I forewarn that this will be lengthy. But, I hope, worth your time.
My father passed along an article to me that was first published and presented at an AMCAP conference in Salt Lake City earlier this month. It discusses something we all have in common. Our troubles. Our problems. Our trials. The author, or speaker, Dr. Terrence C. Smith, dissects the hard experiences we go through in life. He starts by telling of the first time he sorted laundry as a newlywed. Thinking he could get away with washing the whites and darks together, he went ahead and threw them all into the same load. We all know what happened next. He points out that just as laundry needs to be sorted, so must our troubles. There are really two piles. Pile #1 is sin. Pile #2- adversity. I won't talk as much about sin here, though I have my fair share, but will focus on the adversity pile, as mine seems to be toppling over as of late.
Dr. Smith lays out the treatment for the disease of sin (which most of us are familiar with)
-Exercise Faith in Christ
-Repent of our sins
-Receive the Holy Ghost
-Endure to the end/Forsake our sins
This was familiar to me and something I have experienced on more than one occasion. (Though the ordinance of Baptism and receiving the Holy Ghost are performed only once). What I have never been "taught" or thought about, was the treatment of adversity. What are the steps to healing my broken heart because of something that wasn't my doing? Losing my daughter had nothing to do with a bad choice I made. (Though I will admit I have tortured myself with the thoughts of, " I shouldn't have given her that apple slice!" "If only we would have started CPR sooner." "Why did we decide to go to our home ward that day instead of the Spanish Branch? Maybe this wouldn't have happened.") I have prayed several times to receive peace and forgiveness, hoping with all my heart that Lucy is not upset with me. It is a horrible feeling.
But going back to the question of healing adversity. Adversity is defined as troubles in our lives that ARE NOT sin. Has someone offended you? A spouse? A family member? Do you have trials and heartache in your life because of SOMEONE ELSE'S decisions. Or like me, just freak accidents, Mother Nature, living in a fallen, mortal world? Call it what you may, I think we all have our own piles of sin and adversity. And I need to know how to be healed! Do you?
Dr. Terrence C. Smith says, " The prescription for adversity is different to that for sin. It is principally for this reason that it helps if we sort our troubles. The first step is the same--Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. His atonement can take away or transform the damaging effects, the pain, and eventually all of the consequences of adversity in our lives. His atonement can convert the pain of adversity into growth, development, and even sanctification."
Why do we tend to think the atonement mostly in terms of fixing our sins? What about our adversity? Dr. Smith admits it is a complexity of our human nature. He wonders, "Why do we call the most beautiful and optimistic of Jesus' parables The Prodigal Son rather than The Forgiving Father." I agree with him that we fixate on our faults.
But not anymore. Not for me. Lucy has changed my heart. My vision is clear and my path is straight. Repentance and a desire to follow my Savior are a top priority for me. It's not always easy, but it is CLEAR. It is the adversity, turning my weakness into strength, trusting in God's will--that is my fixation.
So what is the second step? SERVICE. Faith is the first principle and service is the second in resolving adversity. When we have adversity in our lives, we must exercise our faith, and then we need to find a place in the world where we can serve.
Do you know much about the Book of Mormon? Have you heard of the prophet, Lehi, and his family of boys? One of the first stories in the Book of Mormon is about Lehi and his family leaving Jerusalem and heading into the wilderness. Two of his sons have great faith in their father, and the other two murmured and fought against the counsel of their father. Lehi's son, Jacob, suffered much affliction because of his brothers. He was faithful, and as a result, "suffered afflictions and much sorrow, because of the rudeness of thy brethren.." (2 Nephi 2: 1-3). But in a father's blessing, given to Jacob by Lehi, he was told, ..."Nevertheless, Jacob, my first-born in the wilderness, thou knowest the greatness of God, and he shall consecrate thine afflictions for thy gain. Wherefore, thy soul shall be blessed, and thou shalt dwell safely with thy brother, Nephi. And thy DAYS SHALL BE SPENT IN THE SERVICE OF THY GOD. Wherefore, I know that thou art redeemed because of the righteousness of thy Redeemer."
He was told that because of his life of service, he would be redeemed, saved from his troubles, due to the merits, mercy, and grace of Jesus Christ! If a prophet of old told his son it would work for him, by golly, it will work for me. It's just hard to know where to begin when I struggle to keep my head on straight. How can I serve another when I feel in so much need of service myself? The answer is: you just do it.
"When we sin we need to turn from the sin towards a new way of treating ourselves--an INWARD mighty change of heart. In adversity, we need to reach OUTWARD to serve others and turn away from the tendency to constantly look inward in a negative way at our own life and its troubles with the predictable cycle of self-criticism, guilt, anxiety, and loss of self." (Dr. Terrence Smith)
Christ had only one pile of laundry. He had no sin. Only an overflowing, seemingly endless pile of adversity. Some saw this as weakness, and spat upon him, tortured and mocked him.
Which brings me to my last point.
As I said earlier, the atonement doesn't cover only our sins, but our adversity. And that part is very broad. God does not turn up his nose or turn away from us because of our weaknesses, or our sickness or heartache. He sees in them the seeds of our sanctification, a way in which we can be more like His Son. Weaknesses are a key pattern to how the Lord works with us. He has told us often that He purposefully picks the weak things of the world to accomplish His work.
In this article, Dr. Smith points out something very, very interesting. When Christ appears to the people in the Americas, at the temple Bountiful, he asks them to come forth and touch his wounds. Why his wounds? Usually we think to prove, as evidence, that He is who He says He is. But what about this--what if he wanted them to feel his weakness, his humaneness and scars, so that we might know that it's OK for us to be the same? " I think he calls us all to touch the woundedness in Him, and in ourselves, so that we can be one with Him. REAL INTIMACY COMES THROUGH SHARED WEAKNESSES, NOT STRENGTHS; OTHERWISE, HE'D HAVE US FEEL HIS BICEPS, NOT HIS WOUNDS."
YES! Hallelujah! This is something I have been struggling with. Some people seem to be more open. More open to my pain, more open to feeling and hearing and experiencing it with me. While others turn away because it is "too hard for them." Do you know how much it means to me to have someone acknowledge my pain through tears? Through an awakening of what this would mean in their own lives...and then sending me an email telling me about it? Or a card, or a phone call. It makes my pain so much less in vain. Does this mean we go around being negative and only speaking of our weaknesses? No. It's about honesty. And openness. It's about being real. Including celebrating our blessings. We may be making someone feel unnecessarily isolated because we choose not to share our weaknesses in appropriate ways. We may be causing our fellow sisters or brothers to feel even MORE weak, when we turn away from their pain and show them only our "best selves". Do you agree with me?
Take the example from this article about a Relief Society talent show, where women come and show their very best. Some may come away feeling diminished and alienated, like they don't measure up to other ladies in the ward. The activity of sharing strengths often produces feelings of personal insecurity and separation, if not downright competitiveness. (Church basketball with the men?)
But what about three or four of these same women in a Visiting Teaching moment...sharing some tender moments of the grief of losing a child, a failed marriage, a wayward teenager, a fractured testimony. Has this happened to you? You've wept a bit with your sisters and come away feeling a closer bond, feeling the wounds of a fellow sister, and had a connection, warmth, and uplift perhaps not possible from the talent show.
Again, Terrence Smith says, "I think there was something about touching Jesus' woundedness that built a Zion culture in ways that touching His strengths would not have done."
So there it is. Enough soapbox for you? Sin, Adversity, Weakness, Openness, Honesty. Things to ponder about. This is how I want to be:
Open. Honest. Unafraid to show my weakness but relying on the warmth of the Son to give me the energy to serve others.
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