Taking the Atonement and Resurrection for Granted

Mormons tend to get up in arms when people say we aren’t Christian. After all, it’s in our real name: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And yet, on Easter this year–the day that should be more important to us than any other day of the year–I experienced something in not one but two Sacrament Meetings that disturbed and frustrated me so much that it almost ruined my whole experience of Easter.

None of the speakers in either meeting spoke directly about the atonement, crucifixion, or resurrection.

They all delivered fine messages that would have been wonderful on any other Sabbath Day. But on Easter, they were sadly devoid of any real attention to what the Savior suffered, the burden He shouldered for us, or what an amazing thing it is that he conquered Death so that, for each of us, death is not the end but merely a stepping stone to the next phase of an eternal existence.

If I were attending those meetings as someone who is not a member of the church–and there was at least one such person in attendance that I knew personally–I would have thought to myself, these people don’t really understand what it means to be Christian.

And I had to ask myself, why do we as members of His church take for granted the most important aspects of the gospel. The atonement and resurrection are not just aspects of the gospel; they are the gospel. Without them, there is nothing else: no eternal families, no salvation, no potential for the Celestial kingdom. As Joseph Smith said, “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.” How can we, then, as people who profess to follow and worship Him, show such little gratitude for the terrible, incomprehensible price He paid so that we might enjoy the blessings of faith, repentance, baptism, the Gift of the Holy Ghost, and all other blessings that flow from His great sacrifice?

Is it because we assume that we’ve talked about it so much that we need to find something else to talk about on Easter? If so, then we need to think again. Because the other thing I noticed about the messages in both Sacrament Meetings was that they were all focused on us–our trials, our suffering, our choices, our mortal experiences. I think we need to start focusing less on ourselves and more on the Savior. We could actually take a cue or two from the rest of the Christian world, who start their celebration of Easter in February, with Lent, who talk about Christ’s fasting, his miracles, his suffering in Gethsemane, his scourging and humiliation and long walk to Golgotha, the agony of his final hours, the mercy of his forgiveness of those who nailed him to the cross, his concern for his mother, his appearance as the Resurrected Lord, the glory of his final victory. Aside from a few brief closing remarks by the Bishop in one ward, we heard about none of those things yesterday. I am saddened and angered–forgive me, Father, for the contention in my heart over this–that there was no real devotion to the Savior’s sacrifice on the one day that everything should be about Him, not us.

So, just in case anyone is unsure of what I believe about Christ, let me take this opportunity to share my testimony–that He lives; that He suffered unfathomable agonies so that I would not have to suffer them through my own poor choices, sins, and personal weaknesses; that He suffered in Gethsemane and then again on the cross; that he voluntarily gave up His life to overcome Death for all of us; that he was buried in the garden tomb; that he rose again, a perfect holy being with the power to save us all; that I am completely dependent on His grace for my life and salvation; that all I can do of myself cannot save myself without the sanctifying power of His atonement; that He was, is, and ever shall be the Son of God and the Eternal Father of the souls of mankind whom He ransomed with His Blood; that He is the pure Lamb of God; and that through Him, and only Him, we have the opportunity to repent of our sins, receive healing from the wounds of mortality, be made clean so that we can live with Him and our Heavenly Father once again, and somehow, sometime in the eternities, become creators of worlds of our own.

I am grateful beyond my ability to express for His sacrifice and Resurrection, but I know that I am still not grateful enough, and that I do not comprehend enough what it took to save my soul from sin. Thank you, my Savior, for loving someone as lowly as I am enough to suffer and die for me.

Watch this beautiful video about our Savior’s atonement and resurrection:

http://easter.mormon.org/

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Look for the Light

Everyone who is trying to follow the Savior’s example can benefit from what Karen Walrond teaches here about how to look at–and think about–other people, especially those who we believe are different from us:

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I Will Show You Your Weakness

In the Book of Mormon (Ether 12:27 to be exact), one of the promises Christ makes to those who follow Him is that, if they will come unto Him, He will show them their weakness.

This promise is extended as a gift; it follows on the heels (literally the previous verse) of a promise that His grace is sufficient to protect those who follow him.

To be clear, I love His promise to show us our weakness. I think it is one of the most beautiful indicators in scripture of what it means to have a relationship with the Savior…that he will know us and understand us completely. There will be no hidden agendas, no turning away from our weakness, but rather an embracing of it so that–and this is the key part–He can help us overcome it.

And there’s the rub. I’ve been pondering this promise a lot lately because I’m in one of those phases where my weaknesses are confronting me head on, and it isn’t fun. It’s actually quite painful.

Not to overshare, but to give you some insight into why I’ve been pondering this, last week I did something less than strictly honest. I had forgotten to complete a critical HR-related task at work. Instead of doing what I should have done in the first place, going to the head of HR and letting him know the situation and seeking his help in fixing it, I attempted to cover it up. My intentions were at least 50% good: my failure to complete the task had the potential to disadvantage one of the people I manage, and I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen. But, I also wanted to keep my bosses from discovering that I had dropped the ball.

As you can probably guess, my efforts backfired on me, and I ended up having to confess what I had done anyway, only it ended up exploding into something much worse than it would have been had I taken the honest route in the first place. (Why do these cautionary tales about honesty always seem to point that out? Anyway…)

All the above would have been bad enough, but here’s the part that really breaks my heart: until everything blew up, it hadn’t really occurred to me that what I was doing was at its core dishonest. I was so intent on “fixing” the problem that I didn’t step back and consider whether my method of fixing it lacked integrity. I was so blind to my own behavior and motivations that I actually prayed for help with the steps I was taking to try to cover up the problem. (I can’t tell you how hard it was to make myself write that sentence and confess that part of it.)

Only after the fact did it occur to me how dangerously close I was to mocking God, and how egregiously inappropriate those prayers were. Even then, it still took some real soul-searching on my knees to bring my priorities into alignment, aka, being more concerned about what the Lord thought of me than what might happen after my employer discovered what I had done.

In the end, my employer was gracious and merciful. He decided to focus on the good 50% of my intentions rather than the selfish 50%. I know that the Lord has been merciful with me too. The person that’s having the hardest time being merciful with me is me. The harsh glare of the truth that we are not the people we like to believe we are is uncomfortable, to say the least.

And that’s why I’ve been pondering what it means that this promise of the Lord–to show us our weakness–is meant as a gift, not a warning.  Because honestly confronting your weaknesses–not just acknowledging you have them, but confronting them with sincere intent to change them–is an extremely painful process.

I know that on one level, the Lord sees this as a gift to us because we must see our weaknesses before we can overcome them, and we must overcome them if we are to reach our eternal potential. But I have come to believe there’s more to it than that. I don’t fully understand it, but in some sense the effect our weaknesses have on us is worse than just dragging us back from our eternal potential.  Our weaknesses make us vulnerable–duh!–and the Lord is trying to help us see where we can do something to become less vulnerable.

I was reminded of the chapters in the book of Alma when Captain Moroni is preparing the people for war, and he systematically goes through the country, strengthening all of the weak cities until the entire nation becomes as fortified as he can make it; in the midst of all that preparing for war, there is this beautiful description: “And there never was a happier time among all the people of Nephi.”  Making our weak places strong makes us happier now, in our current mortal state; it makes us less vulnerable to the pain that can come from so many different places in this world.  I believe that’s one of the key reasons that the Lord prefaces his promise to show us our weakness with the words, “my grace is sufficient for the meek, that [those who mock God] shall take no advantage of your weakness.”

These are connections I’ve never made before; maybe I’m just slow.  Making them doesn’t make the past two weeks any less excruciatingly awful.  But making them does give me hope that confronting the weakness in me that led me to make the choices I did–pride, fear of consequences, a desire to appear better than I am–might ensure that I don’t have to endure this type of situation again, at least not one of my own making.

So, yes, I love the gift that comes from allowing the Lord to show us our weakness.  It’s not an easy gift to accept, but I love it all the same.

 

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Happy Valentine’s Day, Seriously

A friend of mine read through my admittedly scanty collection of blog posts and said that I really needed to do more to explain what “single,” “Mormon,” and “female” have to do with each other, especially since I’m not using this blog as an extended personals ad.

Today is Valentine’s Day, which seems like an appropriate day to start answering her question–and to return to the blog since I have been away from it for far too long. If you know anything about my religion, you know that marriage is a good of the first order. Being united as a family for time and all eternity is not only a laudable goal, it is crucial to life beyond this brief mortal experience. It is both the great promise and the fundamental design of what we call the Plan of Salvation. So, being single at 42–soon to be 43–was not part of the plan growing up. I was always going to get married and have children…only I didn’t.

Now, like everyone, my life is a mixed bag. There is a lot about being single that gives me great joy, just as I am sure there would be a lot about being married that would give me great joy. The opposite is also true. There is a lot about being single that gives me great sorrow–and I have seen enough of marriage to know that it’s not all smiles and sunshine. So, this isn’t about whether being single is good or bad; it’s more about the fact that it just is. It’s the circumstance of my life for the time being, so I’d better deal with it.

And that’s what I’ve been doing since I was about 27 and it started to really hit me that my life might not go according to plan: I began grappling in earnest with the question, “If I’m not going to be a wife and mother, what am I going to be?” What’s a girl to do with herself?

Over the years, the answer to that question has continued to evolve, but the shortest and most obvious answer is, “Be the best person you can, regardless of whether you get married now or ever.”

It’s not that simple, of course. It never is, for anyone, married, single, widowed, divorced. We’re all trying to figure out how our lives fit into a universe that is constantly sending us off in directions we didn’t expect. So, I continue to grapple with the question because the stakes of the answer keep changing as my life does. When I was 27, the answer wasn’t nearly so serious because there was still a lot of time in which I could get married and have children. Now, in my early 40s, there’s still a lot of time in which I could get married, but not so much time to have children. Maybe none, at least not here in this mortality.

I’m really okay with that. I’m sad about it, but I’m determined not to allow it to render my life meaningless (as some of my less-informed fellow saints might inaccurately believe). One way I look at it, being single gives me added impetus to examine how I’m living my life in the context of the gospel since I don’t have easy answers to “Who am I supposed to be?” One of the most important things I’ve learned in the process is that no one really has an easy answer to that question, even if they think they do. The best we can do is live with as much intention as possible, whatever our circumstances.

So, Happy Valentine’s Day. I used to dread this day and be somewhat bitter about it. But I have come to appreciate that we have a day–even if it’s mostly an extended advertisement for the greeting card/chocolate/floral/jewelry industries–where we celebrate love. Love takes a lot of forms, and I have many of them in my life, even if right now romantic love isn’t one of them. For a world that seems more hate-filled every day, I can embrace a day when saying “I love you”–to someone, anyone–is almost mandatory.

Next time, we’ll focus on the “female” part…

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I am an Ingrate

Participating in the #BeThankfulChallenge this month (post one thing you’re thankful for on Facebook/Twitter every day from November 1 – Thanksgiving Day) proved a couple of things to me.

  • First, I find it much more difficult to be grateful–and positive about my life–than I would have hoped.  Some days, it was a struggle for me to come up with one…single…thing that I felt grateful for.  Okay, I could have taken the easy way out and said something like, “Today I am thankful for chocolate” (which is always true).  But when I tried to come up with something really specific to the day at hand, I often had to think very hard.
  • Second, item the first says much more about me than it says about my life.  I have so much to be grateful for, daily, that it should be a struggle to narrow it down.  But I’ve realized that I tend to notice the stuff I’m not grateful for, the stuff that irritates me or hurts me or makes me sad, much more than I pay attention to the things I’m grateful for.

I want to change this about myself.  So I’m going to work on being more grateful for everything and less focused on what I lack and what didn’t go the way I hoped it would.  I will try to remember the counsel President Monson gave in his recent talk on gratitude: “If ingratitude be numbered among the serious sins, then gratitude takes its place among the noblest of virtues.”

It is unbecoming for someone who has been blessed as much as I have to feel somehow as if I have been deprived or disadvantaged.  Do I have challenges? Yes.  Do I have bad days?  Yes.  But in the balance, the good of my life far outweighs the bad.  I hope it will become easier for me to remember that, and to notice it in the details more often.

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Thank you, Anne McCaffrey

Anne McCaffrey died today.  I don’t always think of her when people ask me about other writers who have influenced me, but of course she did.  I found her stories about Pern when I was just embarking on adolescence.  I read them over and over as I grew up.  The world she realized captured my imagination.

For a girl who never really identified with the Disney princesses who were rescued by handsome princes, I found in characters like Lessa, Mirrim, and Menolly women whose independence, toughness, determination, and smarts inspired me, certainly in ways I didn’t fully understand until much later.  And, oh, how I longed to impress a dragon. (I still do, if I’m being honest–but my beautiful dog Bella is the next best thing.  I swear she can read my mind.)

I have not been back to visit Pern or the other worlds McCaffrey created for several years, but I will never forget how her stories captured my imagination, especially at a time in my life when I needed such stories badly.  Thank you for sharing your world, Anne, and for changing the role of women in sci-fi/fantasy forever.  We will miss you.

http://io9.com/5862031/rip-anne-mccaffrey-creator-of-pern-and-other-classic-books

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Fear is Part of the Journey

Yesterday afternoon, we were called to the hospital.  A close family friend–26 years old with a three-month-old baby–was admitted for emergency open-heart surgery.  When the “stomach flu” she had been suffering from for three days kept getting worse, her mother finally took her to the ER.  Turns out she had an aortic aneurysm the size of a grapefruit, a deformed valve, and an aortic dissection.  She should have been dead, but something was keeping her alive.  According to the surgeon, something had been keeping her alive for months, something he couldn’t explain in medical terms.

All of us in the hospital waiting room at that moment believe in miracles.  We believe she’s still alive because of God’s hand in her life, or, more accurately, because her life is in God’s hands.  I truly believe in that, just as much as I believed it about my younger brother’s life when he passed away seven years ago from a brain tumor.  It’s important that you know about my brother, because sometimes God’s will leads to miracles and sometimes it doesn’t.  I could cite many other examples from my own life and the lives of others that attest that outcomes are not the point of faith.

Which leads me to the title of today’s post.  We sat in the waiting room last night waiting for the surgery to be completed, thinking about the possibility that she might die on the table, knowing that even if the surgery was successful, she still might die in the days following the surgery.  It brought fears to the surface that are too big to confront.  Fears of death.  Fears of incomprehensible loss.  Fears of a child growing up without his mother.  Fears of a mother losing her child.  I experienced those kind of fears when my brother died, and I still don’t comprehend them.

I fundamentally believe that “God hath not given us a spirit of fear,” but I also know from experience that fear is part of the journey.  For me at this time, it is the fear of what happens when both my parents are gone and I am on my own in a new way.  What happens as I grow old myself without children or spouse to help share the burden.  Fear that I will never know the sweetness of being someone’s other half and having them be mine.

I also believe that we don’t gain anything by pretending we are not afraid.  Courage and faith require confronting fear–even when it’s this big–and sitting with it when you can’t do anything of yourself to make it go away.  It is the tiger in the cage and sometimes we have to climb inside that cage and face the tiger to learn who we really are.

I don’t have all the answers about how to deal with fear.  I know that I have experienced a peace beyond understanding in the face of great fears–but only when I have stopped pretending, admitted that I was afraid, and sought help beyond my own ability.  I believe that divine help is real, even if sometimes all that help does is allow you to face circumstances you can’t change, without being pulled apart by them.  That’s a much bigger help than I sometimes give the Lord credit for.

My friend survived her surgery, and her outlook is strong at this point.  She may be able to leave the hospital as soon as the end of the week.  She has received a miracle, and I join her family in giving profound gratitude for the preservation of her life.  I also give profound gratitude for what I have learned about myself and my God from those times when my worst fears were realized, when there was no divine intervention to keep the worst from happening.  Because sometimes the worst is exactly what is supposed to happen.  As I said earlier, outcomes are not the point of faith.

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