I have felt vulnerable both preparing and now giving this talk. Not because of any doctrinal or philosophical question about my topic, but rather because I do not know how to talk about the Atonement of Jesus Christ with any amount of distance from myself. It is so incredibly personal. When I received this talk, I felt immediately what I needed to talk about, but my thoughts and impressions are a little uncomfortable for me to share. But despite my fear, I will do my best to say what I feel I need to today.
When I went on my mission to San Fransisco and then to Brazil, my expectations for what my mission would be and what my mission turned out to be were vastly different. I thought that my mission would be about conversion, about teaching and about learning. Although all of these happened, the most sacred moments for me occurred when God and Jesus Christ allowed me, privileged me, to see another person through their hold, all-encompassing and all-merciful eyes.
In San Francisco, my companion and I walked to an appointment, a few minutes late, hurried, and stressed. On our way, we passed an old woman sitting on a cement slab, wearing mis-matching clothes. She was very dirty. Thirty seconds later, I turned to my companion and asked if we could return; I had felt that the old woman needed our attention. Approaching her, we sat, one of us on each side of her, and asked if there was anything we could do for her that day. She immediately began to sob. I saw that she had no teeth and that cigarets hung from her oversized sweatshirt pocket. She told us that she had been diagnosed with cancer that day, that her husband beat her, and that she had been abused since she was three years old. She did not have a soul in the world to love her. I put my arm around her and in that moment, the heavens opened and I saw her and loved her as perfectly as I have ever loved anyone.
Three months later, a man with no arms in Brazil approached my companion and I to beg for food. I told him that we had very little but that I had a book that had brought light and joy into my life. As his eyes widened in shock that we had responded in kindness and with the idea of hope and belonging in our voices, I began to cry as I earnestly testified to him that he, personally, individually and alone, meant something irreplaceably beautiful to not only just someone, but to the Son of Man and Savior of the World, Jesus Christ.
In Isaiah 53: 3-5, it says, “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.
Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
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.”
This scripture illustrates that He “descended below them all” (D & C 122:8) when He suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane and then on the cross. Because of this, each of us, independent of circumstance or fortune, have find power through turning to him. None are left out or abandoned–the woman in San Fransisco, the man with no arms in Brazil, the hopeless, the hopeful, you and I–none are denied access to the most incredible source of power and resilience through Him, Jesus Christ. This was my greatest discovery on my mission. Truly, like Preach my Gospel says, “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Although my problems comparable appear small when weighed against what so many suffer, I truly believe that the small injustices in my life matter to the Holy Son of God.
Our Savior loves us perfectly. Elder Renlund recently said that “The Savior’s mortal ministry was indeed characterized by love, compassion, and empathy. He did not disdainfully walk the dusty roads of Galilee and Judea, flinching at the sight of sinners. He did not dodge them in abject horror. No, He ate with them. He helped and blessed, lifted and edified, and replaced fear and despair with hope and joy. Like the true shepherd He is, He seeks us and finds us to offer relief and hope. Understanding His compassion and love helps us exercise faith in Him—to repent and be healed.” He goes on to say that if we are to understand, appreciate and truly apply His flawless teachings, we are to love others. “The message to us in clear: a repenting sinner draws closer to God than does the self-righteous person who condemns that sinner.”
I’ll be the first to admit that among my favorite pastimes is judging people. It’s easy. It turns my thoughts out instead of in, and it feels good to blame someone else for what goes wrong in my life. However, the truth I have learned and the first tangible application to drawing power from Christ’s life and culminating sacrifice comes from withholding judgment. It comes from withholding criticism. It comes from understanding that when Christ knelt in the garden pleading with the Father for relief and finding Himself more and more alone, He did not pick and choose which of us merited His love. He did not say that He would feel the pain of only those investigators who chose baptism, only those men and women who would spend their time on earth practicing self-sufficiency, or only those who would be loved and give love.
No, He saw each of us; He thought of each of us. Of the ex-communicated member, the anti-Christian, the less-than-ideal church leader, teacher or speaker, the smoker, drug addict, the murderer. He saw us each in those moments. He saw those who believe and practice religion differently, the corrupt politician, those with different sexual orientations, and those who for the life of them cannot read their scriptures of pray consistently.
I believe that the most beautiful aspect of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that He chose each one of us, no matter where we may find ourselves right now. Recognizing this has helped me make small goals to be kinder, to give people a break, and to say that I am sorry with more sincerity. Although I am far from where one day I will be, when I remember Jesus Christ and His impeccable love, I feel that I am heading in a good direction.
The second way that I have learned to draw power in my life from Christ’s Atonement is by trying to live in such a way to have the Holy Ghost with me. In a recent face-to-face with the youth, Elder Holland and President Eyring spoke of how the application of Jesus Christ’s Atonement in our life is seen by living with the Spirit and thus being guided, comforted and led by Christ. Elder Nelson said last weekend that “When you reach up for the Lord’s power in your life with the same intensity that a drowning person has when grasping and gasping for air, power from Jesus Christ will be yours. When the Savior knows you truly want to reach up to Him—when He can feel that the greatest desire of your heart is to draw His power into your life—you will be led by the Holy Ghost to know exactly what you should do.”
I have little idea what’s going on in my life most of the time, let alone yours. But because of Jesus Christ’s excruciating choice to see each one of us, He knows–He knows how to come to us. He knows what we each need. Tad R. Callister, in The Infinite Atonement, wrote that “One of the blessings of the Atonement is that we can receive of the Savior’s succoring powers. Isaiah spoke repeatedly of the Lord’s healing, calming influence. He testified that the Savior was ‘a strength to the needy in his distress, a refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat’ (Isaiah 25:4). As to those who sorrow, Isaiah declared that the Savior possessed the power to ‘comfort all that mourn’ (Isaiah 61:2), and ‘wipe away tears from off all faces’ (Isaiah 25:8; see also Revelation 7:17); ‘revive the spirit of the humble’ (Isaiah 57:15); and ‘bind up the brokenhearted’ (Isaiah 61:1). So expansive was his succoring power that he could exchange ‘beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61:3).
Oh, what hope soars in those promises.”
As we strive to have the Spirit with us, because Jesus Christ has been where we are and knows the best way for us to keep going, He will come to us. Through the Spirit, He will speak to our souls and help us know what to do next. And if in any given moment He doesn’t, He will be our Friend.
In my experience, the most sacred understanding and application that comes from Christ’s Atonement is the recognition and belief that although He suffered for every other individual in the world, He also saw you, and me. I have experienced and seen that as a culture, this one is hard for us. This one is hard for me. But I believe that if I am to understand, accept and show gratitude for my Savior, then I am kind and forgiving to myself. I see that no matter what I have done or still continue to do, He knew, and I was still worth it.
I spend a concerted amount of time and effort every week remembering that and trying to change the way I speak to myself. As a recovering perfectionist, I know that this is hard.
But I also can testify with certainty that Jesus Christ loves us in our weakness, in our very moment of struggle. He loves us as we fail. When it seems that so much in our world is conditional–we get into college when we earn good grades, we maintain healthy relationships when we work on them, we receive praise for acting a certain way and rejection for acting another–I genuinely know that our Savior’s love is not conditional on what we do.
I have struggled for years with addiction. I understand all too well what recovery and relapse look life. I thought for years and years that I could not approach my Lord while in the midst of my sin. I did not plead for forgiveness because I thought that by asking and then messing up again, every day over and over, I was disrespecting Him. And I knew that I loved Him and I didn’t want to hurt anyone any more.
But here’s the thing I have learned: we try and we often see our efforts fail. I am imperfect. It would be impossible for me to wait until I had it all “figured out” to start applying His sacrifice in my life. When I reached a point of humility to where I was willing to ask Him to help me change, to help me want to repent, even in my consistently failed efforts, I can testify that He loved me perfectly. And recovery began.
In D & C 45: 3-5, Christ says, “Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.”
I know that Hie is our advocate, and He is kind. He is on our side, especially in the midst of our imperfections and struggles.
I got sick on my mission and came home early. The time between my hospitalization in Brazil and my flight back to the states was among the most confusing of my life. I will never forget the moment, the first moment of my life, when the realization hit me: He thought of you too, you know. He saw you too.
I was very sick and afraid. I did not know what my future looked like, and I was afraid of the comments and judgement I was sure were to come. As I left the mission home for the last time, I looked at a small picture of Christ handing on the wall. He had tears in His eyes and I had a distinct impression: Kaylee, He is crying with you.
It is my sincerest desire that everyone in the world knows that they have a Savior and that He saw them, He sees them, He cries and rejoices with them, as I have come to know.