Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Beginning to Understand the Atonement

I was asked to speak in sacrament meeting on the atonement this past Sunday...for seven minutes.  I found this to be a challenge because how could I even begin to introduce the atonement in such a short time.  However, I felt inspired as I prepared to speak, and afterward when I had people come forward to express their appreciation for my talk I'm glad I did it.  I just know there could have been so much more to say. :)

But I thought I would go ahead and post a summary of my talk here for you.

When I told my husband the bishop had asked me to speak on the atonement, he told me, "You'll do fine.  You've got plenty of experience."  And I said, "Thanks....I think."  But in all seriousness, he's right.  I do have plenty of experience using the atonement because I've got problems.  But who doesn't?  Everyone needs the atonement and if you haven't used it yet, you need it too.  But most of us have heard that before.  We know we need to use the atonement, but how do we do it?

Many of us have heard of the steps of repentance before.  I like to think put things into analogies and metaphors in order to better understand them, so let's talk about doing dishes and breaking a plate.  So the sin is I broke the plate.  The first step is to recognize that and take responsibility.  "I broke this plate."  No excuses.  It was no one else's fault.  It wasn't because of anything else.  My hand slipped.  Perhaps it was the water.  But the reasons don't matter.  "I did it."  Sometimes this is the hardest step to take.  But I'll get into that further in a minute.  Next we must feel sad about what we've done.  "I'm sorry that I broke the plate because it was a nice plate."  Then we forsake the sin. "I won't brake any more plates."  And confess the sin, "Mom (or whoever else) I broke this plate."  Then make restitution.

Making restitution is the reason I use the broken plate analogy with my boys.  If one hurts his brother, he has to do more then say he's sorry.  I often tell him, "The plate is still broken."  You can apologize all you want, but until you make restitution for your mistake, nothing changes and nothing gets fixed.  You have to find some glue and put the plate back together the best you can.  Of course, the plate won't ever be the same, but the effort of making things better means a lot more then just saying you're sorry.  So you need to make an honest effort to fixing what you've done.

After this, you forgive yourself and you forgive others.  Lastly, you continue to keep the commandments.  If you break the plate again, it all starts over, and that plate would be a lot harder to mend.

I think when contemplating these steps of repentance, the first part gets skipped over sometimes but I feel like that first step can be the hardest part.  It can be very difficult to first recognize our sins and shortcomings, not because we don't know right from wrong, but because bad habits sometimes become somehow precious to us and hard to let go.  So in order to keep them, we hide them even from ourselves.  The natural man within us makes excuses and justifications for our behavior to satisfy our conscience and deny our own guilt.  Because really looking at our own imperfections can be painfult.  It hurts to take responsibility.  But there is a purpose in that pain.

Our body feels physical pain to warn us.  It's like our body is telling us, "Stop.  Don't do that."  The same with spiritual pain.  Our spirit is warning us, "Stop!  Don't do that again!"  We also have to remember that there is godly sorrow and then there is worldy sorrow.  Godly sorrow is feeling guilty for a wrongdoing, whereas worldy sorrow is when we feel shame for self.  Only godly sorrow is the Lord's way to heal.

The first step to be completely honest with ourselves is about swallowing pride and accepting the fact that we are not perfect and that we have a problem we need help fixing because we cannot overcome our problems on our own.  One of Satan's biggest lies is when we tell ourselves we're fine.  We can do it on our own.  We don't need help.  The truth is, we need the Lord's help and He's always there to help us!

As Ammon puts it in Alma 26:11-12, "I know I am nothing; as to my strength I am weak; therefore I will not boast of myself, but I will boast of my God, for in his strength I can do all things."  If we humble ourselves and realize we are powerless against our sins and bad habits, we find that we must put our faith and trust in the Lord's help to give us the help we need.

One way I've learned to begin to use the atonement in my everyday life is by keeping a journal daily and studying the scriptures daily to really give myself an honest reflection of my life.  How am I doing?  Every day I ask myself this question.  I look at both the good and bad in my life to find patterns in my behavior and so I can find my strengths and my weaknesses and how I define myself.  Also, by praying to the Lord he will help you recognize things you need to acknowledge.  He will help you with one at a time.

When we are talking about our own nothingness we also need to acknowledge our great worth.  In order to illustrate this concept better, I compare myself to a little child, and the Lord to our earthly parents.  A child must rely on his parents for everything.  That child learns how to take care of himself through his parents.  He must rely on his parents to provide him food, shelter and safety, and to teach him everything he needs to know in order to live his life.  In this way, the child is nothing compared to his parent.  He is powerless.  But in the eyes of his parent, that child has worth that stretches beyond what words can express.  This is how I must see myself in comparison with the Lord.  I am nothing as in my abilities, my knowledge, or my power.  But I am still worth so much to Him and I know He loves me more then words.

After acknowledging the sin, feeling sorry and forsaking the sin sometimes follows quite naturally.  If they don't, they can be prayed for.  The other step I wanted to focus a little attention on is confessing.  I can be one thing to acknowledge our sin to ourselves, and the next hardest is to admit it to another person.

President Spencer W. Kimball said: "Repentance can never come until one has bared his soul and admitted his actions without excuses or rationalizations.  Those persons who choose to meet the issue and transform their lives may find repentance the harder road at first, but they will find it the infinitely more desirable path as they taste of its fruits."  After confession, there is no longer anything to hide.  It's our outward demonstration to our inward commitment to give away our sins.

I read recently in the book called Hard Questions, Prophetic Answers by Daniel K. Judd, that often in temple recommend interviews members find it hard to answer the question of whether they are worthy.  Often people respond with something like "I have a lot of weaknesses and I am far from perfect, but I guess I feel okay about answering yes to the question."

The book reads:  "I am always touched by the sincerity and humility of their reply, but I generally probe just a little to make sure they understand the doctrine of the atonement of Christ.  If they understand that doctrine, have accepted Christ, and are sincerely trying to follow Him, they have no need to be shy about declaring their worthiness, because worthiness is so much more about "the righteousness of the Redeemer" than it is about us.  ...The Savior as our advocate with the Father will indeed plead our cause, but instead of putting forth our personal righteousness as evidence of our worthiness to enter the celestial kingdom, He will declare that the righteousness that allows us to enter therein is HIS righteousness--not ours.  We can claim His righteousness as our own by taking upon ourselves His name, always remembering Him, and keeping His commandments, for we must realize that 'it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do."

I really liked that perspective that when we are being asked about our worthiness, if we are taking advantage of His atonement, we can claim His worthiness as our own, and rely on Him.

To close, I want to share this quote I thought of after further contemplating the atonement.  It's from Bruce C. Hafen in April 1990.

"Some church members feel weighed down with discouragement about the circumstances of their personal lives, even when they are making sustained and admirable efforts.  Frequently, these feelings of self-disappointment come not from wrongdoing, but from stresses and troubles for which we may not be fully to blame.  The Atonement of Jesus Christ applies to these experiences because it applies to all of life.  The Savior can wipe away all our tears, after all we can do...The Savior's Atonement is...the healing power not only for sin, but also for carelessness, inadequacy, and all mortal bitterness.  The Atonement is not just for sinners."

I testify that the atonement is real.  I have felt its power in my own life.  I also testify that I know that when I am actively turning toward my Savior in my daily life and relying on His power and influence to guide me, I am strengthened in ways I cannot explain in any other way but that the Lord takes away my burden.  And I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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