Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Consequences


By: Ardis E. Parshall - May 20, 2013

Like most people who have reached middle age, I’ve lived many different lives during my time in mortality. I’ve changed professional careers more than once; my hobbies and reading preferences and political interests have evolved. In one of those former lives, I was passionate about needlework.

I’ve shown you one of my embroideries; here’s a piece of crocheted lace I made 25 or more years ago:



What did you notice first? The classic pattern? The fact that it is wrinkled and unblocked? The stains and holes?

This panel was one of the casualties in a domestic storage disaster of a few years ago. For a long time it was black with mold and red with rust, both of which ate holes into the fabric. But I couldn’t bear to throw it away. It was one of my favorite pieces. It was made with size #150 thread, which no manufacturer in the world makes anymore. It broke my heart, but I couldn’t part with it. Every once in a while I learn about a new cleaning technique, and gradually the worst stains have faded and the purity of the original whiteness is returning. The lace is too fragile to stretch and block, and I haven’t yet got a clue how to repair the holes, but there has been amazing progress. There may yet be more progress. Hope continues.


The use of object lessons in Church classes has been roundly condemned in the past couple of weeks, in light of Elizabeth Smart’s reference to a particularly bad object lesson. I join in condemning any teaching method that reduces a human being’s value to a surface physical condition, and nothing I’m about to write should be twisted as meaning otherwise. I agree that object lessons can be bad, can be misapplied, can be pushed too far. They are analogies, after all.

But one of the statements frequently used to condemn object lessons really bothers me. And what’s a blog for, if not to air a grievance?

Although I don’t remember that I ever witnessed this analogy used in a Church setting, it is supposedly one widely used: Nails are pounded into a smooth board, representing sin entering an innocent life. The nails are removed, representing repentance. But everybody can see that there are still nail holes in the board. Bloggers protest that this teaches a warped view of repentance, that repentance plus the Atonement restore a life to its pristine condition. Bad object lesson! bad! bad!

I agree, in principle. What bothers me, though, is how quickly objectors pass by the element of repentance in order to get to the part where they can condemn the object lesson because it isn’t a perfect analogy to the Atonement.

We do ourselves a disservice by implying that repentance is quick and easy, and by pretending that the Atonement always and instantly wipes out all trace of a repented sin so that we can always go merrily along through mortality as if the sin had never been committed. There is no question that if we are truly repentant, the Atonement will eventually make all things right – but that clearly isn’t instant and universal in mortality, even when the Holy Spirit assures a repentant soul that he has been forgiven. Forgiveness is only one part of  the Atonement.

Forgiveness may come quickly in some cases – a mother may instantly forgive a tearful toddler who apologizes for cracking eggs all over the kitchen floor. But there are lingering consequences for that naughtiness: Somebody has to clean up the mess, and the family (including blameless siblings) may have to forego some treat because there are no eggs left for the planned baking.

There are (always? almost always?) consequences to wrongdoing that leave nail holes in the board, for the time being. There may be legal penalties to pay. There may be long-term health consequences. There may be loss of trust and confidence that take longer to rebuild than to forgive (you may forgive me for stealing from you, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to hire me as your cashier). Even when the sin has been fully erased, there may be long- or short-term opportunities lost because someone was first sinning and then dealing with the consequences. And there may well be innocent parties who suffer because of another’s sin – your repentance doesn’t necessarily mend the holes you have torn into my life.

I believe that, eventually, the Atonement will make all things right. Not only will the Savior take away guilt – after we have done our part, which may not be as quick or easy as we pretend – but the Atonement will also make right the wrongs we have caused to innocent people, and in all ways compensate for the consequences of sin.

But we do ourselves a real disservice to focus so exclusively on the end result of the Atonement and gloss over the potentially long-lasting mortal effects of sin. Better not to have committed the sin in the first place, no matter how thoroughly repentance plus the Atonement eventually erases that sin.


In the meantime, I have my own imperfect object lesson in the form of that damaged yet still loved piece of crocheted lace. I’ve long since repented of delaying the home maintenance that would have prevented the storage disaster … but the consequences of that procrastination may never be fully removed. Thank heavens – very literally – that the Savior has offered a way to erase completely the stains and fill in the holes in my life, someday. If I value this stained and torn bit of the “workmanship of mine own hands,” how much more God must love the work of His hands.

Hope continues.



  1. I noticed the beautiful peacock first. How big is the piece? I’m glad you were able to restore it.

    I think your main topic is important. This morning, however, I need to focus on admiring your beautiful skill and lovely creation.

    Comment by HokieKate — May 20, 2013 @ 8:26 am

  2. I noticed the wonderful peacock first, too.

    The first time I can remember hearing about the nail-in-the-board analogy was in reading my dad’s journal. Evidently, it was used once when he was a teenager. He had the good sense to note that he appreciated the thought behind the analogy, but that he thought it ultimately taught bad doctrine. Thanks for reminding us, Ardis, that sometimes the intent behind these object lessons is motivated by genuine spiritual desires.

    Comment by David Y. — May 20, 2013 @ 8:57 am

  3. HokieKate, it’s about 12″ by 15″.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — May 20, 2013 @ 9:09 am

  4. Sigh. I noticed the peacock first and thought it had been made with colored thread that had faded. Optimism fail.

    And here’s my take on the sinning object lessons.

    Ardis says I don’t self-promote, but sometimes I do. I suppose someone can turn that into an object lesson.

    Comment by Grant — May 20, 2013 @ 9:16 am

  5. I honestly find it difficult not to see everything, or a little bit of everything all at once, at the same time. I see something from the past that has been very longingly perserved. For me, the age and inevitable blemishes only add to its story and beauty. And the stories I’ll bet that embroidery could tell!

    Comment by Gary Bergera — May 20, 2013 @ 9:37 am

  6. Ardis, this reminded me of a piece of lace found by my wife’s father recently, that we eventually traced back to several items of English lace brought back by my wife’s brother from his mission 30 years ago. Nothing quite so elaborate as yours, although larger, but also stained from being packed in a plastic bag next to some cheap blue yarn.

    I heard firsthand the nail in the board analogy in 9th grade seminary in Ogden, Utah, too many years ago. While I now find that analogy somewhat repugnant, it does remind me of a talk by President Eyring back in 1989.

    Repentance figured strongly in his talk, and he referenced D&C 95:1-2, which says through repentance we will be chastised, and through the chastisement, we will be strengthened. President Eyring remembers hearing Theodore A. Tuttle reference this scripture and talk about it, and wrote in his own scriptures, “Teach the people that repentance hurts>.”

    It sounds like that is what you are getting at here.

    Comment by kevinf — May 20, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

  7. Lovely lace. My wife has done a bit of crocheting (though nothing quite as complex as this) — sorry for the corrupting rust (though it’s good to know the scriptures are true…)

    As for the object lesson on the nail and the board: I think any object lesson that engenders discussion has merit, if only to point out the shortcoming of the object lesson.

    And in this case, I was thinking that although the sin may be erased in the atonement, it is never promised that we would be unchanged, as if we had never sinned. Although the Savior promises not to remember our sin, we still remember it. And so I’ve thought about that example with the nails. It’s true that repentance and the atonement will come and fill those holes with wood putty and sand them so that the function of the board is restored, the board itself is likely always to be affected by the experience, just as we are. (My two cents, anyway.)

    Comment by Paul — May 20, 2013 @ 1:05 pm

  8. My tentative belief about the effects of the atonement have always been that it can erase guilt, and you will be able to stand blameless when the guilt has been washed away, but like the nail holes in the hands of the Savior, the scars will remain. The acts committed won’t be undone, and the omissions will be omissions still, but somehow, miraculously, the guilt and the associated pain will be removed by the Lord. I have long thought this, and haven’t yet learned any further doctrine that corrects me.

    I also think that surely you have seen enough museum restorations and poked around in enough archived collections that you’ve seen how old and valuable objects are preserved with at least some of their damage intact. In fact, the damage becomes part of the historical record, which holds some of the value of the treasure. I’d repair the holes just enough to prevent further enlargement and preserve the piece as is, either framed for display or archival storage. And I’d place an archival copy of this blog post with it.

    Comment by MDearest — May 20, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

  9. When I started teaching Young Women for the first time four years ago, I quickly discovered that the Laurels were very jaded when it came to any hint of an object lesson. If I brought any kind of unusual object to class, they immediately began guessing what object lesson it was supposed to be in their most cynical tones. I found that to be a very interesting reaction among these very devoted, religiously-minded Young Women.

    Since I have an adversion to object lessons myself, I was a total disappointment to them. They never once guessed right because I never once used an “object lesson” as an analogy, although I did sometimes use an object to focus attention or spark discussion.

    Mormons seem to love religious analogies that can be derived from objects or demonstrations. I think this is related to our need to sermonize and teach on a regular basis. However, sometimes we don’t think very deeply about what we are actually communicating.

    Comment by blueagleranch — May 20, 2013 @ 1:40 pm

  10. I didn’t notice the holes or the faint staining. Only the mind-blowing amount of time and ‘mad skilz’ this piece represents.

    Takeaway object lesson: Why do I feel obligated to point out small and maybe even unnoticible weaknesses and shortcomings instead of appreciating the gifts and talents God has given me? I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with this.

    Comment by The Other Clark — May 22, 2013 @ 11:18 am

  11. Wonderful, thoughtful insights. Much for me to think about. Thank you, Ardis, for sharing both your beautiful work and your deep thoughts.

    Comment by lindberg — May 22, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

Leave a comment

RSS feed for comments on this post.
TrackBack URI