these visits are to teach, give encouragement, and provide the member an opportunity to be accountable in following his personal plan of action. There is no suggested timeline for the length of this phase. Experience shows that it takes many months for someone with a long history of involvement with pornography to put this sin behind him and demonstrate behavior reflective of repentance.
There might be times when your schedule is so full that you are not available to meet timely with all members that need regular interviews. In this case, as moved by the Spirit, and with the member’s approval, you may enlist capable, trained bishopric counselors to handle some follow-up interviews with some members. You should handle this situation very sensitively with the primary consideration being what is best for the member. If during these follow-up interviews additional worthiness issues arise, or a relapse occurs, the counselors should discuss this with you immediately. You and the counselors should at all times have good communication regarding the member’s status. As appropriate progress is made, the counselors should refer the member back to you for any restoration of privileges and completion of the repentance process.
Questions to consider:
Many individuals struggle knowing what to do when their cravings to turn to pornography are powerful. Many relapse because their cravings do not simply go away after a moment or two. Often these individuals feel that the only way their cravings will leave is to give in. Since the battle can last for hours or sometimes days, planning and organizing how to respond in such circumstances is critical.
Often the advice that is given is to sing a hymn, say a prayer, or read the scriptures. While these are powerful tools, during the heat of the battle they may not be enough by themselves. Those who try these strategies and still relapse often get very discouraged because they have tried to read or pray and still succumbed to the temptation. If this is the only advice that they are given by their leaders, they may begin to feel that there must be something seriously wrong with them if they continue to give in.
Relapse is not uncommon. In many cases members do not know how to effectively deal with a relapse. Some have met with multiple bishops and still find themselves succumbing to temptations. What members and leaders need to understand is that success comes when the right knowledge and skills are implemented together. For example, when a member who has been involved for a long period of time says, ΄I will never view pornography again,‘ he likely doesn’t understand the addictive nature of pornography. In such circumstances it is helpful to assist the member to understand how to deal with temptations and cravings when they come. For example, the member can establish a plan of what he will do when he is in the following situations (these are common times when members relapse):
When members learn to appropriately deal with these emotions they are less likely to relapse. It is also helpful to assist members understand the context in which they are more vulnerable and likely to relapse. For example, when they are dealing with difficult life issues such as a relationship break-up, their parent’s divorce, school stress, returning home for the summer, or physical illnesses they are more at risk. By increasing their awareness of such vulnerable times, they can proactively respond rather than reacting with an ΄accidental slip-up.‘ By becoming aware of the context in which they are at risk to relapse, members can feel empowered with this knowledge.
A time of relapse is a great teaching opportunity. Repentance is a process. It is going to take the member some time to repent. If a bishop and a member expect a member to never fail, both will be disappointed and the member’s guilt and discouragement will grow. One of your main roles is to give encouragement. Thank them for staying with the program and coming in to see you. Review what happened and more importantly what they learned – what was the situation, the trigger, what boundary did they cross, were they able to slow their mind down and consider the consequences of their choices, and how will they avoid the temptation in the future?
Help them see the progress they have made. Their repentance is more than this one relapse. Elder Neil L. Anderson in his October 2009 conference talk said,
Sometimes in our repentance, in our daily efforts to become more Christlike, we find ourselves repeatedly struggling with the same difficulties. As if we were climbing a tree-covered mountain, at times we don’t see our progress until we get closer to the top and look back from the high ridges. Don’t be discouraged. If you are striving and working to repent, you are in the process of repenting. . . As we improve, we see life more clearly and feel the Holy Ghost working more strongly within us.΄
Many will feel like they are starting at square one when they relapse. You can help them see the progress they have made – they are praying and studying the scriptures daily, serving others, it has been __ number of weeks since the last incident, etc. Take a long-term view regarding where the member started and where he is today. Always emphasize the positive. It is helpful to observe and track progress as a trend over time. Neither one good nor one bad incident makes or breaks a member’s progress. A trend line shows how their incidents are further apart than they used to be. Focusing on the improving trend shows progress and engenders hope. You can draw a simple graph like the one below. It is not important that it be detailed, just that it reflects an upward trend and illustrates the member’s progress.
There are circumstances when, despite good intentions, members do not make progress. In situations like this it may be helpful to review the member’s personal plan of action with them. There are some individuals whose desire to stop viewing pornography may not be strong enough. It takes a strong effort to overcome the powerful pull of pornography. In an effort to understand if their desire to change is strong you may want to consider asking them this question:
΄On a scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being ΄I’ll do anything to stop‘ and 1 being ΄I’m not sure I want to stop‘, what score would you give yourself?‘ It is helpful to ask them to explain their answer.
Generally speaking when members give themselves a score below five their motivation, desire, and/or hope of changing is very low. While there are a number of possible reasons for giving themselves such a low score some of the common reasons include:
If the number is very low, it is very important to find out what has brought them to this answer. Once you understand the ΄why‘ behind their answer it is essential to give them hope even when they may have no hope themselves. They may need to rely on your belief in them while they navigate through their times of hopelessness. As their religious leader these are critical times where they need someone to walk down this path with them. They need someone who believes in them. Here are a few suggestions that may be helpful at times like this:
It may also be helpful to review with the member the behavior of individuals who are most likely to succeed. Below is a list of the most effective actions individuals take when they are successful in this battle:
If a member indicates that their desire to stop viewing pornography is above five, that is a good indicator that their motivation is high. However, if they give themselves a high score and are still not making progress, it is important address this discrepancy. This can be accomplished by pointing out that their motivation seems high, but something is preventing their sustained progress. You may ask them to ponder or think about what is holding them back. When members participate in this type of personal awareness evaluation it is often helpful to them and it assists them as they take the next steps toward sustained recovery.
The behaviors in the member’s personal plan of action both produce and reflect repentance. If a member is following his plan, as you meet with him regularly and observe them at church, you will see change in his life. The people who heard King Benjamin’s sermon responded by saying, -Y΄we believe all the words which thou hast spoken unto us; and also, we know of their surety and truth, because of the Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent, which has wrought a mighty change in us, or in our hearts, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually.‘ (Mosiah 5:2)
When a member has repented, you will notice increased joy, improved spiritual strength, positive things filling his life, observance of his voluntary boundaries, accountability to his support team, service to others and absence of sin. There will be no more efforts to cover his sins. There will be a hungering to again partake of the sacrament and attend the temple. He will be effective in his calling and home/visiting teaching assignment. He will have a greater love for the Savior and a better understanding of and an increased appreciation of His atonement.
President Kimball provided wise counsel in recognizing repentance:
When a defiled man is born again, his habits are changed, his thoughts cleansed, his attitudes regenerated and elevated, his activities put in total order, and everything about him that was dirty, degenerate or reprobate is washed and made clean.
The analogy holds also in other areas of life. When soiled clothes have been through the laundry and washed, starched and pressed, they are no longer filthy. When the smallpox victim has been healed and cleansed, he is no longer contaminated. When one is washed and purged and cleansed, he is no longer a sinner. The washing, purging, cleansing process is mentioned many times, many places, by many prophets.
The effect of the cleansing is beautiful. Troubled souls have found peace. The soiled robes have been cleansed to spotlessness. These people formerly defiled, having been cleansed through their repentance—their washing, their purging, their whitening—are made worthy for constant temple service and to be found before the throne of God associating with divine royalty.
But to every forgiveness there is a condition. The plaster must be as wide as the sore. The fasting, the prayers, the humility must be equal to or greater than the sin. There must be a broken heart and a contrite spirit. There must be ΄sackcloth and ashes.‘ There must be tears and genuine change of heart. There must be conviction of the sin, abandonment of the evil, confession of the error to properly constituted authorities of the Lord. There must be restitution and a confirmed, determined change of pace, direction and destination. Conditions must be controlled and companionship corrected or changed. There must be a washing of robes to get them white, and there must be a new consecration and devotion to living all of the laws of God. In short, there must be an overcoming of self, of sin, and of the world. (Spencer W. Kimball, Ensign, Mar 1982, 2)
When repentance is complete, the Spirit whispers to you and the member that repentance is complete and the Lord has forgiven the member. It is appropriate for you to lovingly express that the repentance is complete, that member is forgiven, that his probation is over and that all privileges are restored. A current temple recommend should be returned to the member with encouragement to use it frequently. If a member’s temple recommend has expired, it is a good time to carry out a temple recommend interview and have the member leave with a new temple recommend.
Since many of the members that you work with have been involved with pornography for many years, it is going to take many months for them to repent (change). As mentioned in the Develop a Personal Plan of Action section, the objective is to strengthen the tree, not just clean the leaves. Repentance does not always coincide with the end of the semester or school year. It is based on behavior, not time. There will be instances when you are working with a member and he moves out of the ward while still in the repentance process. It is important for the member that he continues his personal plan of action in order to complete his repentance, be cleansed of this sin, and be forgiven. It would be a tremendous lost opportunity if he moved from your ward and didn’t get the help he needed to complete the process.
In order to facilitate this, we suggest that the member provide you, as soon as they have the information, the name of ward to which they are moving and if possible, the bishop’s name. The member might not know yet where he is moving; e.g. a summer sales job or an internship. When the member lands in a new ward, the member should go to the new bishop, explain their situation and have the new bishop contact you. This is the preferred method. Otherwise, if you don’t hear from the member for several weeks after he has moved out, you should contact the member, find out where he is living, and contact the new bishop, explaining to him the member’s situation, the status of his repentance, his personal plan of action, and any other appropriate information. If you are holding a temple recommend, it should be sent to the new bishop after you have had this transition discussion with him.
For additional resources i.e. scriptures, quotes, articles, and books, see Appendix C. Next Step: After Repentance.