Thursday, January 26, 2012

a little blog CPR...

Man, I am so far "behind" in regaling my three readers with tales from my life that I fear it is useless to even begin to catch up. I am also very far behind in reading tales from all the other bloggers out there. I guess that is what happens when life hits.

But, in other news, I had the opportunity to give a talk in sacrament meeting on redemption. I was really grateful for the opportunity to prepare the talk as it was a wonderful topic to mull over for a week. I was not, however, grateful to get up in front of everyone and actually give the talk, as about half a dozen sentences in, the emotions ran high and stayed there the entire time. But from all accounts, I was still intelligible, so there you go. I got a lot of positive feedback afterwards which made me really grateful that I'd decided to get personal rather than just stick with the standard platitudes. So, for anyone who might be interested, here it is:

by Mindy Gonzalez
January 22, 2012

What is meant by Redemption?

Elder Curtis said that to redeem is to buy or to buy back.
Synonyms include set free, rescue, ransom and restore to honor.
One dictionary definition stated compensate for the faults or bad aspects of something, as in "a disappointing debate redeemed by an outstanding speech," or
"the sacrament meeting program, with its uninspiring talks was redeemed by the excellent musical performance". (Though I do hope that this talk won’t need too much in the way of redemption.)

I feel like this definition is very relatable for me. Christ compensates for my faults and can strengthen me and rescue me from both the effects of the frailty as well as help me overcome the actual frailty.

One more point I would like to share about the definition is from the Bible Dictionary. The last sentence of that definition says simply
"He redeemed us with his blood."

When I read that earlier this week in preparation for this talk, it hit me right in the heart. How does he redeem us? Not with money or persuasive arguments or sheer physical strength, but with his blood.

I think that growing up Christian and as members of the church, many of us take for granted the amazing, incredible gift of the Savior's Atonement and sacrifice for us. It is easy to let it just become the background in our lives. The problem with this is that you can't appreciate the "background" things in your life. Friday I was driving on the freeway and one half of the sky was bright and sunny and the other half was covered with fairly dark clouds. But on the dark side of the sky, there was a small window where the clouds parted enough to let the sunlight come streaming down on a small area of the mountain. It was truly breathtaking and made me think of the power of light over darkness. But when we are surrounded by light, we don't fully grasp the beauty and power of it.

Something I first read years ago in what has become one of my favorite novels has stuck with me and helped me to view the Atonement from a fresh perspective. This is the story of an Indian boy, named Piscine, son of a zookeeper, who is raised Hindu but becomes fascinated and ends up falling in love with both Christianity and Islam.

“Catholics have a reputation for severity, for judgment that comes down heavily. My experience with Father Martin was not at all like that. He was very kind. he served me tea and biscuits in a tea set that tinkled and rattled at every touch; he treated me like a grown-up; and he told me a story. Or rather, since Christians are so fond of capital letters, A Story.
And what a story. The first thing that drew me in was disbelief. What? Humanity sins but it’s God’s Son who pays the price? I tried to imagine Father saying to me, “Piscine, a lion slipped into the llama pen today and killed two llamas. Yesterday another one killed a black buck. Last week two of them ate the camel. The week before it was painted storks and grey herons. And who’s to say for sure who snacked on our golden agouti? The situation has become intolerable. Something must be done. I have decided that the only way the lions can atone for their sins is if I feed you to them.”
“Yes, Father, that would be the right and logical thing to do. Give me a moment to wash up.”
“Hallelujah, my son.”
“Hallelujah, Father.”
What a downright weird story. What peculiar psychology.
I asked for another story, one that I might find more satisfying. Surely this religion had more than one story in its bag—religions abound with stories. But Father Martin made me understand that the stories that came before it—and there were many—were simply prologue to the Christians. Their religion had one Story, and to it they came back again and again, over and over. It was story enough for them.
[Martel, Yann. Life of Pi, 53]

Now that we have defined what redemption is, what are we redeemed from? We are redeemed both physically and spiritually, as we have need of complete and total redemption.

In Ether 12:27, the Lord states "I give unto men weakness." I find it interesting that as part of our earthly experience, when we are physically separated from our heavenly father, flying solo in a lot of ways, that he gives us weakness. It seems like giving us strength would be a much better idea. But we are weak, and in such a wide variety of areas.

So why the weakness? Who sends their children off on a long journey and give them some additional impediments? It doesn't seem like a very good parenting strategy, so why do it?

For one reason: So we will come unto him. When we come unto him, THEN we can become strong. We aren't intended to be strong alone, we are supposed to be strong FIRST through Christ and then WITH Christ, able to stand at his side. Because only in Christ will we find complete fulfillment. All other sources of strength will eventually fail. As the 4th article of faith says, we must FIRST have faith in Jesus Christ.

In Elder Curtis's talk, he references several stories of redemption, all based on similar scenarios: person has strayed through sin, comes back to the Church as he or she is changed and redeemed by the power of the Atonement and goes on to be serviceable in the kingdom and it's even better if they become some sort of leader or have children who become leaders. These are great stories because the contrast is so poignant. Mormons love these sorts of stories, think Alma the Younger, Alma the Elder, Paul, King Lamoni. In the lives of these people, it is so easy to see the power of the Atonement in changing their hearts and their minds. Obviously the Atonement works because they have truly changed! We can all marvel at such a powerful redemptive force at work.

But I don't think it is enough for us to appreciate how others are redeemed through Christ's atonement.

In my life, I don't have a tale of redemption like those shared in Elder Curtis's talk, though I do love to hear such stories. They testify of the amazing power of the Atonement to work change in our lives. But I've never strayed much off the strait and narrow path, so I haven't had to be redeemed in that sort of dramatic fashion.

In Alma chapter 5, Alma the Younger is teaching his people about repentance and redemption. First he reminds the people that they should remember the captivity and the mercy of God in delivering their fathers from captivity. Then, in verse 12 he talks about the mighty change wrought in the heart of his own father as he listened to Abinidi speak. (Again, appreciating the redemptive power in other people's lives.)

Verse 14 is very often quoted and I'd like to read it now,
"And now behold, I ask of you, have ye spiritually been born of God? Have ye received his image in your countenances? Have ye experienced this mighty change in your hearts?"

This last part of this verse, about having experienced a "mighty" change of heart has always kind of niggled at me. I haven't felt a mighty change of heart, at least compared with what I expect the two Almas experienced. Does that mean that I haven't felt the redemptive power of Christ in my life?

The answer is an unequivocal no.

In my life, I have been redeemed from doubt. A few years ago, my faith in many aspects of the Gospel had wavered to the point that it made attending meetings and participating in personal prayer and scripture study dissatisfying and often very discouraging and frustrating. If I hadn't been a mother and a wife at the time, I very likely would have just quit participating in the church. But as it was, I felt obligated to keep trying before giving up on the Church. I didn't want to make a mistake that would affect more than just myself, so I stuck with it. But I also felt a responsibility to not just keep going through the motions. Would it be fair to raise my children in the gospel if I didn't believe it was true? It's a rather demanding lifestyle to participate in without have the belief to push one forward. The answers took a while to come, probably in part because I was often too upset to ask the questions. Sometimes I think I wanted to hold on to my doubt and frustration. But over time, as I slowly opened my heart, I felt the redeeming power of the Savior pull me out of my doubt. Verses 23 and 24 in Mark, Chapter 9 spoke to me: " Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help though mine unbelief." By putting forth the effort to believe, the Lord has helped my unbelief.

This isn't to say that all of my questions and concerns have been eradicated, but I have been able to see what is most important and also what can appropriately be placed on a really way back burner for now.

I have a friend who just a few months ago lost her only child in a tragic accident. As she has shared her thoughts with me, I have witnessed the redeeming power of the Savior operating in her life. But being redeemed from sorrow and grief and doubt isn't a one time thing for her. I see her drawing on the power of the Atonement on a daily basis, just to get through her pain. I have had times in my life when it felt like the only way to move forward was to do so on my knees, and I know that I received strength through Christ's Atonement during those times.

I think it is imperative that we fully accept and act upon Christ's role as Redeemer. What plagues us presently that we need to be redeemed from? It could be sorrow, fear, unkind thoughts, temptation, anxiety, impatience, disappointment or any of life's other challenges. To quote Elder Neal A Maxwell (this one is long, but really good, so bear with me),

"There is certainly no shortage of relevant clinical experiences, is there? Strange as it seems, we sometimes respond better to larger challenges than to the incessant small ones…. One can be sincerely grateful for his major blessings but regularly murmur over minor irritations.... Enduring large tests while failing the seemingly small quizzes just won’t do. Such shortcomings must be addressed if we are really serious about becoming more like Jesus.

While so striving daily, we will fall short. Hence the avoidance of discouragement is so vital. So where is the oft and much needed resilience to be found? Once again, in the glorious Atonement! Thereby we can know the lifting tide flowing from forgiveness.
Furthermore, by applying the Atonement we can continue to access the other nurturing gifts of the Holy Ghost, each with its own rich resilience. The Holy Ghost will often preach sermons to us from the pulpit of memory. He will comfort us and reassure us. The burdens not lifted from us, He will help us to bear, thus enabling, even after we err, to continue with joy the soul-stretching journey of discipleship. After all, while the adversary clearly desires our lasting misery, the Father and the Son truly and constantly desire our everlasting happiness."
[Elder Maxwell, October 1997 Conference "Apply the Atoning Blood of Christ"]

I have a very strong testimony of Christ as the Redeemer of the world. I am so grateful for the times in my life when I have undeniably felt His presence in my life and for his willingness to redeem my soul from fear and doubt and sin and death. In closing, I'd like to share 2 Nephi 1:15, which in my opinion is the scripture that does the best job of describing what it feels like to be redeemed:
"But behold, the Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally the arms of his love." My prayer for me and for each of us is that we will more frequently seek His arms to feel that love.