Never Forsaken

One of the fundamental facts of the atonement is the incomprehensible truth that Christ personally and literally suffered all that we possibly can suffer in mortality.  It is a message echoed in every book of LDS scripture.  The prophet Isaiah saw that Christ would bear our griefs and carry our sorrow.  (Isa. 53:4).  Paul spoke of Christ being tempted “in all points” as we are.  (Heb. 4:15).  Alma in the Book of Mormon prophesied that Christ would suffer “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind.”  (Alma 7:11).  And in a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Savior himself reminds a despondent servant that, when it comes to suffering, “The Son of Man hath descended below them all.  Art thou greater than he?”  (Doctrine & Covenants 122:8).

Even with that realization, we sometimes forget that in descending below all things, He reached a point that we will never have to experience.

Christ’s suffering, begun in Golgotha and culminating on the cross, brought Him to a place so dark that even He could scarce comprehend it.  In order for His atonement to be truly infinite and eternal, He had to experience something that was as undeserved as it was unimaginable:  The Father had to withdraw His presence, leaving the Son alone to experience the horror of spiritual death even as his physical death was upon him.  We can never know, but can well imagine, that amid all of the suffering, this was the worst for a perfectly devoted Son.  And thus he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46).

I cannot imagine that Christ did not understand that this would be required of Him as part of His sacrifice, but his cry of anguish certainly suggests that He did not fully imagine what it would feel like.  That he anticipated this moment is suggested, to me at least, in John 14:18, when he assures his disciples that even though He will be taken from them “I will not leave you comfortless.  I will come to you.”  It is the reassurance of a loving Savior that where He was about to travel, we would not be required to go.  He will not leave us comfortless.  He will come when He is needed.

Paul echoes this healing message when he says of Christ that “he hath said, I will never leave thee, or forsake thee.”  He who was without sin experienced that which He did not have coming to Him, but which we certainly have coming to us.  Which of us has not so offended God that He would not be justified in forsaking us and looking for a better disciple as a companion?  Undeserving as we are, we nonetheless are promised that we will never be left alone or forsaken.  Like Peter, who for a moment walked on the water but began to sink as his faith faltered, there is no depth to which we can sink that is beyond the Savior’s ability and willingness to rescue us.  We can run from Him as hard as we might, but when we run out of breath and energy, we will find that He is still right beside us, ready to bring us home when we are ready.

Such is the perfect love of our Redeemer, who with gentle stubbornness refuses to let us experience a darkness that only He has seen.  For us, there will always be some light.  And He will be its source.

 

Same Road, Different Walk

Going to bed last night, I was determined that in the morning, I was going to be different.  And if I couldn’t be different, I’d could at least act like I was.  Even salvation, I suspect, has a certain fake-it-till-you-make-it component to it.

I had been listening to a very inspiring book on tape and couldn’t get out of my mind how much I would like to see the world as the author sees it and make the kind of difference in the world that he has made.  (If you are curious, the book is “Tattoos on the Heart,” by Gregory Boyle).   I figured that if I really felt that way, why not try, right now, to make the change, rather than think of it as something I would like to be some other day, when the planets are lined up correctly, I have nothing but free time on my hands, and there are no problems troubling my mind or heart.  Because that is going to happen, right?

I was better at the ideal than at actually planning out how I was going to pull it off.  I was impulsively working with a vague notion of being more “God minded,” whatever the heck that means.  But I was picking a weird time to do this.  I’m out of town and away from my family, and they usually are a source of providing me with the strength and motivation to be a good person.  I was going to be taking a deposition, which meant spending hours in a climate of conflict.  I had a pile of work facing me that I really didn’t want to do.  Nothing about the coming day promised anything remotely uplifting or enlightening.

So, here’s what I did differently.  First, I prayed on my knees in the morning.  I typically pray as part of my meditation practice, but if I don’t meditate, I forget to pray.  And the prayers have taken on a repetitive or ritualistic aspect such that I feel good about checking off “prayer” in the to-do list, but don’t feel so good about the process itself.  So, back to the missionary days:  On my knees, in a suit, at the foot of my bed.  And I changed up the prayer significantly.  I skipped most of my standard stuff (I can’t think that God really enjoys reruns) and focused on two things.  The first was to review the day that was coming up, share with God what I was worried about and where the rough spots were likely to be.  I asked for some specific help with those things.  Second, I asked that I be reminded throughout the day to look for ways to lighten someone else’s burden.

During the course of the day, I tried to SLOW DOWN.  Leaving a restaurant where I had dinner, rather than stepping quickly to the car, I stood outside for a bit.  Enjoying the wonderful weather.  Listening to the sounds of the city.  Just kind of taking it in.  I tried to CHILL OUT.  I approached my deposition with the intent of being effective and thorough, but not looking for opportunities to clash with the other side.  I tried to WATCH MY MENTAL DIET by avoiding things that wouldn’t contribute to the mood I was looking for.  Choosing my next audiobook, I opted against Kurt Vonnegut and in favor of a book on the Birmingham Jail letter of Martin Luther King, Jr.  Kilgore Trout is fine, but I didn’t see him getting me where I was going.  I read from the Psalms during breakfast and searched for some message that I could carry with me through the day.  I found it, and did.

Now, here’s what happened:  Not much.  No visions.  No heavenly trumpets blasting when I entered a room (that would be so cool!).  I didn’t save anyone’s life or rescue anyone’s soul.  It was, in many respects a very normal day.

But I walked through it differently.  And in doing so, there were some nice moments along the way.

I was kind to a housekeeping lady and chatted with her briefly in Spanish.  I shared a light conversation with someone at the reception desk.  I got lost driving back to my hotel and, rather than losing my temper, enjoyed the trees and river at the park I ended up at.  I went out of my way to be nice to a very worn out waitress.  I enjoyed a touching piece of music on Facebook.  I shared an encouraging message with someone.  I had a wonderful discussion with my wife about her interactions with her students and how I perceived her work in the classroom as her personal ministry, one that she performs as only she can.  I told my wife I loved her.  I told my mom I loved her.

And I feel better tonight than I did last night.

Sometimes God awes us with miraculous moments.  Sometimes He shows His hand so clearly in our lives that we would have to be blind to miss it.  Other times He enriches us merely by helping us see ordinary things in an extraordinary way.  We might not walk on water, but we can walk on a different path, even as our feet are hitting the same old road.  I wanted a better day today.  I wanted to be better today.  And in a few small ways, that happened.  I’ll take those little blessings, go to bed thankful, and hope that tomorrow I see the path more clearly.