I have learned so much in my many developmental journeys from breakdown to breakthrough (yes, there’s more than one journey!) and I believe that faith in God is a fundamental requirement that informs our willingness to be vulnerable to the conditions of mortality. I have two favorite sayings: “The bend in the road isn’t the end of the road unless you fail to make the turn” and “Your TEST is your TESTimony. Your MESS is your MESSage.”
We live in a world where the only constant condition is change. Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability. We are here in a “temporary world” where we can create, fail, create again, fail again, grow, learn, hone our gifts, and endlessly create messes we cannot possibly clean up! That is the miracle of the gift of the Atonement — it lifts us up after all we can do. What we “can” do, however, sometimes feels dwarfed by all that we “cannot” do
I was recently listening to a “vulnerability/shame” researcher who stated:
“Vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability is emotional risk, exposure, uncertainty. It fuels our daily lives. Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage. Being vulnerable is to let ourselves be seen, to be honest. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change. To innovate, to create, is to make something that has never existed before.” — Brené Brown, “Listening to Shame” TED Talk
We understand that we came to this laboratory of learning where we would gain wisdom from the things we experience. Lots of life’s lessons are painful. I remember as a young mother in a turbulent marriage getting to the place where I said “You can’t hurt me if I don’t care… And I DON’T CARE!” Little did I realize how powerful the spoken word is. It was like I walked through a door that I couldn’t find the way back through. For years I was “past feeling.” I quit caring about everything and just went about my life emotionally unavailable to everyone, including myself. It would take me years to learn that I could make a conscious choice to once again be willing to feel… And to care.
One of God’s most significant talents is creating! How do we become like our Heavenly Father? We practice creating! Since you were already perfectly created by God before you left the premortal world, the most exciting thing you will ever create is you! Your task in this mortal journey from breakdowns to breakthroughs is to co-create yourself with God in this temporary world of limitations, struggle, and heartache that is lavishly mixed in with brief moments of joy, peace, and innocence. We were sent to this mortal (temporary) world to experience limitations, struggle, and disappointments. As gods in embryo, we came here to practice the skills we will eventually use in the eternities. We must learn the skill of being open and honest, and to be seen for who we are and the potential of what we can become.
Part of my development led me to going through certification training to become a professional life coach. That’s where I learned an important lesson about helping others find their path. It wasn’t about having the answers to their questions…it was about learning to ask powerful questions that would lead them to the inner wisdom they already had. All your answers are inside you, but you must understand how to seek for and recognize them. This search is far more effective when you have the influence of the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind to the key that unlocks bits and pieces of the answers.
Another thing I learned was the importance of how your experience can actually be helpful to others. I saw an illustration that really hit home: A person tripped and fell into a big hole in the ground. They kept crying out for help. Finally, one person, then another came by when they heard the cries. They were happy to give advice to him: “You need a ladder! “You need a rope!” But when they walked away, the person was still in the hole. Finally, after what seemed like hours, another person came to the edge of the hole and asked “Can I help you?” “Yes! I’m stuck in this hole and I can’t get out.” Immediately that person jumped down into the hole. “What did you do that for? Now we’re both in here!” To which the reply came, “Oh, it’s okay. I’ve been down here before and I know the way out!”
Knowing the way out is a key to helping someone else feel empowered to find their own way out. Boyd K. Packer talked years ago about healing in the Lord’s way.
“For some reason, we think the Atonement of Christ applies only at the end of mortal life to redemption from the Fall, from spiritual death. It is much more than that. It is an ever-present power to call upon in everyday life. When we are racked or harrowed up or tormented by guilt or burdened with grief, He can heal us. While we do not fully understand how the Atonement of Christ was made, we can experience ‘the peace of God, which passeth all understanding‘” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Touch of the Master’s Hand,” April 2001).
In an April 1978 conference talk, Elder Packer also said:
“Counsel them in the Lord’s own way. Teach them to ponder it in their minds, then to pray over their problems. Remember that soothing, calming effect of reading the scriptures. Next time you are where they are read, notice how things settle down. Sense the feeling of peace and security that comes” (Boyd K. Packer, “Solving Emotional Problems in the Lord’s Own Way,” April 1978).
I was in my mid-30s when I heard that talk. I remember it irritated me. I was not ready to give up on self-help books, workshops, retreats, and adventure walks. By the time I was nearly 50 I was finally willing and ready to invite the Lord into my heart and bend my will to His. I clearly remember praying and saying, “Heavenly Father, I’m not good at making healthy choices… I just want to do with my life what you want me to do with it.”
I find it almost incomprehensible how long it took to just listen to the Lord and allow Him to guide me. But I will also say, if I had to do it all again, it would be worth it to be in this season of life with a kind, gentle, loving, supportive husband.
I chuckle when I consider that someday my life story may be a training manual for souls preparing to enter their mortal probation. I’m sure I haven’t made all the mistakes a mortal can make, but I have been persistent in my dedication to experiential learning and I have the scars to prove it…. Well, actually, I don’t. I have found that wounds healed by the Atonement don’t leave scars.
I used to think that the Atonement was something that would be applied at the judgment seat when we would be “made clean” through the blood of Christ. What I’ve learned is that it is applied every day of our lives when we seek to learn, grow, and repent, and when we make the commitment to respond to Jesus’ invitation to “Come, follow me.”
I’ve learned that more pain is caused by keeping secrets than is ever caused by telling the truth.
I’ve learned that short-circuiting the natural consequences of your or someone else’s choices creates chaos and years of additional learning.
I’ve learned that this world is filled with pollution — not only the pollution of our natural resources, but the pollution of our minds, relationships, language, and our efforts to cover up the stains of life’s lessons.
I’ve learned that love is the solution to such pollution. President Nelson recently said in a regional devotional in Arizona, “Our doctrine is not complicated, or convoluted, or complex. It’s so simple — love God and love your neighbor.”
In 3 Nephi 11: 35-39 the Savior told the Nephites: “[T]his is my doctrine: Repent, be baptized in my name, become as a little child.” He repeated that simple description of “my doctrine.” Repenting is a daily activity. Baptism in His name generally happens once, unless our learning has caused us to forfeit our membership for a time. Becoming as a little child takes courage, forgiveness, and compassion for our developmental stages. I looked up the definition of childlike to find it means “innocent, guileless, inexperienced, naïve, trusting, unsuspicious, unwary, unguarded, credulous, gullible, forgiving, uninhibited, open, natural, spontaneous, delight filled, honest, sincere. ”
It is difficult to find those qualities in today’s world of chaos, wickedness, injustice and deceitfulness. There are things that happen in this world that only the healing, strengthening, compassionate power of the Atonement can overcome.
The past several years my husband and I have been blessed to be called to be Church Service Missionaries to be group leaders in our Stake’s Addiction Recovery Program. Our group focuses exclusively on pornography and sex addiction. My husband meets with the men and I meet with the women, who are typically the spouses of the person suffering from addiction. It is the most rewarding calling I’ve ever had in the Church. Working with people who are actively striving to improve their lives; witnessing them in their most vulnerable state — struggling to come to terms with the intensely personal and shame-based experiences that have shaken them to their roots. I am humbled as they cling to the Atonement and mercy seat of His love, all the while feeling like the earth is crumbling beneath their feet.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge is to resist the temptation to become “past feeling” when your life explodes in your face and you wonder if there is even a God in Heaven.
I know I am standing in the midst of some of the greatest of Heavenly Father’s children who will be an amazing strength in their families for generations to come. These are the strong souls whose children will rise up and call them blessed for their willingness to stand in holy places and fight the adversary and not shrink back.
There were times in my life when I wondered what the purpose was for all the soul-wrenching times I experienced. I am grateful for this season when I can bear unwavering testimony that D&C 122 is absolutely true. Verse 7 says, “That all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” Then, in verse 9, “…hold on thy way, and the priesthood shall remain with thee; for their bounds are set, they cannot pass. Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.”
ATONEMENT – Sonja’s Journal Excerpt
At-ONE-ment…I’ve been pronouncing it wrong, It was stated so simply and I just missed it! Each individual, unique, learning adds to the collective wisdom. We are all interconnected, woven into an eternal tapestry.
He died to save us all… to satisfy the demands of justice. That was His Gift! No one else was assigned that experience. We each create a unique learning experience to teach us all, because we are “at One.” “If ye are not One, ye are not Mine!”
Because of His Gift, we can:
Risk to learn,
Risk to reach out and trust the process.
Risk to break the shell of our understanding
Risk to free fall… Because He loves us.
It’s right there in the Book of Instruction:
“God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” He was sent to be The Example…to bid us “Come, follow me.” Yet, We are not to walk in the same footprints — for those are HIS footprints on the shores of Galilee.
He showed us how to love, to have faith, to trust in the Father.
He showed us how to BE who we are — Children of God — regardless of the experience we are assigned in this laboratory of learning! He taught us how to separate what happens to us from who we are – He taught us how to walk by faith.
No matter what fears the illusion of mortality may bring remember who you are – and risk to learn the lesson! He came to save you… Not to condemn you for the path your learning may take.
We are allowed to learn in the way that teaches us. We were sent to “gain wisdom from the things we experience.” We are not to simply duplicate the learning — We are to create and thereby expand the learning —
That we may all become AT ONE!
Sonja Lorrigan Hopkins
Sonja lives with her husband, Dale, on Anderson Island, Washington. She and her husband are Church Service Missionaries serving in the Addiction Recovery Program, focusing on pornography and sex addiction. She is also a certified life coach and teaches "Life Skills for Emotional Self-Mastery" in her stake twice a month. She does not teach you only to process something traumatic done to you in the past; rather, she helps you learn to feel it, heal it, and LET GO of whatever you still do to yourself and to others in order to cope with what was done to you in the past.