NT 17: What Does the Atonement Mean to Me?

Last week in Come, Follow Me we read about the Savior’s suffering in Gethsemane. I was also preparing to speak on Sunday about the Atonement. I reflected frequently on what I know and continue to learn about the Atonement. These are a few of the lessons that came to mind as I read and pondered Matthew 26 and Mark 14.

  1. Even Jesus wanted to give up: “let this cup pass from me” says so much to me about the extremes and agonies of Christ’s atoning sacrifice. One of the miracles of the Atonement is that He wanted to make the suffering stop…but He completed it because He knew that it was necessary to provide the opportunity for repentance and eternal life for all of God’s children.
  2. Weak things become strong: to me, the Atonement provides the opportunity for transformation––not just sinner to saint, or mortal to immortal, but also shy person to enthusiastic ministering sister/brother, or socially awkward to strong friendshipper. In a miraculous way through the Atonement, Christ is able to step into our weaknesses, give us His strength to begin improving, and teach us how to improve.
  3. Will power and energy: on my mission I learned that even when bone tired and without energy, I could keep working if I had the desire/will power.
  4. He really does understand: again, a miracle of the Atonement I don’t fully comprehend, but I know Christ understands each and every person who has ever lived on earth. He knows what we’re going through, and He CAN help.
  5. Being enough: not sure what I meant by this originally but we all need to embrace the fact that Christ loves us––imperfect us––just the way we are. He loves us enough to also see our eternal potential and encourage and facilitate its development.
  6. Joy in misery: this is another transformation topic I ponder…the fact that even in the midst of experiencing tremendous pain, disappointment, or misery, we can experience joy in the Gospel through Jesus Christ.
  7. Just me and God: learning to rely on God without having anyone else physically present on whom I could rely was a fear-inducing but necessary lesson. While studying Come, Follow Me I have reflected on how confident Jesus must have been to teach the way He did, prophesy the things He prophesied, and pursue His path to Atonement, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. God the Father was His bedrock and He needs to be ours as well.

NT 7: Temptation, Mortality, and Hope

img_2650I made bread today. This is my late grandma’s recipe and every bite brings a wave of nostalgia. And it’s just really, really delicious bread.

Today I studied the temptation of Christ following His forty-day fast in the wilderness (cf. Matthew 4:1-11, NT and Luke 4:1-13, NT). The temptations Jesus experienced seem to reveal a pattern of human frailty: physical hunger, desire for control over life and death, and lust for power over external things and people. If we have Christ’s perspective of the reality of earth life and eternity, that perspective quickly exposes Satan’s lies about the supposed importance of satiating physical hunger at the expense of more important things, his lies about mortal ability to control anything, and his lies about the need for “power.” Satan knows mortal weakness, though, and knows just how to get us.

Like today. Some of the “magic” I have felt the last few weeks has rubbed off and I’m left to my own strength again; left to fight those temptations that are uniquely mine. But are those temptations only mine? Going on the strength of 1 Corinthians 10:13, maybe our temptations and sufferings really aren’t that unique. “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man…” (1 Corinthians 10:13, NT). If temptations fall into a pattern of human frailty, maybe our temptations and sufferings aren’t that different from people around us.

We sometimes wonder if Christ really did experience every pain, affliction, sorrow that every person on earth has ever or will ever experience. The conceit of suffering suggests that no one can know, no one can possibly fathom just how difficult this temptation or challenge really is. The conceit of suffering also convinces us that if no one has experienced exactly what we’re going through, then no one can possibly help. And we effectively cut off the only real source of comfort, help, and healing that exists: Jesus.

He really did experience EVERY pain, sorrow, affliction, sickness, disappointment, temptation (Alma 7:11-12, BoM). He KNOWS. He understands what we’re going through. He wants to help. If we acknowledge His prior experience and accept His knowledge, we can open ourselves to help, healing, and change.

As for my temptations today, I don’t know if Jesus had any of His own kids to yell at, but He did experience mortality and I believe that He understands (at the very least) the weakness at the heart of my temptation to yell. He provided “an escape” for me several weeks ago (when I didn’t yell at my kids for a whole week!) and He can help me learn how to overcome my weakness, stop giving into temptation, and change my behavior to something more godly.

Day 77: Lonely, but Never Alone

Mormon 8:2-3, 23-24

Moroni, the final Book of Mormon prophet-historian, was to his knowledge the last Nephite living around 400 AD. An enormous army of Nephites had been decimated at a final, massive battle; of 24 known survivors (Mormon 6:11, 15) only Moroni escaped the Lamanites’ dogged determination to wipe out every last Nephite (Mormon 8:2-3). “[A]nd I even remain alone to write the sad tale of the destruction of my people” (Mormon 8:3). Moroni was truly alone. His father had been killed, his people were destroyed; he was left to wander the land in constant fear of his life: “And whether they will slay me, I know not” (ibid.).

Have you ever felt alone? In our day, it’s entirely possible to be surrounded by people and still feel isolated, lonely, unheard, unnoticed, uncared for. I have experienced this. After graduating from college and moving in with my grandma, I struggled to make friends in my single adult congregation. I still remember the pain and embarrassment of trying to make friends and singling out a man one Sunday who I didn’t know was engaged. When his fiancée showed up the next Sunday, I realized what I had done. I felt foolish, embarrassed, frustrated. But nothing could compare with the utter loneliness that descended on me. As a missionary, geographically and technologically cut off from my family and assigned to live with perfect strangers, I felt afraid and isolated for many months. Literally no one knew me. The people who should have been my friends didn’t seem to care about me.

Somehow Moroni pressed on. And somehow, I did, too. Moroni testified:

…and as the Lord liveth he will remember the covenant which he hath made with them. And he knoweth their prayers…. And he knoweth their faith, for in his name could they remove mountains; and in his name could they cause the earth to shake; and by the power of his word did they cause prisons to tumble to the earth; yea, even the fiery furnace could not harm them, neither wild beasts nor poisonous serpents, because of the power of his word. (Mormon 8:23-24)

Like Moroni, I discovered Christ in my extremities. As I walked my lonely paths, I found the Savior walking beside me. He heard my prayers; He organized small details of my life to speak comfort to me and bring great blessings; He provided me with opportunities to grow, to develop self-confidence, to hone talents, to learn how to minister to others, to get outside my comfort zone, to succeed against self-imposed limitations and stiff odds; He kept me safe when I was afraid; He provided for me in my hours of need.

It is tempting in the depths of despair and loneliness to conceitedly think that no one understands. But Jesus Christ truly does understand. He walked the loneliest path of all, through Gethsemane and on to Calvary where even His closest friends abandoned Him. He bore the weight of our sins, suffering, illness, and pain completely alone. On the cross, Jesus even lost the support of His Father’s presence, needing to fully comprehend spiritual death so as to fulfill His role as Savior. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “because Jesus walked such a long, lonely path utterly alone, we do not have to do so…. Trumpeted from the summit of Calvary is the truth that we will never be left alone nor unaided, even if sometimes we may feel that we are” (“None Were with Him,” General Conference [April 2009]).

Jesus Christ understands. He can help you carry your burden, whatever it is. He has felt your pain, loneliness, despair, disappointment. He stands ready to wrap you in the arms of His love and mercy. No matter who you are, what you have done, where you live, Jesus Christ knows and understands you. He loves you perfectly. He can heal you, just as He did Moroni anciently, and just as He has healed me.

Day 41: Silver Linings

Alma 20:29

In Alma 20:29 we learn of the intense suffering of Ammon’s brother Aaron and some of his mission companions. After trying to teach different communities of Lamanites and being harshly rejected, the group ended up in prison where they experienced “hunger, thirst, and all kinds of afflictions.” “All kinds of afflictions.” We each know what it is like to suffer. Whether disappointment, chronic pain, abuse, uncertainty, fear, afflictions hound our mortal lives.

The circumstances of Aaron’s imprisonment and release put me in mind of a phrase from the Doctrine and Covenants: “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). The Lord turned a terrible experience for Aaron and his companions to great good for King Lamoni and his father. Lamoni became an independent ruler and was able to proclaim religious freedom in his land. Aaron and his companions were able to teach King Lamoni’s father, help him repent, and then aid him in establishing Christ’s church among his people. Aaron and his brethren eventually “brought many to the knowledge of the truth” (Alma 21:17). If you look at the sequence of events in Alma 19-20, you can see the Lord’s hand.

I don’t want to minimize anyone’s suffering. But I do want infuse hope into your experience. The Lord promises that if you “[s]earch diligently, pray always, and be believing…[and] walk uprightly and remember” your covenants, “all things shall work together for your good” (D&C 90:24). Remember that the Lord is bound by His promises. When we keep the commandments and fulfill our covenants, the Lord can open the windows of heaven. If we will be “patient in all [our] sufferings” like Aaron and his brethren, we can move forward with our lives, trusting in the Lord to turn even the worst suffering into great good. No experience will be wasted. He is a God of miracles who will transform all suffering, all sorrow, ALL afflictions into something of great worth that will be for your good.

Day 38: Steps into the Darkness

Alma 8-14

Having finished Alma 14 today, I see a good moment to pause and reflect on two themes exemplified in Amulek’s experience as a reactivated church member and new missionary.

1. When God asks you to do something, He doesn’t give you every detail in advance.

Amulek says he had heard the call to repent and turn back to the Lord many times (Alma 10:6). He ignored it. But when God sent the angel with the brief message to receive into his home a hungry prophet of God, he acted (Alma 10:7). The brevity of the angel’s instruction to Amulek and the scarcity of information provided really stands out to me. Amulek acted with faith to follow the angel’s instructions. He expresses his faith to Alma upon their divinely directed encounter, stating simply, “I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house” (Alma 8:20).

What stands out to me is that Amulek likely had no idea what was going to be expected of him once he took this faith-filled step into the darkness. God didn’t include advance notice that he would be asked to “go forth and prophesy unto this people” (v. 29), nor did He provide lesson plans, a warning about how the people would react, or instructions for the coming days and weeks. The only instruction provided was, “Thou shalt receive [Alma]” (Alma 8:80; Alma 10:7).

God will extend many invitations to us over our lifetimes. Let’s be like Amulek and act in faith, knowing that whatever He asks will ultimately “be a blessing unto [you] and [your] house.”

2. Doing God’s will does not guarantee that you will be kept safe or avoid unpleasant, uncomfortable, or even dangerous situations.

I used to tell myself that if God had told me in advance everything I would experience on my mission, I never would have gone. And, yes, pre-mission me had a right to feel really nervous and scared about serving a mission. But I would never trade the joy I experienced helping others repent nor the covenant friendships I forged as a missionary.

The Book of Mormon doesn’t share much about Amulek’s state of mind or feelings about becoming Alma’s mission companion except to record that he willingly took his step into the darkness and faithfully acted on God’s invitation and instructions. The people we’re asked to serve in the places we’re asked to go have their agency. They are free to act as they want and see fit. When we accept an assignment from God to go serve, doing God’s will does not guarantee that people are going to be nice, welcoming, accepting, or even polite.

Amulek learned first hand about being rejected in the harshest ways possible: he and Alma were plotted against (Alma 10:13), he was called a liar (Alma 10:28), they were “bound with strong cords” (Alma 14:4), they were unjustly accused and illegally tried on false charges (Alma 14:5), they were forced to watch people they taught be burned alive (Alma 14:8-10), they were attacked and beaten multiple times (Alma 14:14, 20, 21, 24, 25), they were imprisoned while tied up with no clothes (Alma 14:17, 22), they were starved (Alma 14:22).

Just the potential for this kind of suffering while doing God’s work is reason enough for almost anyone to refuse an assignment. But when we really believe deep in our souls that God is real, that His work is vital, that the Plan of Salvation is in effect, that the human race has the opportunity to live with God forever OR be cast off to suffer eternally, then the potential for earthly suffering on God’s errand takes on a whole new perspective. Taking the chance on potential (temporary) suffering to bring even one person to Christ has to be worth it.

God may or may not protect you while you are on His errand, He won’t interfere with anyone’s agency, you may or may not have to go to dangerous places, you may or may not be required to have many unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences; but God does guarantee blessings, He does promise that His righteous works will be fulfilled, He does promise that suffering and misery are temporary, that they will end and be replaced with peace and joy.

Elder Holland spoke to this principle years ago in October 1999 General Conference. I’ll end with his closing words:

I testify that God lives, that He is our Eternal Father, that He loves each of us with a love divine. I testify that Jesus Christ is His Only Begotten Son in the flesh and, having triumphed in this world, is an heir of eternity, a joint-heir with God, and now stands on the right hand of His Father. I testify that this is Their true Church and that They sustain us in our hour of need—and always will, even if we cannot recognize that intervention. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. (Holland, “An High Priest of Good Things to Come,General Conference (Oct 1999.)