And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them, for they were the very vilest of sinners. And the Lord saw fit in his infinite mercy to spare them; nevertheless they suffered much anguish of soul because of their iniquities, suffering much and fearing that they should be cast off forever. (Mosiah 28:4)Often we think that the angel’s visit to Alma the Younger and the four sons of Mosiah made the repentance process quick and easy, especially when we cite Alma’s later words—“I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more” (Alma 36:19)
However, we see from the verse in Mosiah that there is a long hangover symptom of anguish and fear that lasts for quite a while afterward and I think this is true for any person redeemed from their downward road into apostasy. I know I experienced it after my own near miss, and when I noticed that verse in Mosiah more than two years ago, the light went on and I thought, Ah ha, this is why I’m feeling this way.
What helped Alma the Younger and the four sons of Mosiah overcome it was having the Spirit of the Lord work on them to do missionary work.
35 And they traveled throughout all the land of Zarahemla, and among all the people who were under the reign of king Mosiah, zealously striving to repair all the injuries which they had done to the church, confessing all their sins, and publishing all the things which they had seen, and explaining the prophecies and the scriptures to all who desired to hear them.They knew they had to declare that what they had previously done was wrong and they had to replace it with the truth. So they went about teaching among their own people first. This was part of their repentance process. We know that. But it also had the effect of helping to assuage their own anguish and fear with the presence of the Holy Ghost during the long spiritual recovery. Focusing on helping others got them outside themselves. It gave them a store of good memories to look back on with satisfaction for the moments when Satan still tried to buffet them and make them feel like they were cast away despite their hopes to the contrary. It helped them rebuild their self-confidence because let’s face it—when a person is recovering from apostasy, they often have lost confidence in their own judgment (having found they were terribly wrong when they were sure they were right) and they distrust themselves. The best way to get it back is to build up a sufficient store of experiences serving the Lord, and doing missionary work is the best for that.
36 And thus they were instruments in the hands of God in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth, yea, to the knowledge of their Redeemer. (Mosiah 27:35-36)
Now they were desirous that salvation should be declared to every creature, for they could not bear that any human soul should perish; yea, even the very thoughts that any soul should endure endless torment did cause them to quake and tremble. And thus did the Spirit of the Lord work upon them...(Mosiah 28:3-4)
So why am I pointing this stuff out? I am writing for those in the church who have gone astray but who have come back, and who are going through that “long tail” anguish and fear. That is a hard place to be, and I understand what it feels like. It is as if you have fallen or begun to fall from a steep cliff, then realized it, and have clambered back up with help from the Lord. You have turned away from the cliff edge and are trying to leave it as quickly as possible, yet you don’t know how far you’ve come away from it and the cliff edge still feels like it is just at your heels and the slightest backsliding would send you over the cliff again.
It was hard enough for me even though I continued to go to church meetings, fulfill my callings, read the scriptures, pay tithing, keep the Word of Wisdom, or do visiting teaching, etc. etc. I never stopped doing that, yet my spiritual state felt so precarious. For a few months I had to take medication for depression and anxiety when it was becoming paralyzing. But over the long term, one of the big things that helped me was missionary work, particularly sharing my scripture insights on this blog.
Ultimately, the Book of Mormon gives hope that by clinging to the Lord and sharing the gospel, the long tail of anguish and fear will eventually come to an end and the Lord will make us stronger. Remember that when these same four returned from their mission to the Lamanites,
…they had waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God.I know that this is true. Glory be to the Father, who receives all His children who will repent and believe in Jesus the Christ! Glory to Christ for His infinite love and sacrifice! Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, goodwill toward men!
3 But this is not all; they had given themselves to much prayer, and fasting; therefore they had the spirit of prophecy, and the spirit of revelation, and when they taught, they taught with power and authority of God.
4 And they had been teaching the word of God for the space of fourteen years among the Lamanites, having had much success in bringing many to the knowledge of the truth; yea, by the power of their words many were brought before the altar of God, to call on his name and confess their sins before him. (Alma 17:2-4)