6 years ago, my life was completely different from where I am at today. I remember coming home from Church, and just being so frustrated. I remember being at school and just being miserable. I hadn’t gained a testimony yet, a knowledge of anything about the church. I was trying so hard to live my life the best I could, yet it felt like everything was dragging me down. I remember being so bitter at God. I was so angry at him. I was so alone, even being surrounded by people who loved and cared about me. I went through trials. I screwed up many times. I felt distant from God. I felt no hope in my future and no hope in myself.
And now, in this moment, I would have never guessed that I would be talking to you as I prepare to leave on a mission, halfway across the world in Chile, dropping my schooling and life and devoting my life to God for 2 years. Now, if I would have told you my past, you would have never expected me to be where I am today. And that is what I want to share insights with you about, learning from the past and building a better future, because as Elder Holland once pointed out, “the past is to be learned from, not lived in.”
It is through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we can learn from our past, and move towards the future. C. Scott Grow helped put the atonement into perspective when he said, “There is no sin or transgression, pain or sorrow which is outside of the healing power of His atonement.”
The Atonement is the sacrifice Jesus Christ made to help us overcome sin, adversity, and death. Jesus Christ is just THE MAN!!! This is a man who could move mountains, who could heal people just from a simple touch, who walked on water, who would teach the sick and the afflicted. This is a man who, in the garden of Gethsemane, bled from every pore of his body for us. A man who, in Mark 14: 36 said, “Abba, Father, all things possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.” Abba, is translated into Father, into Daddy. So, this is the son of God, asking our Heavenly Father, his Father, “Father, why me?” “Daddy, why this?” “Dad, Where are you?” This is Jesus Christ, the man who could move mountains, heal people, walk on water, who is mighty beyond belief and is briefly asking “why?”
But the interesting thing is, don’t we all ask why? When we are going through a trial, or remembering our mistakes and all of our screw-ups, our past. Don’t we just ask, “why me? Why this? Why did I have this happen to me? What was the purpose?”
Jesus Christ, the only perfect man to walk on the earth, had the choice to give up and to not go through with Gods plan, a plan that was set from the very beginning. He had the choice to not bleed from every pore, to not suffer the pains and afflictions of all mankind. He had the choice to not follow God, to save himself from pain we cannot even imagine. Yet through it all, even after questioning briefly “why?” he died for us. He chose to follow the plan.
He chose that. And we have a choice too. We have agency. We have choices to make every day. Little and big choices that can build us up or tear us down. We can choose to look at our past and to stumble upon it and always revert back to it, or we can build upon our past, and learn and grow from it.
The atonement can be such a big thing and can be kind of a hard concept to grasp, but I like this story by Josh Harris which puts the atonement in more of a mortal perspective.
Harris tells a story about a room, just a simple white room empty except for one wall made up of filing cabinets filled with small index cards, each cabinet with different headings. Here were written the actions of every moment of his life, big and small, in fine detail. He saw cabinets labeled, "Friends I Have Betrayed," "Comfort I Have Given," "Lies I Have Told," “People I have made smile,” “Thoughts I have had,” and the list goes on. There were millions of cards – each signed with his own signature. He tried to destroy and get rid of every card, wanting no one to see these cards of his life, the good and the bad. Tears and anger and every emotion was flowing through this man, and that’s when he looked up, and saw Jesus Christ. “No, please not Him. Not here. Oh, anyone but Jesus” he claimed to himself. Jesus went through each card, and the man witnessed sorrow deeper than his own. Jesus looked at the man with pity in His eyes. But this was a pity that didn't anger the man. The man dropped his head, covered his face with his hands and began to cry. Jesus walked over and put His arm around the man. Jesus could have said so many things. But He didn't say a word. He just cried with the man. Then Jesus got up and walked back to the wall of files. Starting at one end of the room, He took out a file and, one by one, began to sign His name over the man’s signature on each card.
"No!" the man shouted rushing to Christ. The man pulled a card from the Savior’s hand. And there it was, written in red – so rich, so dark, so alive. The name of Jesus covered the man’s signature. It was written with His blood. Christ gently took the card back. He smiled a sad smile and continued to sign the cards. After some time, He placed His hand on the man’s shoulder and said, "It is finished."
I love this story so much! Jesus had the choice, and he made his choice with the atonement, signing his name over all of ours. We can have an understanding of what the atonement is, but it will not change our hearts completely until we choose to apply it to our life. We have the opportunity to have our sins be forgiven and forgotten. In Isaiah 1:18 Christ promises us, “…though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
How beautiful of a blessing that is! We have repentance. We can ask for forgiveness, and through the atonement and through our own agency, we can be forgiven. Then, in Doctrine & Covenants another promise is made, declaring, “He who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.”
How amazing is that!? Our past, our mistakes, every little screw up, event, action, anything, can be forgiven, and they will become as white as snow, and the Lord will remember them no more! I love that! Yet one of the hard things for us, is to forgive others who have hurt us. Others who, accidentally, or maybe even purposefully, affected us in some way, which can be so hard. But not only do we need to forgive others, we also need to forgive ourselves.
Elder Holland once said this, “When something is over and done with, when it has been repented of as fully as it can be repented of, when life has moved on as it should and a lot of other wonderfully good things have happened since then, it is right to go back and open some ancient wound that the Son of God Himself died to heal.”
When I was in High School, I really struggled my first two years. Freshman year was so hard for me, adjusting to a new school and not doing well at all, I was running and trying to follow the footsteps of my talented siblings, I had new friends, and everything was really hard. And I had such a bad attitude. This was the time where I felt so alone. And feeling alone, sucks. I don’t sugar coat things, it really sucks. This is when I hated life, and I expressed that to almost everyone. My friends that knew me saw how miserable I was, and I was not afraid of being angry and bringing others down with me. I felt like I was depressed and just trying to find myself. This continued for 2 years until I saw a change in myself, and I started to change. I started to become happier, I starting following the examples of my siblings instead of rebelling and pushing every standard they set away. And I changed! I changed completely and grew into the person I am today. But one of the hardest things for me to get over, was being constantly reminded of who I used to be by my friends and family. Here I was, this new and changed person after struggling for so many years, and I felt I was still stuck in my past, I was still being reminded of that and I hated that! Coming home from college to visit was rough. I was a different person when I left home than when I came back, and I loved the new me and where I was at BYU. But coming home felt like all my mistakes, all my past were back again, and I was being reminded of that old me. And I knew, I had to forgive myself and let go of the old me. I didn’t know what to expect with the new me, and I knew I would lose some friends, but I am so grateful for the new me. I had to forgive others, but once I finally forced myself to apply the atonement and to forgive myself, such a burden was lifted off my shoulders. It’s a liberating feeling you can’t really describe.
We will still remember our mistakes, our past, and maybe we should count that as a blessing, because without remembering it, we would not be able to build upon our past towards a better future.
For those of you who don’t know about the atonement, I urge you to learn about it. It is a gift, a gift of hope, a gift of healing. It is a gift that can and should be used for all of the moments in our life, in happiness and sadness, joy or pain.
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf says the following about the atonement which really hits home for me. “Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, He loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost and without compass, God’s love encompasses us completely… He Loves every one of us, even those who are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful, or broken.”
I don’t know what you are going through today. And I do know some of you are struggling. Some of you have gone through things unimaginable. Some of you might be hurting, might be questioning. But God does know you. He knows you personally. He knows exactly how you feel. You may not think he knows, but as you learn and apply the atonement to your life, you will come to know that he is deeply aware of you and your life. This is a God of love, he will never leave your side even if you may feel like he is nowhere to be found. Many of us are going through trials that we may feel like no one in the world has ever gone through, but there is someone. Someone, who because of the atonement and his eternal love for us, will never abandon you.
Agency is such a gift, such a blessing that we have. There is a plan for us, and we can choose to follow that plan or not to, plain and simple. Heavenly Father knows you. He loves you. He wants you to be eternally happy. But according to your God-given agency, the choice is yours.
God doesn’t care nearly as much about where you have been as He does about where you are and, with His help, where you are willing to go. This is the message I will be teaching the people of Chile. I will be teaching them that they are children of God. That they have a God, who loves them. That because of the atonement, we can return and live with God after our mortal journey on earth is complete. That this gospel, is the gospel of happiness. This gospel is a worldwide gospel. I will be a representative of Jesus Christ, and teach the people of Chile to come unto Him, to find hope in Him. I will teach the people of Chile to move on from their past, and to become a new person, to forgive others, to forgive themselves.
This gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. You all need to find out for yourself. You need to pray, read the scriptures, read the Book of Mormon, find out for yourself if it is true. It took me almost 4 years of really trying to gain a testimony, to find out if this was true, and even worth it. And I can tell you with all my heart, waiting and pondering and working towards gaining that testimony for so long, was SO worth it. For many of you, it could be quickly, for some, it could be a lifetime, but isn’t that what true faith is for? My piece of direction for all of you is this: If you are struggling, hold on. If you are questioning, hold on and find out for yourself. Satan is trying to get everyone that he can. Look at how much he is attacking, look at how many people are attacking the church. Why would they be attacking something so much, if something wasn’t true?
I don’t know everything, nor will I ever, but I do know somethings. If you want to find true happiness, living the gospel of Jesus Christ is true happiness. You cannot just gain it, you have to work for it, and you have to choose it. Find out for yourself. Forgive others, and forgive yourself. You have a plan. You are a child of God.