When I was a young child, each Sunday my parents would send my brothers and sister and I to a Lutheran church near our home in Iowa. One thing I remember very well was that every week in children’s Sunday School we would recite a scripture together, John 3:16. It is the first scripture I ever remember memorizing, and one I have never forgotten: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. When I was 8 years old my family moved to California. There the missionaries found us and we joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I would occasionally hear this scripture shared in our new religion, too, so I knew at a young age that it was an important one. And it is.
Not only is the Atonement a way that we can recognize Heavenly Father and Jesus’ love for us, but through it we can come to know of their very personal love for each of us.
The Atonement of our Savior covers the whole world and all people from the beginning to the end of time. That can be pretty overwhelming to think about. What we need to remember is how personal the Atonement is.
Through the Atonement each of our own individual circumstances are addressed. It covers each of our personal needs, challenges, and possibilities.
We recently held a Stake Standards Night where I sat on a panel which answered various questions from the youth. One question which was asked near the end of our discussion (I don’t remember it exactly) was something like: What does the Atonement mean? I answered the question extensively, but only in my head, not where anyone else could hear it, and I regretted that afterward. So I’d like to answer that question now.
What does the Atonement mean? It means everything. The Atonement was an intimate, personal experience in which Jesus came to know how to help each of us individually. It means that no matter what I go through in my life, someone understands. It means I never have to be alone, that there is always someone I can talk to. It means that at every low point in my life I have had a friend who listens and loves me unconditionally. It means that no matter what mistakes I make there is a way to make things right again.
Three years ago I slipped and fell on our icy driveway and broke my leg. As we waited for the paramedics to transport me to the hospital, my oldest son, Allen, would not leave my side. My whole family was worried for me and upset about what had happened, but Allen had a deeper understanding because he had broken his leg just one year before I did. He understood the pain I was experiencing. He understood the frustration of waiting in the emergency room. He remembered the nervous hope that things could be fixed properly. He knew the anxiety of waiting for surgery and the restlessness of being immobile. He knew the recovery I would have to endure and the therapy I would need to go through. My son understood my injury in a more personal way because he had been through it before, he had experienced it.
This can be related to the Atonement, only on a much, much grander scale. Jesus has experienced all of our sorrows and pains and sins and trials in a very personal way. He understands. He gives us hope.
Moroni 7:41 reads, “And what is it that ye shall hope for? Behold I say unto you that ye shall have hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise.”
Elder Bruce D. Porter said, “We all experience some level of adversity and heartbreak. But having experienced tragedy, sickness, and disappointment in His own life, the Savior knows how to strengthen us in such trials as well. He is there not only when we cry out from the burden of sin but also when we cry out for any other reason. Sometimes we think of the power of the Atonement as something that works after this life, as though it were something that applied only at the Judgment Day. But that is not true doctrine. The redeeming power of Jesus Christ works during our lives, day by day, moment by moment, as He gives us strength to overcome, as He forgives us of sin, and as He brings us, through the Holy Ghost, comfort, peace, and joy. My prayer and hope is that we will discover the power of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives, that we will understand that the Atonement is not something abstract.”
So how can we do this? How can we understand that the Atonement is not some abstract, general idea? How can we come to understand the intimate, personal effects that the Atonement can have in our lives? We often speak of the Atonement in general terms, about the sins and suffering of the entire world. But that’s not how we experience life. We experience things individually. That means that my Savior understood what I felt when I was alone on the playground as a young child at school. He knows what it felt like when kids made fun of me because my parents were Deaf. He knew what it felt like when I had to suffer the consequence of poor decisions. He even understands things like the disappointment of auditioning for the school musical and not getting a part. He knows what I felt the day we discovered that my infant daughter had cranial synostosis and would have to endure major surgery to correct it – not only what I experienced but also how it was for my husband, and my daughter, individually. He experienced the different kinds of grief that came when I lost my dad to cancer, and my friend to suicide. He understood the difficulty I had in sending each of my kids off to kindergarten and the happy sort of heartache that comes with sending older children off to serve missions. He knows my frustrations when I make mistakes as I am continually trying to be a better wife or mother or sister or daughter or friend. We all have examples from every day of our lives, and the Savior knows it all. He’s been there. He’s experienced everything. I would not wish those pains and trials on anyone, but the beautiful thing is that He loved me enough that he was willing to experience those things for me, so he could understand. And He did this not only for me, but for each one of us! My emotion in recalling these experiences is not sadness but more of overwhelming gratitude for what He was willing to endure for us.
It is hard to imagine how the Atonement could be so personal, how the Savior could really know each of us and our individual experiences so intimately. I love how Elder Merrill J. Bateman explained this. He says, “The Pearl of Great Price teaches that Moses was shown all the inhabitants of the earth, which were “numberless as the sand upon the sea shore” (Moses 1:28). If Moses beheld every soul, then it seems reasonable that the Creator of the universe has the power to become intimately acquainted with each of us. He learned about your weaknesses and mine. He experienced your pains and sufferings. He experienced mine. I testify that He knows us. He understands the way in which we deal with temptations. He knows our weaknesses. But more than that, more than just knowing us, He knows how to help us if we come to Him in faith.”
None of us is perfect. Perfect people don’t need a Savior. The power of the Atonement is that it saves us in our imperfections. We are all works in progress.
Alma 7:11-12 says, “And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the band of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.
Elder John H. Groberg said, “I testify that no one has or ever will experience any set of circumstances, be they disappointments, betrayal, pain, persecution, suffering, or whatever, that cannot and is not swallowed up in the Savior! You can feel no hurt, emotional or physical, that He has not already felt. There is no combination of human emotions or physical illness or suffering that cannot find refuge in the Savior’s sacrifice for us. He knows how to help us. He wants to help us. Please let him."
Have you ever seen a sign in a store that is undergoing remodeling? It usually says something like, “Please excuse the mess, we’re growing”. I want that on a t-shirt! “Please excuse the mess, I’m growing!” It applies to everyone. This is what the Atonement is about for me. This is where I know I can apply the Atonement every day. My life is not perfect, none of us are perfect. We are always making mistakes, we are all broken. Our lives can be a mess, but we are also always learning and growing through the things that we experience. We just need to look beyond the mess and see the child of God that is growing in the middle of it. That’s what our Savior sees.
Our prophet Thomas S. Monson has said that, “Our Heavenly Father … knows that we learn and grow and become stronger as we face and survive the trials through which we must pass. We know that there are times when we will experience heartbreaking sorrow, when we will grieve, and when we may be tested to our limits. However, such difficulties allow us to change for the better, to rebuild our lives in the way our Heavenly Father teaches us, and to become something different from what we were – better than we were, more understanding than we were, more empathetic than we were, with stronger testimonies than we had before.”
I have a testimony of the Atonement. I love my Savior, Jesus Christ. It is through personal experience that I count Him as my truest friend. He understands me and my personal trials, experiences and heartbreak like no one else can. I am thankful that He loves me and every one of us enough to help us through the “mess” of our experiences so that we can continue to learn and grow and become more like Him.