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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Benefits of Difficulty: Let Your Scratches Make You

One of my favorite analogies of the effects of Christ's Atonement is illustrated in Brad Wilcox's "The Continuous Atonement".  In this story, Brad mentions when he was a Mission President and a young Elder came to him, after reading the Miracle of Forgiveness, feeling bad about some sins from earlier in his life that had not been fully confessed to priesthood authority.
Brad said,

"I listened quietly as he spoke.  Nothing I was hearing was so grievous that it would have affected his worthiness to enter the temple or serve his mission.  Still, those past sins were affecting him and his feelings of worthiness now.  They needed to be confessed.... I explained that what he was experiencing was a very normal and natural step in his spiritual maturity - one through which we all pass.  His repentance and full confession were healthy indicators that he was indeed drawing closer to God and the Savior.

  'But President, I look back and I see so many flaws.  I remember all I have done and feel so ashamed and hypocritical.  I know Jesus takes the sins away, but it is the memory of them that bothers me.'

...I ...retrieved a marble egg that had been set there for decoration. I said, 'Look at the marble.  Isn't it beautiful?'

The Elder nodded in agreement.

'What makes it beautiful is not that it is free from imperfections.  If it were clear and white, with no flaws, it would look plastic and artificial.  The marble is beautiful and useful because of the dark veins, not in spite of them.  When we repent, our sins are gone, but the memories linger, just like these dark lines.  However, as we keep our covenants and experience the sanctifying influence of the Spirit, it is as if those dark lines are polished over time.  They actually become a part of our beauty.'"

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The scratches in the egg, similar to what Brad noted, are like our sins, weaknesses and difficulties.  I will relate a personal difficulty of mine that could have easily resulted in my being defeated, broken and destroyed, but did not, because of Jesus Christ.  I have struggled, at a few points in my life, with the devastating effects of the addictive plague that is pornography.  Normally I post links to third party sources in my posts and don't directly ask the reader to read them, but in relation to this subject matter, please watch this video.  It's not long.

Porn warps and rewires the brain and isn't just something you can detox and detach yourself from like many other addictions.  If it's not caught really early, it can literally turn every moment being in the presence of the opposite sex into an instant war in the mind, trying to fight off the mind gripping impulse to think of them as an object for gratification.  It's always a loosing battle until the addiction is treated like the condemning, corroding, destructive, mind numbing influence it is and attacked aggressively.  Trust me, I know.  Only the Atonement of Jesus Christ, when applied diligently and permanently, can erase the devastating effect caused by this kind of sin.  I know this from experience.  But I also know that healing and change through Christ is not only possibly, it's essential for lasting happiness.

Now, this 'scratch in my egg' got really deep and could have broken me completely and irreparably in two if it wasn't for a loving wife, my own excruciating guilt and the guidance of the Lord and priesthood leadership guiding me through repentance.  Only true repentance - a change of heart and perception of myself, God our Father, and the world and people around me, possible because of the Atonement - could have healed me.  And I'm still being changed to this day, becoming better with Him.  In the process I learned much better what it means to truly love myself, others, my Father in Heaven and my Savior Jesus Christ.  I imagine the 'crack' caused by it all has become and will continue to form into a big, long, shiny, beautiful colored vein in my 'egg'.

So the question I want to ask here is as follows

How do we let our weaknesses make us shine?

I will suggest one thing that was perfectly exemplified by our loving Redeemer, Jesus Christ, and is something that is very well illustrated by the following part of the movie Stranger than Fiction.

When Harold finally meets Karen Eiffel - whose voice only he hears, narrating his life - and she finds out that Harold is, in fact, a real person and that "killing" him in her book will kill him in real life, she has second thoughts about it.  Harold and Professor Hilbert, a literary professor who was trying to help Harold makes sense of the voice he heard and a fan of Karen's books, both read it and both come to agree that, in order for her novel to be a true masterpiece, Harold must die in the incredibly meaningful and poetic way that Karen has put in her book.

But the key to the movie is where Karen and Professor Hilbert meet at the end and he reads her altered ending.  She asks him what he thinks and he says it's not bad, but no longer the greatest work of her career either.  She has spared Harold's life with something as simple as a stop watch.  Professor Hilbert says it's okay.  She replies with something like "You know what?  I think I'm alright with okay...
It's a book about a man who doesn't know he's about to die... then dies.  But if the man does know he's going to die, and dies anyway... dies willingly, knowing he could stop it... you tell me... Isn't that the type of man you want to keep alive?"

This is exactly the kind of man the Savior was.  He knew exactly what he was preparing for throughout His life, He knew what He was going up against and He did it willingly and lovingly, for our sake.  He could have stopped it.  As Gerald Lund wrote "all Jesus had to do was blink" and the entire city of Jerusalem could have been annihilated while He was up on that cross, suffering for us.  But He did it head on, out of love, without hesitation or a second thought.  That's why the Atonement is so infinite and so powerful, wrought by an infinitely powerful being, with the ability to, as I pinned just yesterday, cleanse, heal, restore, identify, strengthen and transform.

Being the kind of person Christ was, someone who runs head on right into their challenges with a grateful, willing, loving heart and a faith-filled, humble attitude is what makes us the kind of person who's "scratches" or even deep "veins" make us more beautiful and perfect, through the grace of Jesus Christ.  As Christ's victory over His challenges through love and faith made Him who He now is, so can we be as He is as we also cling to Him and thus overcome our challenges through love and faith in the True Source of all that is good, "The only true God and Jesus Christ, whom [He] has sent"