Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Healing Power of the Atonement

Not long ago, a close friend texted me the following message:

I can’t do this by myself. I know that’s what the Atonement’s for, but i thought it helped the first time. It can heal the same hurt over and over?

I gave this friend some sort of incomplete and quick yet seemingly satisfactory response describing different ways the Atonement can work in our lives. With the permission of my friend, today I answer this question along with some other concerns more fully and with more thought.

Scriptural background

To begin, one must understand that the Lord never expects us to do anything by ourselves. He has comforted His people, including us, with the words, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5; see also Joshua 1:5). He is on our right hand and on our left. He knows how we feel, what influences us, what stresses us, and where our breaking point is. With this understanding, He is able to then comfort us, offer peace to a troubled soul, and help us grow and learn.

One way, the first and foremost way, and the reason Christ is able to constantly be with us and comfort us, is through the Atonement. Jesus Christ, our Elder Brother, suffered in the garden of Gethsemane such that “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Can you imagine the level of suffering He experienced to bleed from every pore? Of course not! We cannot fathom what the Savior experienced! For hours, Christ took upon Himself each sin, transgression, trial, pain, affliction, and temptation that each of God’s children had felt and would ever feel and the pain was so great that He bled from every pore. Then, Christ experienced torture at the hand of the Romans and His fellow Jews, which culminated with His crucifixion on Golgotha. In relation to Christ’s suffering during the Atonement, Isaiah wrote:

3 He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
4 Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

(Isaiah 53:3-5, 10)

Christ suffered for everything suffered by all. The prophet Alma the younger taught likewise in Alma 7:11-13:

11 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.
12 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.
13 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; and now behold, this is the testimony which is in me.

Aren’t these scriptures wonderful? Do not these words offer comfort to the soul? They do to me. When I was in Ukraine, I oftentimes met people who had lost hope and had suffered tragedies and lived lives with which I could not relate. I would share this scripture with them in hopes that they would begin to understand that all that is unfair in life is made right through the Atonement.

Help through the Savior and His Atonement

Now that we have a strong scripture base, let me return to my friend’s question.

The Atonement does not keep us company. The Atonement is the means through which the Lord keeps us company. Sometimes we have a hard time feeling Christ’s presence or taking comfort in the fact that He is always with us since we cannot see Him, nor have we ever met Him. But He is exists, He lives, He is a resurrected being and He offers real help. I’m sure all of you can recall a story you’ve heard about someone in dire need and them feeling the physical presence of the Savior. These types of stories oftentimes surface around Christmastime or deal with the time around when someone passes away; I’m sure some are fiction but I also believe some are real. Believe that Christ will help you. Believe that He can offer you comfort and solace that friends and family cannot by themselves. Only He and your Father in Heaven completely and truly understand you and your individual situation and therefore only they can offer complete help.

Often the Savior sends help in the form of other people, mortal “angels” on earth, if you will. He does not simply appear each time we call out to Him and make everything all better. No, this would frustrate God’s plan and our growth that comes through living by faith and not by sight. The Lord uses the experiences and wisdom of our friends and family, prompts and strengthens them so that they may help us through our trials.

Growing, learning through trials and the Atonement

Elder Richard G. Scott taught, “The Lord is intent on your personal growth and development. Your progress is accelerated when you willingly allow Him to lead you through every growth experience you encounter, whether you welcome the experience or not. Trust in the Lord. Ask to be led by the Spirit to know His will. Be willing to accept it. You will then qualify for the greatest happiness and the heights of attainment from this mortal experience” (“The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 40–42).

I love the saying, “when life gets too hard to stand, kneel.” Do it. Get on your knees and offer a sincere, heartfelt prayer to your Heavenly Father. Thank Him for all of your abundant blessings, for they are many and they always outweigh your trials. Ask Him for the guidance, comfort, and strength required to overcome the particular obstacle with which you are dealing. Ask Him to help you learn from the experience so that you may grow and perhaps help others in times to come. As you reach out to the Savior, He will reach out to you. He requires us to make the first move, but His is instantly there when we do.

In Ukraine, I experienced trials unlike any that I had before experienced or have since experienced. However, I knew that I was doing what the Lord wanted me to do at that point in my life and that the Lord was stretching me, teaching me, and testing my level of faithfulness. With this mindset, I did not pray that I could get out of the trial immediately; instead, I prayed that the Lord would help me learn exactly what He was trying to teach me so that my trials and hardships weren’t in vain. Most of the time, the Lord sent the Holy Ghost to help comfort me and strengthen me through my trials. I gained a deep testimony that the Lord hears my prayers and that although He doesn’t remove our trials, He helps us through them that we may be stronger in the end. Today, this testimony helps me deal with my new trials that come with each stage of life.

Cleansing and forgiveness

The Atonement heals. When you are wronged, when you wrong someone, when life simply gets the best of you, the Atonement helps you overcome. But when you are over it, get over it! Do not dwell on the matter, do not sink into a well of self-pity and refuse to let go. Let go! Christ forgives and forgets (see D&C 58:42-43), and we must do the same.

In subsequent conversations with my friend, I learned that one source of frustration was that this particular trial kept coming up. My friend understands the Atonement and how it works in our lives; my friend prays, strives to live righteously, and relies on the Savior for help through this trial. Yet this trial continues to arise although each time it seems to be over and my friend tries to move on.

Elder Richard G. Scott said, “Sadness, heartache, and disappointment are events in life. It is not intended that they be the substance of life. I do not minimize how hard some of these events can be. When the lesson you are to learn is very important, trials can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining focus of everything you do. Your life can and should be wondrously rewarding. It is your understanding and application of the laws of God that will give your life glorious purpose as you ascend and conquer the difficulties of life. That perspective keeps challenges confined to their proper place—stepping-stones to further growth and attainment” (Ensign, Nov 2006, 40-42).

If you are dealing with a problem that continues to resurface, as is my friend, and you are continually or at least periodically dealing with the same issues, the Atonement works in those cases too. You may not be able to forget since you are reminded every so often. You may not be able to be fully healed because some other person or party continually opens the wound time after time. In these instances, and this is not doctrine, this is merely my opinion, the Atonement works to offer you comfort, peace, and perhaps avenues of escape. The Atonement can dull the effects of the affliction, so that each time you are not as susceptible to be hurt. If you are continually seeking help from the Lord as to what you should do and how you should act or react, in His own time, the Lord will rid you of the trial and the cleansing power of the Atonement will take full effect. However, Christ does not take away our agency, He never will. Therefore, the Lord will not always stop the people causing you this pain, but He will help you deal with it, strengthen you where you stand, and teach you much.

Strive to keep your lives in order that you may be worthy of the Spirit and of the Savior’s help. Forgive those who trespass against you. Harboring ill feelings toward anyone is not one of the ways to overcome a trial and feel the love of the Lord. The Lord commanded that we forgive all men with no added stipulation that the opposite party had to feel any sort of remorse or act in restitution. As we strive to keep this commandment to forgive all men, especially those who trespass against us repeatedly, we will reach new levels of spirituality, learning, and will become more Christlike. Remember that Christ never hated those who persecuted Him. He never held a grudge. Remember what He asked of the Father from the cross? Christ experienced the worst way to die in conjunction with experiencing pain and suffering that would have killed the rest of us. He experienced all this at the hands of the people he loved, taught, and healed. Yet, despite of what the Jews did to Him, one of His final recorded statements was, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” This is the ultimate example of forgiveness. If Christ can forgive in that situation, we can forgive in all other situations. And as we forgive, we feel more closely the presence of the Savior.

Keep in mind that as we grow and become stronger and able to withstand and handle more, Christ will try us more. Because we dealt with something once does not mean that we passed that test and are finished. We must endure to the end; not endure to the end of one trial and live unencumbered for the rest of our lives, but endure to the end of our lives, proving to God that we will remain faithful in whatever circumstances in which we may be placed. In my experience, as we grow and as our testimony deepens, our trials reach new levels also. Yet keep in mind that as we will not be tempted above that which we are able to bear, we will not be tried above that, which we are able to bear. The Lord makes ways that we may escape, that we may be able to bear it (see 1 Corinthians 10:13).

How to act, and react

Remaining optimistic throughout our trials is hard, especially if we are constantly dealing with the same trials over and over. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin’s mother taught her children “come what may, and love it.” Of this counsel Elder Wirthlin 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.” (“Come What May, and Love It,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 26–28.)

I believe that although a trial or affliction could exist for the duration of our lives, it will become lessened as we rely more on our Savior and allow the Atonement to take over. Recall the story of the prophet Alma and those who believed his words as recorded in Mosiah chapters 23 and 24. Alma and his people lived exemplary lives. Alma taught them that “every man should love his neighbor as himself, that there should be no contention among them” (23:15). And the people of Alma lived this way. However, their righteousness did not mean that they were free from all trials and tribulation. From chapter 23:

21 Nevertheless the Lord seeth fit to chasten his people; yea, he trieth their patience and their faith.
22 Nevertheless—whosoever putteth his trust in him the same shall be lifted up at the last day. Yea, and thus it was with this people.

The people of Alma were taken into bondage and made slaves by those who were at one time Alma’s friends and colleagues. The story continues in chapter 24:

10 And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God.
11 And Amulon commanded them that they should stop their cries; and he put guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death.
12 And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.
13 And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.
14 And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.
15 And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.
16 And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience that the voice of the Lord came unto them again, saying: Be of good comfort, for on the morrow I will deliver you out of bondage.

The Lord loves us. He suffered and died for us. He never forgets us or forsakes us. We may deal with numerous different trials at once, or we may deal with the same trials repeatedly throughout our lives, but all these things shall give us experience, and shall be for our good (see D&C 122:7). Just as the people of Alma remained faithful, put their trust in Him, had their burdens lightened, and were delivered in the Lord’s due time, even so will we also have our burdens lightened and will be delivered when the Lord sees fit if we are but patient and faithful.

In the end, we may take comfort with these words from Our Savior:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10)

I love my Savior Jesus Christ. I do not fully understand the Atonement or how it works but I do know that it does. I know that He reaches my reaching; I feel His love particularly when I feel alone and discouraged and my prayers are prayers of desperation and pleading. I am so grateful for everything that He has done, that my Father in Heaven has done, and for everything that They continue to do for me. They understand perfectly how we feel all the time. Jesus Christ experienced all of it. They ask that we remain faithful, that we practice patience, that we lift and help others, and that we continually strive to become more Christlike. By doing this, we are naturally happier because our understanding and our eternal perspectives are expanded. The Lord loves you, of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.


Related articles:

Richard G. Scott, “The Atonement Can Secure Your Peace and Happiness,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 40–42

Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Come What May, and Love It,” Ensign, Nov 2008, 26–28

Gene R. Cook, “Receiving Divine Assistance through the Grace of the Lord,” Ensign, May 1993, 79

Dallin H. Oaks, “He Heals the Heavy Laden,” Ensign, Nov 2006, 6–9