I am surrounded by amazing and faith-filled people. My sister, Daciana Washburn recently shared some of her thoughts and struggles applying the Savior’s Atonement in her life. Her struggle is so applicable that I asked if I could share her words with you.
Logical Understanding versus Real Application
I kept getting the impression that I needed to share how the Atonement of Christ has really worked in my life – not just logically, but personally. This is a topic that I have struggled to understand and accept. Logically, everything with Christ’s Atonement made sense. As we work our way through our different paths in life, we would sin and fall short. In order to return to our Heavenly Father we needed to be cleansed. But being sinners we couldn’t cleanse ourselves. Christ was offered as our Savior to sacrifice his sinless life to cleanse and save ours. Which means death cannot stop us. Sin can only stop us if we let it.
Like everyone else, I’m assuming, I have sinned. I had sins that caused me guilt and were a reminder of my unworthiness. But just as the Lord promised, as I repented, I knew that my sins didn’t need to define me anymore and that God did not remember them. It’s interesting how those sins are a little hard for me to even remember. I remembered them but they no longer caused me guilt or pain. The Lord keeps his promises!
“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.”
This life can be hard. As we strive to become more like God we, of necessity, must go through trials. This is where I have struggled to understand and accept the Atonement of Christ in my life. I knew that I needed to repent, but I didn’t always understand that Christ’s Grace was there to help me with other trials.
In an effort to show how the Atonement of Christ has blessed me, I’m going to share some experiences– not for pity or judgment–to show that Christ is there for us in all situations and feelings. As a child I went through a very difficult trial where I was mistreated by people who should have loved and cared for me. It was not my fault and I didn’t deserve it.
In my little girl effort to make sense of it all, I blamed myself, and God for not protecting me. I unfortunately came to the conclusion that I had to take care of myself. I continued to go through the motions of proper public worship but a wall had been built and privately I felt like I was not worthy of God’s love and protection.
He had become something abstract that I was currently unworthy of and could only access by working harder and being better,when in reality, I needed him to help me overcome those terrible feelings of depression, guilt, shame, inadequacy, brokenness and intense loneliness. I grew up this way…publicly checking all the boxes, but privately struggling to feel His Love for me and questioning why I had to endure something so hard as a child if God was a God of love.
The God of Broken Things
Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays. But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come. No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, Sunday will come. In this life or the next, Sunday will come.”
Elder David A. Bednar said, “I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities, overcoming bad and becoming good—are accomplished through the power of the Atonement. Individual willpower, personal determination and motivation, and effective planning and goal setting are necessary, but ultimately insufficient, to triumphantly complete this mortal journey. Truly we must come to rely upon “the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.”
But I didn’t get this back then. I acted as if I were on my own because I believed that I Was.
Applying the Atonement to Others
Fast Forward a few years to my mission.
I served in St. Louis, Missouri. I was out about 4 months or so when the elders from an adjacent ward asked us to teach one of their investigators – a woman named Marty. She was great and was very interested in the gospel. We could see her excitement but she struggled with making the commitment to be baptized. As we talked to her more and tried to figure out what was holding her back she finally confided in us that she didn’t feel that some of these blessing could apply to her.
She told us briefly about how as a child she had been mistreated and the feelings and pain this had continued to bring to her. I was a little taken aback. Her experience was so similar to mine — the same one I had pushed to the far corners of my mind by this time. The thought came to me –“This is Why” and I shared with her some of my own experience and then as if the spirit were talking to us both I talked about how Christ’s Grace can take those burdens from us as well —as we allow Christ to work in us. I could see the hope building in her as I spoke and the Spirit confirmed what I was saying and she continued on and was baptized a few months later.
I don’t believe that God “gave” me that terrible experience as a child just so I could help Marty. But I do believe that because of what I had experienced, He was able to use me to help Marty come to Him. Just as Christ has felt what we have felt, I was able to offer comfort and support because I had felt exactly what she had felt.
A few months later on my mission, I met an incredible guy named Jim. He was almost homeless when we met him through a woman named Linda. Linda had once been a member and wanted to be retaught and baptized. She invited Jim over to sit with her during the discussions and soon he was progressing more than she was. He ate it up.
He was a rough old guy and it was incredible to see the softness come into his face as he prayed sincere and simple prayers and as he asked questions about the scriptures. He was definitely “golden”. He progressed quickly and was excited to be baptized. He came to church often.
He was living in a garage/out of his car at this point but he didn’t care. He was so buoyed up by the things he was learning that he wasn’t bothered by anything else, or so we thought. His baptism was perfect and when he received the Holy Ghost the next Sunday I was so overwhelmed with the Spirit that I had to peek and take a look at Jim. He was glowing.
A few weeks passed and we weren’t seeing Jim at church much. We went to his garage and saw beer cans and other evidence of his not feeling so great. We asked what was going on and he finally told us it was all a lie. That he had basically lied about everything and nothing we said about the Savior’s Atonement applied to him.
He had done something so terrible he could not be forgiven. We talked about how he had felt and about his baptism and confirmation –pleading with him to remember those moments–that Christ’s Atonement could cover it!
He finally told us about something from his past that he had done that he believed was too awful to be forgiven. He had been at the lake with some friends drinking and partying. At one point Jim saw a guy seriously, menacingly bothering one of the girls and he stepped in to protect her. It ended in Jim trying so hard to stop the guy that he had put the guy under the water. They were all drunk and Jim didn’t realize the man stopped moving. Of course, the courts ruled the incident as self-defense, but Jim had lived with the guilt and shame of it ever since.
He hadn’t told us beforehand and refused to talk to the branch president or our mission president to help ease his mind after wards. We stopped being able to find Jim. He was so transient. But he never returned to church, at least during that time.
It was as though he stared Grace in the face and rejected it. I remember having an image of Christ with his hands open and reaching for him, and Jim looking longingly in that direction before shaking his head, and walking off sadly.
After seeing such light come in Marty as she began to access the Atonement of Christ more fully and then the darkness I witnessed come into Jim as he rejected it, I promised myself to never do that.
Restored to its Perfect Frame
Fast forward many years and I find that I have done just that. Although I had moments of clarity about how I needed the Atonement of Christ so desperately, I didn’t take the steps to apply it to my life. My laundry list of issues just grew: the pain from my childhood, the regret from experiences like that with Jim where I just know I should have done more, failings as a mother, wife, friend, daughter, physical therapist, citizen, in my various callings. I can find failings everywhere.
I read scriptures such as Alma 11:44 where We are promised that “every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame” yet I felt so broken and unfixable. The Lord watches over us and I was inspired through various places to realize my biggest setback was NOT using Christ’s Atonement. I just didn’t feel like I knew how.
I began to try to be more sincere in my worship – trying to seek Christ by reading the scriptures, praying with meaning, studying the Atonement of Christ, basically just hoping something would click. And it did.
Fellowship of Christ’s Sufferings
While reading a book by Bruce C. Hafen (one of my favorite authors about the Atonement), I came across a scripture about Christ’s suffering. As I looked for it again later, I found that Elder Maxwell had used it in a talk along with this quote from Brigham Young.
“President Young said of Jesus, ‘Why should we imagine for one moment that we can be prepared to enter into the kingdom of rest with Him and the Father, without passing through similar ordeals?’ The Apostle Paul noted in Phillipians 3:10 that we will then have known the ‘fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings.’”
As I read that phrase “fellowship of Christ’s suffering” I was brought back to my childhood suffering. A thought came into my mind over and over “You were not alone, Christ was suffering with you.”
Trials will always find us. Satan will always find ways to exploit our feelings of inadequacy, pain, shame, hurt, depression, brokenness, rejection, loneliness, et cetera which will come and try to smother us. Sometimes they do. Our weakness can seem to be our undoing.
But sometimes hope can come from these as they turn us to the Savior. Ether12:27 has become even more meaningful to me lately. “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
I have realized (with the help of Bruce C Hafen) that being aware of my weaknesses doesn’t mean that I’m unworthy of God, but perhaps I’m drawing closer to Him, so He’s able to show me what He can help me with.
I love these verses in the Hymn How Firm a Foundation.
Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.
Beauty for Ashes
I stand before you today in the midst of a recurring trial that feels sometimes as though there is no end. And maybe there’s not. Again, it is not my fault and I do not deserve it, but it is mine. But I know that Grace is available to all of us – no matter our circumstance, no matter our pains or emotions or sins, and no matter how much time has passed. He is waiting for us to accept His Help.
In General Conference, Elder Yoon Hwan Choi said, we just need to Look to Christ. We need to Look Up! And Elder Ulisses Soares said “If we are steadfast and do not waver in our faith, the Lord will increase our capacity to raise ourselves above the challenges of life. We will be enabled to subdue negative impulses, and we will develop the capacity to overcome even what appear to be overwhelming obstacles.”
I like to take care of things on my own –I’m not really good at getting help from others, including Jesus Christ. But I know that this time is different for me. Instead of hiding behind the pain as I did when I was young, I have been able to access Christ’s Grace to strengthen me as I have exercised more faith in Him. It hasn’t taken away the trial, but like Nephi when he prayed for strength to loose the bands that held him captive, I have found myself led to people and resources who can strengthen me like I was able to do for Marty.
I have found hope where there should be none. I have found compassion and love when I felt I couldn’t feel anymore. There is still pain and I am just learning to allow Christ’s Grace in, but as I purposefully look to Christ I feel His strength empowering me.
I can testify that there can be joy in facing trials. And like Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said “These are they who will have the greatest capacity for endless service, joy, and happiness.” I am seeing more and more the truth that Isaiah wrote of – that Christ will give Beauty for Ashes and that because of Christ’s Atonement, we can soar with the wings of eagles.
About Delisa Hargrove
I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have moved 64 times and have not tired of experiencing this beautiful earth! I love the people, languages, histories/anthropologies, & especially religious cultures of the world. My life long passion is the study & searching out of religious symbolism, specifically related to ancient & modern temples. My husband Anthony and I love our bulldog Stig, adventures, traveling, movies, motorcycling, and time with friends and family.