Monday, March 29, 2010

The Atonement in My Life

With Easter week upon us, I find myself drawn to the remarkable circumstances surrounding the Atonement. It is ironic to me that sometimes among Mormon congregations Easter gets only a brief mention compared to the great significance given this holiday among other Christian denominations. (Another day perhaps I'll tell the story of the sacrament meeting I attended on Easter Sunday only to have a high councilor talk about food storage…)

But to be sure Latter-day Saints, like our other Christian friends, certainly hold dear the events surrounding Easter which are part of the all-encompassing atonement of Jesus Christ. The Savior began his suffering for our sins as he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, and that suffering continued on the cross where he was killed in an awful way. His sacrifice was as voluntary as it was complete.

His rising from the tomb on the third day, what we celebrate as Easter Sunday, signifies for all men and women the power to overcome death through a literal resurrection – a reuniting of body and spirit which overcomes the physical death introduced into the world when Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden.

The Savior's suffering for our sins, indeed bearing all our pain, provides us the remarkable opportunity to change. Because of His grace in offering us His atoning sacrifice, we can not only overcome the finality of physical death, but we can also improve ourselves by following His example, and we can return to our Father in Heaven.

That opportunity to change is precious to me. Years ago, after a particularly difficult time with my then-young adult son, I sent him a long letter describing how the atonement could bless his life by allowing him to change for the better. I wrote it in my righteous indignation over mistakes I felt he had made, and I enumerated how, if he would be thoughtful and careful, he could take advantage of the opportunity to repent and find happiness.

The facts of my letter could have been spot on, but the tone was not. And it was not until two years later that I realized my error. A friend and I were discussing Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. As we talked, I had come to my mind the original letter I had written (that I had in the meantime all but forgotten). I realized that while my son may have needed the atonement in his life, I needed it, too. And for me in that moment, my need was far greater than his.

I went home that night and wrote him another letter, also about the atonement, but also asking his forgiveness for my behavior two years earlier, recognizing (and admitting) the beam in my own eye instead of looking for the mote in his.

I was not perfect after I wrote that letter, but I was better. And I came to feel the blessing of the atonement in my own life as I sought to right wrongs for which I was responsible. My relationship with my son improved, not because he changed (though he did grow up over the years), but because I did.

I've had this same scene play over and over in my life as I have realized how much I need the atonement. We sing a hymn, "I Stand All Amazed," and I really am amazed at the love Jesus has shown me to allow me to change, to improve, to draw nearer to Him.

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