Its been quite a while since I posted here. So many life changes, and yet the scriptures and the gospel have always been my solid foundation.
Recently, as I've been dating Shawn Hollenbeck, my interest in and questions about gospel topics have swelled and I've been doing a lot more intense studying. It was hard for me to wrap my head around some of Shawn's thoughts and opinions at first, and quite frankly I was afraid to study even church published materials, for fear that they might shake my testimony. But as I've realized all saints are imperfect and even the church has had difficult circumstances in the past, I've recognized those things don't have to shake my faith. Regardless of any of the foibles of men, I know the gospel is true. I cannot deny the experiences I've had in the temple or in sacred moments on my knees, and I especially cannot refute the sublime moments of peace, and treasures of wisdom I gained through the Spirit, during and after my divorce. I have felt so much love from my Heavenly Father, for me, my children, friends, even Chris. And for Shawn. Our relationship has helped me to open my mind to other ideas, realize not all situations are black and white, and recognize how I can help my children and others deal with difficult and painful circumstances.
I've come to value the importance of asking questions. Understanding that its OK and even essential to ask questions and come to an understanding of why ugly things happen and how the gospel is applicable specifically to my circumstances. For the last several years, I have wanted to understand the Atonement more. I know it is central to all of human existence. It is the center of our gospel and "all other doctrine is merely appendages unto it." That being said, I don't always know how to fully explain to my children WHY it was necessary. Like why can't we just repent and pay for our own sins? How is Christ's sacrifice able to Atone for our sins? Was there no other way? Was He just a great Man who came to earth and set an example as some religions believe? Its easy to minimize the importance of the Atonement in a world that doesn't value or even recognize Him as the Savior. But what is Truth and what am I to understand about the Atonement?
Years ago, I bought the book, The Infinite Atonement, by Tad R. Callister. I have always meant to read the whole thing, but have only gotten through bits and pieces here and there. When I read from it, I take days to digest and process the knowledge therein. So I've decided I'm OK with reading a chapter at a time. A few days ago, I began my search of "Why?" It has been a glorious search. I read the following chapters: Ch 1 What is the Significance of the Atonement? (again for like the 5th time), Ch 7 The Consequences if There Had Been No Atonement and Ch 26 Was the Atonement Necessary or Was There Another Way?, and parts of Ch 25, How Do Justice and Mercy Relate to the Atonement? All such wonderful insights. I love this thought from Ch 25, sharing the parable of the bicycle from Stephen E Robinson's book, Believing Christ. "This is the spirit in which Nephi counseled, 'For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do' (2 Ne 25:23). In other words, we contribute to our salvation, but we do not earn it. That was also the spirit of Paul's message: 'For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast' (Eph 2:8-9). Thus works alone cannot save us; grace is an absolute prerequisite. But a certain amount of works (ie, the best we have to offer) are necessary to trigger God's grace and mercy. No matter how hard we work, how diligently we serve, or how righteously we live, we will never deserve more than we receive," (Callister, 320)
I think I've mistakenly thought that were it possible for us to live a perfect life, we would qualify ourselves for exaltation and wouldn't necessarily need the Atonement. I've equated Christ's perfection with His ability to atone for our sins, forgetting that the Atonement and exaltation are so much more than just wiping away guilt. Exaltation is about becoming like God. We are feebly here on earth trying to do so, and just like our little children, we can't quite possibly be like our Parent without help. The Atonement was not only to cover our sins, but Christ's mission to bridge the gap between us mortals and our Heavenly Father. Being deity Himself, He was able to descend below all things and "bring Nature up with Him." His mission was to help us to become perfect, "even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect" (2 Nephi 12:28). To be like God requires so much more than perfection, though. It requires massive amounts of knowledge, wisdom, and experience. What better way to gain all of that than through the Atonement, through guidance and the bowels of compassion of the One who experienced this mortal realm so that He can help us through it? I love that Christ not only showed the way to becoming like our Father in Heaven, He suffered and experienced all heartache and sinly sorrow so that He could understand us, and pull us through this mortal realm into an exalted godly state. What a beautiful way to go through life, always with help from above. I love that we can understand this "help" through being parents, serving others and acting as proxy in the temple for deceased ancestors. That we too can be saviors on Mount Zion.
I have been listening a lot lately to a beautiful version of "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing," (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Z3pjXmNq2g) and its been so inspiring. The first time it popped into my head recently was at girl's camp. I was able to go with Maddi and be on the Stake decorating committee. Since my calling was minimal, I spent most of my time with Maddi doing ward activities. We went on a hike with the bishop and as I sat pondering alone, the words "prone to wander, Lord I fear it, prone to leave the God I love... Here's my heart Lord, take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above," seemed especially applicable to my laissez-faire attitude toward gospel study sometimes. I know its important, but I don't often make it a priority, especially with our crazy busy schedules. But its not just important, its essential. And I see the opportunities to teach my children slipping away as they get older and more firm in their habits. So, in trying to overcome my proneness to wander, I went to the temple on my birthday. First time I had been in so long. (Truthfully, it was a day I had been looking forward to for several months). As I drove up to the temple listening to that song, the lyrics, "Praise the mount I'm fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love," came beautifully streaming right as my car faced the temple. I felt so much love and knew that Mount was the Lord's house. This is the place I have always received so much peace and direction. The place where my perspective is always drawn toward the eternal. When I am focused on that eternal perspective, it is like the clouds opening up and being able to see life and eternity clearly. There is nothing that I want more than for all my children to be there with me and to have that eternal perspective that can help them overcome pain, confusion, frustration and sorrow that is inevitable in this life. So I must continue in my pursuit to learn, see eternally, listen to the Spirit and teach.
I am so filled with energy and motivation to learn more. To draw closer to my Father and partake of every aspect of the Atonement, and bring my children to partake, just as Lehi brought his children to partake of the Love of God in his dream. The imagery Lehi's dream and partaking of the love of God has always been so dear and intimate to me. Imagining the beautiful fruit from that tree, and the deliciousness thereof, what a magnificent parallel to experiencing the love of God and I would say the peace and eternal perspective the Spirit can offer. I am so excited to continue this journey through The Infinite Atonement and hopefully other books about the Atonement to really understand more, and to continue to partake of that Godly love that has been the cornerstone of my faith all of my life.