The Blessings of the Atonement

Last time I got up here and spoke, I failed to introduce myself or my family and I got some friendly criticism for it. So this time, I’m making sure to do it.

  • Julie: My favorite place to be is anywhere I haven’t been before. I even get bored driving on the same roads and enjoy finding new and exciting routes to get where I need to go.
  • Rob: He has watched about 900 hours of Star Trek over the course of his life. While it sounds like a lot, he is sure to mention that it’s probably a lot fewer hours than most people spend watching sports. 
  • Nate: When he’s comfortable in his surroundings, he is a master of improv comedy. He’s very quick-witted and makes us laugh all the time. He also collects state and national park quarters and is hoping someone has a Utah quarter that he can get his hands on. He has since had a bunch of people look in their stash and he now has this one in his collection. I’m so impressed by the thoughtfulness of others in our ward family! Now he’s on the lookout for the Rocky Mountain National Park quarter.
  • Madeleine: She is in the circus and has taken classes in silks, the suspended hoop, and is now working on the trapeze. She’s also one of the best debaters I’ve ever met and is considering becoming a lawyer one day.
  • Caroline: She is also in the circus and loves the trampoline, the tightrope, and hand balancing. She also has quite a dark side to her imagination and humor that she uses for shock value or to get a strong reaction out of people. If you’ve ever been privy to one of her spooky stories, you’ll know what I mean!

The Story of Florence

Now, there’s one more person I want to introduce…Florence Nightingale. Just this week I finished reading her biography* and was really moved by this woman. While most of us know her to be the “Mother of Nursing”, there is so much more to her than having been the one to open the first nursing school and set up strict standards for care.

She:

  • Consulted on the design and construction of many hospitals around the world.
  • Lowered the death rate of hospital patients by 60%.
  • Lobbied Queen Victoria to give soldiers a much-needed pay raise, and then personally distributed the funds home to each family (so it wouldn’t all be spent on drinking and gambling).
  • Established the healthcare and and education sectors of the War Department. 
  • Contributed greatly to the reforms needed so that the people of India could overcome famine, oppression, and debt.
  • Wrote 13,000 letters, and two hundred books, pamphlets, and papers (some of which were thousands of pages long) in order to get others to take action regarding hospital and medical reforms around the world. 

Florence did all this at a time when a woman wasn’t even allowed to have an opinion of her own, let alone contribute her skills, talents, and drive to any sort of meaningful work. This is all incredible work that she did because of “a call from God”. However, what I want to focus on at the moment is her time spent with thousands of British soldiers in the Crimean War.

When she arrived behind the front lines, the hospital had overflowing chamber pots and open sewers running underneath the floors. The center courtyard was a mud pit full of garbage. There were rats, fleas, and insects of all sorts infesting every corner. The men were filthy, not having been washed since battle, and were sleeping in hardened, blood-soaked clothing. There was no bedding, and the men were starving.  

Before Florence came along, soldiers were thought of as expendable brutes who didn’t deserve a decent wage or any real medical care. It wasn’t proper for men to be scared or sad. While physicians and officials knowingly turned their backs, Florence went straight to work sanitizing every corner, training nurses, buying bedding and other supplies (often with her own money), and cleaning and feeding the thousands of men who needed her help. 

After doing this all day, Florence alone made her nightly rounds. Each night she walked the equivalent of 4 miles between the tightly placed rows of beds, checked on and comforted every single man, all with only the light of a candle to guide her. She cleaned their battle-stained bodies, healed them from their wounds, listened to them retell their terrifying experiences, and held them when they wept.

Because of Florence’s care, the soldiers recovered and went on to live healthy and happy lives home with their families. They wrote her letters of gratitude  throughout their lives (and she personally responded to each one). The soldiers loved Florence because she served them so fully and selflessly. 

What Jesus Does

I share this story for a reason. Over the course of my life, I’ve found that hearing stories of other people’s deep love and sacrifice on behalf of another helps me to gain insight into what the Savior does for us, and is capable of doing because of his selfless atonement–the ultimate expression of his love.

This story of  Florence reminds me of the verse:

“And he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy…”

Jesus:

  • Heals:
    • The “brokenhearted”
    • All people “of their infirmities” 
    • Those “that are afflicted in any manner”
    • Every disease and sickness
    • All who are oppressed by the devil
  • Drives out:
    • The demons
    • The evil spirits
  • Gives:
    • The blind their sight
    • The lame their walk
    • The deaf their hearing
    • The dead their life
    • The mournful, comfort
    • The persecuted, a reward in heaven
    • The poor in heart, the Kingdom of God

These are all possible because of His Atonement. 

The Goodness of Repentance

So, when you hear the word “Atonement” what meaning does it hold for you? 

Elder Bednar asks, “[Do] we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline?” 

While the Atonement means Christ suffered and died for our sins and we know we don’t need to be perfect, do we tell ourselves that we need to be as close to perfect as possible to deserve the blessing of forgiveness? I know many of us say to ourselves all the time, “We are worthy as long as we try every day, to do our very best.” 

I don’t know about you, but I rarely have the energy or focus to ever do my very best (let alone every single day). Most days, I knowingly choose to live far below what my best could be. Then, it’s all too easy to feel that because I know I can do better, but didn’t, I haven’t earned the blessings of the Atonement. And it’s true! Elder Bednar agrees that “if our salvation were only a matter of our own effort, we would be in serious trouble.” 

However, Christ fills in the gap between our effort (whatever that is) and His salvation. No matter where you are, Christ will meet you there.  “We are told to cry unto Him for mercy because He is mighty to save, His bowels are filled with compassion and love. He will not utterly cast you off. He wants to forgive”. The key words here are mercy, compassion, love, and forgiveness. 

Although it doesn’t mean we don’t face consequences or need to do the hard work of correction, going through the process of repentance is meant to feel good as it turns us to the Savior. We often think of the steps of repentance that need to be done so God can serve us justice, and then we can be right with him again. Unfortunately, we often forget the other half of the equation…His mercy. 

Satan doesn’t want us to feel good about repenting…he wants us to feel terrible about it, or that we are a terrible person every time we need God to forgive us. Satan doesn’t want us to accept the infinite, holy gift that Christ gives freely to anyone who asks and and opens their heart to His love. 

God knows all things, from beginning to end. He knows us far better than we know ourselves. He already knows the choices we are going to make before they are in front of us. So, when we do make a mistake, he isn’t surprised or disappointed. He’s already there waiting for us to turn to Him so we can feel his increase of love and acceptance. 

If we shut ourselves out from that experience, it’s easy to shut ourselves out from Him (and everyone else). Thankfully, He has given us opportunity after opportunity to remember the covenant He made with us (to always have His spirit to be with us) when we take the sacrament every week. He didn’t give us these 15 minutes on Sundays to make our long list of ways we disappointed Him throughout the past seven days. This time is for introspection, renewing our covenants, and feeling our Father in Heaven’s love and acceptance of us over and over again. 

Through the last couple of years, I have come to know that my Heavenly Father accepts and loves me in spite of my weaknesses. I work on improving myself…and my offering is good enough. I’m also learning that I can accept and love others in spite of their weaknesses. I can’t feel mercy for myself if I’m not being merciful to others, and I can’t feel merciful to others if I’m shaming myself. Learning this has truly been one of the greatest blessings of my life. It has given me more confidence, and more humility. 

The Fundamental Promise

Elder Samuelson, Jr. says, “Nephi understood that there is a pattern for living that results in happiness, independent of the difficulties, challenges, and disappointments that come into all of our lives. He was able to focus on the big picture of God’s plan for him and his people and was thus able to avoid being brought down by his frustrations or by the accurate observation that life is not fair. It isn’t fair, but he and his people were happy nevertheless. They understood that an Atonement would take place, and they had confidence that it would include them”. 

Now, Nephi didn’t know the meaning of all things, but he did know “that [God] loveth His children. He rejoiced, saying, “O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever.” 2 Nephi 4:34. Like Nephi, we can trust in our Lord, having faith that the fundamental promise of the Atonement is all-inclusive and sure.

One of my favorite verses of hymn is the last of How Firm a Foundation. Every time I sing this or hear others sing it, my heart pounds, a lump forms in my throat, and tears fill my eyes. We all feel the spirit in our own unique way and this has always been my sure sign, that what I’m hearing is truth:

“Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed, 
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid. 
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, 
…Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

Closing Testimony

Florence was born into a very wealthy family and could have done her lobbying for world change from the comfort of her own office. She had the means, the connections, and the intelligence to do so. But what did she do instead? She went to the front lines and attended to the suffering one-by-one. 

Christ does the same. He’s not directing us from afar. He’s right here, waiting for us to let him heal our wounds.

I’ll close with the scripture in Philippians that reads, 

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.”  -Philippians 4:13

We qualify for the blessing of the Atonement, the healing and strengthening power of Jesus Christ, when we humble ourselves, pray, and allow Him to heal us.  

In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Resources:
-Heart and Soul: The Story of Florence Nightingale by Gena K. Gorrell
What Does the Atonement Mean to You? by Elder Cecil O. Samuelson Jr.
Strengthened by the Atonement of Jesus Christ by Elder Dallin H. Oaks

One thought on “The Blessings of the Atonement

  1. Thank you Julie for sharing this beautiful talk. It’s so well written but beyond that, I can tell you were very inspired. Your words inspire me! It makes me want that call from God to make a difference! But at the very least, start with accepting His grace and striving to do more. Again, thank you for allowing the public to read this. I wish I would have been there in person so this is a gift.

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