Monday, August 10, 2015

My Wife's Talk in Sacrament Meeting: The Atonement in My Own Life

My wife gave this talk early last year, during and in the aftermath of some difficult times.

Dictionary definition:

1. satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury; amends.
2. Theology : the doctrine concerning the reconciliation of God and humankind, especially as accomplished through the life, suffering, and death of Christ.

The background basics, familiar to most of us:

As descendants of Adam and Eve, all people inherit the effects of the Fall. In our fallen state, we are subject to opposition and temptation. When we give in to temptation, we are alienated from God, and if we continue in sin, we experience spiritual death, being separated from His presence. We are all subject to temporal death, which is the death of the physical body.

The only way for us to be saved is for someone else to rescue us. We need someone who can satisfy the demands of justice—standing in our place to assume the burden of the Fall and to pay the price for our sins. Jesus Christ has always been the only one capable of making such a sacrifice.

Only He had the power to lay down His life and take it up again. From His mortal mother, Mary, He inherited the ability to die. From His immortal Father, He inherited the power to overcome death.

Only He could redeem us from our sins. God the Father gave Him this power. The Savior was able to receive this power and carry out the Atonement because He kept Himself free from sin. Having lived a perfect, sinless life, He was free from the demands of justice. Because He had the power of redemption and because He had no debt to justice, he could extend mercy and pay the debt for those who repent.

Jesus' atoning sacrifice took place in the Garden of Gethsemane and on the cross at Calvary. In Gethsemane He submitted to the will of the Father.

“I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; … Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit …” (D&C 19:16,18).

The Savior continued to suffer for our sins when He allowed Himself to be crucified. On the cross, He allowed Himself to die. He was resurrected. Through His death and resurrection, He overcame physical death for us all.

Jesus Christ redeems all people from the effects of the Fall. All people who have ever lived on the earth and who ever will live on the earth will be resurrected and brought back into the presence of God to be judged. Through the Savior's gift of mercy and redeeming grace, we will all receive the gift of immortality.

The atonement is the supreme expression of love given from our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. It is the demonstration of their purpose and desires. Their goal is our continued happiness and development.

“For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” (Moses 1:39)

As I have thought and prayed about how to prepare this talk, I have returned again and again to the same thoughts. How does the atonement relate to adversity? How do we allow the atonement to change our lives and actions? How can the atonement help us cope with the challenges of life? I can only begin to answer these questions through scripture and personal experience.

“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance. ( Alma 7:11-13)

The atonement of Jesus Christ covers more than just sin. He suffered for all the weaknesses, pains, and issues of mortality. He intimately understands our suffering and infirmities, and knows how to succor us. He overcame death. Because of our Savior’s reparation in our behalf, we can be reconciled with HF and return to His presence.

In Oct 2012, Linda K. Burton gave a talk “Is Faith in the Atonement of Jesus Christ Written in Our Hearts?” She says, “We have faced assorted soul-stretching challenges and adversities. Without an understanding of Heavenly Father’s perfect plan of happiness and the Savior’s Atonement.. these challenges could seem unfair. We all share in the trials of life together. But in faithful hearts is written, ‘All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.’ … Why does the Lord allow suffering and adversity to come to us in this life? Simply put, it is part of the plan for our growth and progress!“

Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught, “Our needed conversions are often achieved more readily by suffering and adversity than by comfort and tranquility.” (quoted in Burton talk)

Elder David A. Bednar said, “It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us – that is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us – not only to direct us but also to empower us.” (Burton talk)

Over the past 6 months, our family has had an abundance of challenges – the major ones being the losses of a job, Ray’s dad, and my dad.

I have asked when things will be made right. I have asked, “Why me? Why now?” I have asked, as did Joseph in Liberty Jail, “O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?”(D&C 121:1) I have keenly felt the loss of my dads, and even nearly 6 and 4 months later I still can be overwhelmed by a song or joke or picture or quote or memory.
Our family has looked forward to the wedding of our son, Jeff, and Laney for a long time. My parents were serving their 4th mission and Dad was beginning the process of getting permission to leave their mission to be their sealer in a temple other than where he was assigned. After my dad’s stroke and death, I have dreaded, even as I have anticipated, the day we would finally become official in-laws. I am grateful that the Lord compensates for our losses. The sealing was not easy, but it was not nearly as difficult as I expected. I know many of us there felt the presence of my dad, and I am so thankful for my knowledge of the plan. It does not erase the pain, but it does soften it.

I frequently think of Elder Quentin R. Cook’s talk from Oct 2008 “Hope Ya’ Know, We Had a Hard Time.” He reminded us that there must be opposition in all things. He talked of various challenges we face: employment and financial problems, physical and mental health challenges, marital problems, wayward children, loss of loved ones, addictions, heartache. He said,

“Whatever the source of the trials, they cause significant pain and suffering for individuals and those who love them. … Some trials are for our good and are suited for our own personal development. We also know that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. It is also true that every cloud we see doesn’t result in rain. Regardless of the challenges, trials, and hardships we endure, the reassuring doctrine of the Atonement wrought by Jesus Christ [teaches that He will] ‘succor his people according to their infirmities.’ “

I also frequently remind myself of Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s talk from Oct 2008 “Come What May, and Love It.” This phrase is advice from his mother. He said,

“How can we love days that are filled with sorrow? We can’t – at least not in the moment. I don’t think my mother was suggesting that we suppress discouragement or deny the reality of pain. I don’t think she was suggesting that we smother unpleasant truths beneath a cloak of pretended happiness. But I do believe that the way we react to adversity can be a major factor in how happy and successful we can be in life. If we approach adversities wisely, our hardest times can be times of greatest growth, which in turn can lead toward times of greatest happiness.”

Elder Wirthlin suggests that we learn to laugh, seek for the eternal, understand the principle of compensation, and trust in the Father and Son. He said,

“Learning to endure times of disappointment, suffering, and sorrow is part of our on-the-job training. These experiences, while often difficult to bear at the time, are precisely the kinds of experiences that stretch our understanding, build our character, and increase our compassion for others. Because Jesus Christ suffered greatly, He understands our suffering. He understands our grief. We experience hard things so that we too may have increased compassion and understanding for others.”

He also stated,

“The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss. That which is taken away from those who love the Lord will be added unto them in His own way. While it may not come at the time we desire, the faithful will know that every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude. One of the blessings of the gospel is the knowledge that when the curtain of death signals the end of our mortal lives, life will continue on the other side of the veil. There we will be given new opportunities. Not even death can take from us the eternal blessings promised by a loving Heavenly Father.”

This law of compensation has been a comfort to me in dealing with the loss of my dads. It has offered me hope and a measure of peace and acceptance. I know my dads are aware of me and our families, and they are busy participating in the work of the Lord on the other side of the veil, just as they were here in mortality.

These past months are not the first time we have faced extreme challenges. But one of the over-riding and persistent thoughts I have concerning our current situation is the realization of how much better I am coping than I have in the past.

This leads me to ponder what has changed – beyond additional time to grow and mature.

I have come to the conclusion that there are four basic concepts that have made the difference for me: faith, hope, charity, and gratitude. As I continue to develop these characteristics and instill them into my heart and soul, it is easier to believe in who I am, to fulfill my purposes here in mortality, and to remember that life is intended to be a test and an empowering experience. Each of these principles leads me closer to the Savior and increases my appreciation for His atoning sacrifice.

“Ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him.” (Moroni 7:41)

“Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works , being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4)

My faith and hope are anchors when life gets tough. They persuade me to perform good works and trust God’s promises. My faith leads to a patient persistence in believing He is aware of us and our needs and desires and issues. From our mortal perspective, we are not always able to clearly see what is best for us. Eternal perspective offers the hope that our trials and learning curves have a purpose and are not in vain. My hope in the eventual outcome, even if some of the resolution happens in the next life, is what helps me continue to put one foot in front of the other, to get out of bed each day, and to carry on in the face of adversity. Charity, or the pure love of Christ, leads us to love others. Helping others, even when it may be inconvenient, brings happiness and peace. Turning away from our own pain and sorrow for a time while in the service of others is a healing balm of Gilead. And the recognition that we have reason to rejoice and be grateful, regardless of the struggles, helps us focus on the blessings in our lives. Gratitude and optimism, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges and sorrows and burdens, make a difference in coping with the roller coaster of mortality.

Over the past 6 years, I have written a weekly blessing list. This has literally changed me from the inside out. I have gone from being a naturally pessimistic and discouraged person to being more naturally optimistic and hopeful. I have learned to trust in the Lord and to begin some semblance of letting go of things I can’t control. I have gained a greater degree of peace and joy. I have experienced emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual healing. I have become more faithful, hopeful, charitable, and grateful. I have become a little better at relying on the mercies and grace of Christ.

Does this mean it is easy to go through trials? No. But it does make it easier. Does this mean I don’t have moments of weakness and frustration, that I don’t have room for improvement? Of course it doesn’t. I have my bad days. I have meltdowns. I have pounded my head against the brick wall of adversity, trying to find my way over or under, around or through the challenges of life. I have ranted and cried. I have wished things could be different. I have my own private Gethsame moments, as we all do.

But I return again and again to the atonement of Jesus Christ. He is our Savior and Redeemer. He saves us from ourselves, our weaknesses and ailments. He redeems us from our sins. He has descended below all things. How can we expect to become like Him if we do not also suffer in some way?

I have felt the reassurance of His compassion in the answer Joseph received in the Liberty Jail,

“My son [or daughter], peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.” (D&C 121:7-8)

God’s response to Joseph’s plea concludes with these comforting words:

“know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:7-8)

A few months ago when I was really struggling, a good friend gave me a copy of this quote by Jeffrey R. Holland:

“If for a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.”

Adversity is not easy, but we are in good company. We have only to open the scriptures to know that every dispensation has had its struggles. We are not alone. The Savior has atoned for our sins, weaknesses, infirmities, and sorrows. When we feel lost and alone, if we will turn our focus away from the blinding pain, we will find He is there beside us, willing to help us carry the burdens, offering hope and peace, allowing His grace to bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be. The blessings of eternity promise that our willingness to leave God’s presence in the pre-mortal world to come to this earth and be tested and tried to prove our faithfulness will be worth every effort and every challenge.

Nephi taught,

“Press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life.” (2 Nephi 31:20)

I testify that our Savior and Redeemer does indeed heal all wounds and all losses. His endless and perfect love and compassionate sacrifice saves and redeems us from ourselves, from every sin, every sorrow, every infirmity, and every challenge. His atonement will make all things right.

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