Accessing the Atonement: Honesty

You know, I sometimes get to a point in my day or week or wherever I may be that I just wonder: Why do I not feel like I’m fulfilling my purpose in life? Why is it that I don’t feel satisfied with what I’m doing? Well, I think it’s probably because I’m just not trying to be better than I was yesterday. I’m not really putting any effort into accessing a free gift that was given to me: The gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

So now my question is: How do I access the Atonement?

If you’ve ever heard of the Addiction Recovery Program or the 12-step Program, this will sound familiar to you because that’s where I’m getting the outline of this. But let me tell you that that program really isn’t just for people with addictions. It’s for people who want to be better by overcoming their weaknesses and do so by drawing closer to their Savior, Jesus Christ. So in essence, it’s really for anyone looking to access the full spectrum of His Atonement in the way it was intended for us to use it.

The first step we have to take in order to access the healing power of the Atonement is honesty. This sometimes is the most difficult part because it’s admitting to ourselves, to others and to the Lord that we have made mistakes, committed sins or even just that we have weaknesses. Sometimes it causes us to feel guilt, shame, embarrassment or other similar feelings. It can be very painful to admit these things – we’re human and humans don’t generally like change. Changing who we are is never going to be easy.

I’ve talked about prayer a lot before and I’m going to share my story again because it is very relevant in this particular instance. During the last five months of my mission, I learned the importance of prayer – sincere, genuine, humbling prayer. I had a companion who locked herself in the bathroom with the fan on every night in order to say her nightly prayers aloud. So I started doing the same. At first, they were the same prayers I’d always said, only now it was out loud. Over time, I came to understand that Heavenly Father doesn’t want to just hear me thank Him for what He’s given me and ask for things I or others I care about need. My Father in Heaven wanted to know about everything that I was thinking about, everything I was feeling, and everything I was in need of. He may already know all of that – God doesn’t need our prayers. WE need prayer. The more I opened up to Him, the greater understanding I gained of who He really is. I came to know better His grace and love, but more importantly, because of that knowledge I was able to open up to Him in ways I didn’t even want to open up to myself. I could admit to myself what my weaknesses were and I could find ways to overcome them.

How can you fix a problem or improve yourself if you don’t know what the problem is or what you need to improve on? By being honest with yourself and with the Lord.

So what is honesty? President James E. Faust said:

“We all need to know what it means to be honest. Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving… I wish to speak to you frankly about being honest. Honesty is a moral compass to guide us in our lives. You young [people] are under great pressure to learn the technology that is expanding and will continue to expand so rapidly. However, the tremendous push to excel in secular learning sometimes tempts people to compromise that which is more important—their honesty and integrity. In reality, we are only in competition with ourselves. Others can challenge and motivate us, but we must reach down deep into our souls and call forth our God-given intelligence and capabilities. We cannot do this when we depend on the efforts of someone else. Honesty is a principle, and we have our moral agency to determine how we will apply this principle. We have the agency to make choices, but ultimately we will be accountable for each choice we make. We may deceive others, but there is One we will never deceive…I am confident the Lord will continue to bless us as we remain honest, faithful, and true to ourselves and to this great cause…”

There’s a lot in that paragraph. So I want you to think about it. Think about what it means for you. What is honesty? Think about your own honesty. Are there things in your life that you are too afraid or embarrassed to think about or to admit? They may not even need to be mistakes or sins. It might just be a simple thought like “I’m so angry with God right now, but I know I’m not supposed to be so I’ll just brush it away and not feel it.” No. Don’t do that. Don’t act like it’s not there. Be honest in EVERYTHING you think and feel, whether you’re “supposed” to feel it or not. It will only sit and fester if you ignore it instead of acknowledge it and try to overcome it.

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-39591-gallery

What will you do to overcome those things that are keeping you from being honest? I recommend to start with prayer. Start this week by changing the way you pray – have a CONVERSATION with your Heavenly Father, not just a list of things to pray for. Take time to think about all the things that are weighing on your mind, the things that are keeping you from becoming a better you. Then tell Him. Tell Him everything that comes, even if it scares you, even if it might not exactly be the most Christ-like thought or feeling, even if it’s anger, sadness, humiliation, or embarrassment. Open yourself up more than you ever have before and pour out your whole soul to God. Then take more than a few seconds to LISTEN and to FEEL. If you are honest with God, God will be honest with you.

I promise that you will be changed if you do this and whatever else you feel is necessary to have a more open channel of communication with the Lord. I promise that if you are completely honest with yourself and with God, miracles will happen in your life. You will be more able to see the good in the world. You will be happier. You will be more willing to humble yourself and change your habits. And best of all, you will come to know without a shadow of a doubt that there is a God. And not just any God, but a God who is your Father, who loves you no matter what you might do, say or think and no matter what you are feeling; a God who knows you and wants only the very best for you.

When you know that, you will find comfort, peace and joy whichever way you turn because you will always be able to see your Savior standing nearby.

Advertisements

…But Then Come the Tender Mercies

There have been many tears shed this week, whether by me, by you, by your family or by your friends (or mine). And they haven’t been happy ones. My week consisted of a pride check on Monday, some rather devastating news about my educational pursuits on Tuesday, which resulted in a kind of educational depression where I’ve had no motivation to do anything having to do with classes – homework, practicing, or otherwise. On Thursday, I also learned a somewhat embarrassing lesson about the nerve that goes across your knee and how it can cause you to pass out if you’re kneeling on it for too long. Friday, the world had a lot of painful things happen – terrorist attacks, suicide bombings, and earthquakes included. The list could probably be longer if I looked hard enough and I’m sure for a lot of people, they could do it without having to look for it all.

Life is hard. It’s hard and sometimes it can get extremely overwhelming. The frustrations, pains, sicknesses, misunderstandings, accidents, and sadness of being human get to a point where all you want to do is drop everything, get on a plane and go backpacking across Europe. Or maybe just run away to the mountains and become a hermit with only books and a piano to keep you company. Maybe it drives you to just give up on everything and move away to start a completely new life where you can forget your current problems and never see them again. Trust me when I say all of those have crossed my mind this week.

Sometimes, life just hits you a lot harder than normal and it takes a while to get back on your feet. But let me tell you something. Despite all these wonderful adventures this week, and despite the fact that these trials have caused me to struggle the rest of the week with motivation for even wanting to continue being at school or wanting to be around anybody, the Lord has certainly seen fit to bless me greatly. Because of the way I’ve chosen to live my life, it has become so much easier to get through weeks like this and, more than that, it has become so much easier to see the mercy and love of the Lord in my life.

footprints_in_the_sand-1024x886

One night I had a dream–
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord
and across the sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints,
one belonged to me and the other to the Lord.
When the last scene of my life flashed before me,
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
I noticed that many times along the path of my life,
there was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life.
This really bothered me and I questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
you would walk with me all the way,
but I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life
there is only one set of footprints.
“I don’t understand why in times when I needed you most,
you should leave me.”
The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never, never leave you
during your times of trial and suffering.
“When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

(by Mary Stevenson)

Now, go back and read all the annoying and frustrating things that happened to me this week… As I said, that list could probably go on for much longer…. but then come the tender mercies of the Lord. Let me share with you those things that I believe came directly from the Lord:

A phone call from one of my best friends, even if it was short. A listening ear and loving attitude from another dear friend of mine, despite her own trials she’s dealing with. A mom who just listens and only wants to lift me up when I’m not strong enough on my own. A friend who makes me laugh in one of my more boring classes. Another wonderful friend to take me out for a couple hours and just catch up with each other. Talks by general authorities. Inspiration and assurance from the Spirit of the Lord. But best of all: The feeling of warmth, comfort and peace that comes every day when I open my scriptures or especially every night when I kneel or sit on my bed or the floor every night when I can have a real conversation with my Father in Heaven.

All of these things are not THINGS. They are not even close to what the world could ever offer me and they are irreplaceable and priceless treasures that I hold so dear to my heart. Why? Because every single one of them in just the last few days when it has sometimes felt as if my entire world was starting to crash down around me has reminded me of the love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ both have for me. They have reminded me that I am not forgotten, nor am I ever alone. And there are so many more than just the few I’ve listed here. When I feel that kind of peace, comfort and love, I can’t help but stop and realize how much I have to be grateful for. It reminds me that I am not in charge. I may not always feel like I deserve these small yet significant tender mercies. But Heavenly Father loves me so much that HE feels that I deserve them and that I am worthy of them. He sees what great things I can accomplish and He knows when I’m struggling to see those things, too. So He sends reinforcements to strengthen and uplift me. Whether it be the people in my life, sweet messages from His loving servants, weather that I love, or just a feeling, He knows exactly what I need to get me back up on my feet and back to the things He requires of me to do. They are gentle reminders from Him that I need to let Him steer sometimes, or always. They are constant reminders that I have a Father in Heaven who will never fail me no matter what else on Earth is failing. It doesn’t matter how terrible the rest of my life might be, as long as I have the Lord’s light to guide me and as long as I let it, I know I can conquer all things.

You might have days, weeks or even months or years like mine. You might still feel like this even after you read your scriptures or pray to your Father asking for comfort. You may still feel this way after recognizing a few of the tender mercies He has given you to help you through. But you know what? That’s okay. It’s okay to still feel overwhelmed, frustrated or upset. It’s okay to take time to work through your trials and tribulations. I believe it’s okay because we are human. Things take time to learn from. If, even in the midst of wanting to do otherwise, you are still reading your scriptures, praying and recognizing the hand of the Lord, then it’s okay because you are trying. Don’t give up and don’t give in. You are doing right and you are not alone. No one else in the world may understand your thoughts, feelings or hardships, but then, your Savior Jesus Christ isn’t of the world. He is so much more than that. When things get to a point where you don’t want to keep moving forward, remember Him. Remember that He is there. Remember that He is aware of you and knows EXACTLY what you are experiencing. Remember that He cares and that He is full of mercy, kindness, warmth and light. He can be your strength when you doubt you can go on. Sometimes it comes in the form of friends, sometimes through talks and devotionals from His servants, sometimes through nature and sometimes just through a feeling. Wherever it comes from, look for His tender mercies, trust that He is carrying you, and most of all, remember Him.

“Cast Not Away Therefore Your Confidence”

In case any of you didn’t hear, there have been some changes made to the handbook for the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The changes include children of same-sex couples are not to be baptized until they are 18 and that is causing a LOT of contention and debate among a lot of people, members and non-members alike. I have a few words to say, but I’m going to keep it short(er) because it’s simple (I also think you should read this article here written by a gay mormon who supports this policy and explains it in a really wonderful way).

In the words of a friend: “I believe in Jesus Christ and His living prophets and apostles, so why would I even let my faith waver because of a policy change? Ponder this.”

I have felt a lot of pain and sadness in the past day or so since hearing about this policy change but not for the same reasons as everyone else. What hurts is seeing members of the church not trying to understand this change and allowing it to shake their faith. I’ve seen comments like “I know the Church isn’t perfect” or “Don’t tell me this is about the protection and love of children because it’s not. It’s wrong to exclude those poor children and it’s not of God” (There is an article called The 9 Facebook Myths About the Church’s New LGBT Policy that I encourage each of you to read – it’s REALLY good in explaining why these kinds of statements are not true).

Well let me tell you something. This IS Christ’s Church. It is His Kingdom established on Earth and it IS perfect. He guides and directs it every step of the way through a prophet, who today is Thomas S. Monson. The leaders of this church may not be perfect, but they ARE led by a perfect Being. If you ever thought at one point in your life that these men have been called of God, and are thinking now that they have fallen away from God, I tell you this: The Lord will NEVER allow His chosen servants to lead the world away from Him. If they try, they will not succeed and will be removed from their position.

The leaders of the Church (AKA God) have chosen to include this policy in order to protect these children and their families. Families are of God and even though we may not agree with their actions, they are still a family. Isn’t it amazing just how much the Lord loves us that He will bless even those children who act in ways He doesn’t like? Isn’t it amazing how He can direct the leaders of His church to bring such blessings to those wonderful families? Because that’s exactly what He’s doing.

But what if you don’t see it that way? What if you’re one of those who is struggling to understand the reasoning and love behind this policy, whether you’re a member of the Church or not? There is a way to know what to do.

Pray.

In the words of Jeffrey R. Holland: “With any major decision there are cautions and considerations to make, but once there has been illumination, beware the temptation to retreat from a good thing. If it was right when you prayed about it and trusted it and lived for it, it is right now. Don’t give up when the pressure mounts. Certainly don’t give in to that being who is bent on the destruction of your happiness. Face your doubts. Master your fears. “Cast not away therefore your confidence.” Stay the course and see the beauty of life unfold for you.”

I have received my own witness that Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s called and chosen servant to represent Him on the Earth today. I continue to feel how true that is with every general conference that I get to hear him speak. I also know that Henry B. Eyring, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Russell M. Nelson, and the other members of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles have been chosen for their holy calling to assist the prophet in establishing and clarifying the doctrine of Jesus Christ. There are going to be times where I may not completely understand why there are certain policies made, and there may even be times where I possibly disagree with those policies until I can come to understand them. But I have a witness from the Spirit of the Lord that these men are called of God and that they are doing His work. Because of that witness, I will do everything I can to understand what isn’t so clear and if I can’t find some understanding, I will pour every ounce of faith I have in my entire being into trusting that God knows what He’s doing. God’s laws are NOT man’s laws, and the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints truly ARE men of God who are doing all they can to follow the Lord and guide the world in doing the same. Because of my witness, I REFUSE to cast away my confidence but instead, I will do everything I can to understand why or to just trust that God is in charge.

The message comes from Jesus Christ, through His prophet, to us.

The message comes from Jesus Christ, through His prophet, to us.

I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints IS His Church and that it is perfect BECAUSE He is the one leading us, not men. I challenge each of you to get on your knees and pray. Pray for understanding. Pray for faith. Pray for love. Pray for whatever it is you need at this time to accept what the prophet has declared. If you’re not a member, pray anyway that you can be able to trust in the Lord and trust in His servants whether that is your pastor, rabbi, preacher, mother, father, brother, sister or whoever else is leading you closer to Him every day. Pray that you will come to know and understand the truth so that whatever He asks of you, you will be able to accept.

Blessings of the Temple

My brother and I outside the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, March 2013

My brother and I outside the Oquirrh Mountain Temple, March 2013

My testimony today is of how wonderful making the temple a regular part of your life can really be. For those who are not members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I want to clarify what temples are. Every Sunday, we go to a church building for our church services where we take the sacrament (bread and water) and learn from our leaders and fellow members. Temples, on the other hand, are for a different purpose. We are counseled to make the temple a high priority in our lives because that is where we can make more covenants besides baptism with Heavenly Father to follow Him and do all we can to become like Him, including marriages that are sealed with the power of God to last for time and all eternity. Temples are also where we can perform these same covenants for the dead by proxy (which means we don’t baptize dead bodies – we stand in for the person who has already died). These are people who never received the Gospel of Jesus Christ while they were living, and even though we do the work and record it as finished, it is still their decision to accept the covenants that have been performed. The temple is a very sacred place where amazing things happen. These buildings throughout the world are dedicated for these sacred ordinances to be performed and so only people who have been deemed worthy by the leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are allowed to enter. A common saying is “It’s not secret, it’s sacred.” The way I once had it explained to me was that Heavenly Father loves us so much that He doesn’t want to give us commandments or covenants that we won’t be able to understand or keep, so that’s why we have to be interviewed and deemed worthy – so we don’t make covenants and agree to things we don’t intend to follow through with. The temple is truly the house of the Lord and it is kept clean and separate from the world. It’s a place where we can go to feel the love of God, to receive answers and revelation for our lives, and to receive blessings we would not have otherwise. Please watch this video for a better explanation of Why Mormons Build Temples. If you have any other questions about this, please ask me or visit mormon.org where you can chat with missionaries online who would be more than happy to help you understand whatever questions, doubts, or confusion you may have about the LDS temples.

Salt Lake City Temple.

Salt Lake City Temple.

If I had to pick only one word to describe the temple, it would be ‘HOME’. Let me tell you why: During my second year of college, I made the commitment to go to the temple every week. At that point, I was basically just trying to make it a habit because I knew it was something our leaders had counseled us to do. I knew it was a good thing and I had faith it would bless my life. I came to really love going and being able to get away from the world for a couple of hours, but it honestly wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I REALLY came to see and understand the blessings the come when we choose to attend the temple. This entire year, I’ve been working on being able to constantly feel the Spirit. I’ve done this by making my prayers and scripture study a priority. I’ve worked on finding happiness on my own rather than looking to the future and saying “I’ll be happy when….” There are a few other things I’ve been working on as well, but about a month or so ago, I found a friend who was willing to take me to the temple on a weekly basis (because I have no transportation myself). Since coming home from my mission, I would FINALLY be able to go every week again. And what a blessing my friend has been. She and I both have such a love for the temple that grows about 10 times stronger every week. The past two times we’ve sat in the celestial room wishing we never had to leave. We would most definitely live there if we could – there are showers, a cafeteria, and furniture. It’s beautiful and comfortable and spending time there makes you wish you never had to go back out into the world. Yesterday, we sat there for over an hour just talking about things we wanted to work on and contemplating what it would be like to live with Heavenly Father again. I’ve noticed that because I can forget about the world and enjoy the presence of the Lord for at least a couple of hours every week rather than going through while still thinking about all the homework I have to do, my life has increased in the amount of joy and positivity that I have on a daily basis. And every time I come home from the temple, I think the only word to describe how I feel is bliss.

Boston Massachusetts Temple

Boston Massachusetts Temple

I have come to truly know how much attending the temple as regularly as possible can change your life for the better and bring you closer to the Lord. Making time to spend with Him is at the top of my priorities because it means that I can get to know Him, what He wants for me in my life and what He needs me to do to magnify my purpose in being here. I have seen some amazing things happen in my life and the lives of those around me simply because I am choosing to make the Lord the center of my life. So I ask you these questions: What is it you want in your life? How do you need to change your habits in order to have what you want? How would making the Lord the center of YOUR life change you specifically for the better?