Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Plan of Joy

This is a Sacrament talk I presented to my ward on June 28, 2015

I’m really grateful for this Earth school. I think it is a remarkable place to learn and grow, to be transformed.

I’m grateful to be a member of this Church. The restored gospel of Jesus Christ has enriched my life. I shudder to think who I would be without it.

I’m grateful for a Savior who lived a perfect life, so that I could live mine imperfectly.

I’m grateful for the atonement. Through the atonement all things are possible.

Atonement. At-one-ment, it suggests unity.

“In Hebrew, the basic word for atonement is kaphar, a verb that means ‘to cover’ or ‘to forgive.’

Closely related is the Aramaic and Arabic word kafat, meaning ‘a close embrace.’

...While the words atone or atonement, in any of their forms, appear only once in the King James translation of the New Testament, they appear 35 times in the Book of Mormon." (Russell M. Nelson, The Atonement)
In the Book of Mormon we learn that the resurrected Christ visited the Nephites in the Americas. He spends multiple days teaching them His Gospel and organizing His Church as he had done in Jerusalem.

At one point Jesus asks the Nephites to bring their little children to him. The children come and sit around him. While standing in their midst he asks the entire multitude to kneel and he begins to pray:

“...Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people…” (3 Nephi 17:14)

As I look at all of you - my ward family - who I serve with and have built intimate relationships with, I know the suffering that is in this room.

We are a family that knows the pain of bodies riddled with diseases, life altering injuries and disabilities.
We know what it is to lose a parent or child to soon, and to lose family members to random violence and genocide.
We’ve had dreams and desired unrealized.
We’ve lost jobs and struggled to find employment.
Our hearts have wrenched with the end of marriages and the inability to have children. The pain of addiction, abuse, neglect, betrayal and loneliness has crushed us.
The consequences of our own actions have brought us to our knees.
We know suffering.

Self-Compassion researcher, Dr. Kristin Neff, call this “common humanity.” She says that suffering is the great equalizer. The source of our suffering may be different but we all know suffering. And that it’s a wonderful opportunity to strengthen relationships and build communities by giving comfort.  

The Nephites knew suffering.

And as Jesus stood in their midst, he groaned.

It does not say he was angry, judgmental, indifferent or shaming.

He groaned - a vocalization of pain and despair - a vocalization of suffering.

Jesus’ responds to the Nephites empathetically. He meets the Nephites where they are at and sits with them in their emotions.  

Having lived his mortal life without sin, how is it that Jesus can meet not only the Nephites, but you and I, in affliction with a real understanding of what it means to suffer?

Stephen Robinson answers this in his book Believing Christ, he says:

“All the negative aspects of human existence brought about by the Fall, Jesus Christ absorbed in himself...He knows all [suffering] personally and intimately because he lived them in the Gethsemane experience.
Having personally lived a perfect life, he then chose to experience our imperfect lives.
In that infinite Gethsemane experience...he lived a billion billion lifetimes of sin, pain, disease, and sorrow.
God uses no magic wand to simply wave bad things into nonexistence. The sins that he remits, he remits by making them his own and suffering them…
Thus we owe him not only for our spiritual cleansing from sin, but for our physical, mental, and emotional healings as well…
It is all part of his infinite sacrifice - of his infinite gift.”   

The experiential knowledge gained in Gethsemane and his crucifixion on Calvary, give Christ the capacity for perfect empathy.

With that empathy, he advocates to the Father on behalf of the Nephites,

“And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.” (3 Nephi 17:17)

I know this scripture says that one cannot conceive the “great and marvelous things” or the “joy that filled [their] souls” but I can.

I know this moment. I have been through a repentance process.

I too have marveled at the reality of having my burdens lifted, my soul restored and my pain soothed.

I too have been filled with joy and gratitude that Christ absorbed my sins and suffering so that I could be at one with the Father and divinely embraced.  

I know Christ to the advocate because he has been mine.  

Enough about me, back to the Nephites!

“And they arose from the earth, and he said unto them: Blessed are ye because of your faith. And now behold, my joy is full.” (3 Nephi 17:20)

Have you noticed that after Christ performs a miracle he always says it was because of their faith?

It’s like its the chemical reaction, like baking soda and vinegar. Our faith. The Atonement. Magic. Okay, maybe not magic but miracles and definitely, definitely joy.

Our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ enacts the healing powers of the atonement and brings us joy. Our using the atonement fills Him with joy.  

Joy. Oh joy.

Quantitative researcher and shame expert, Brene Brown defines joy as

“A spiritual way of engaging the world with a practice of gratitude.” (Gifts of Imperfection)  

I love that joy is part of our doctrine. We are not a religion of “sinners in the hands of an angry God.” (Jonathan Edwards) We are a religion of God’s “work and glory is to bring to pass the immortality of man.” (Moses 1:39) A religion of “Adam fell that men might be, men are, that they might have joy.” (2 Nephi 2:25)

I spent most of my life thinking that suffering and joy were at opposites end of a spectrum. The suffering was to be endured and joy would be a reward.

But in studying Brene Brown’s work and living my life I’ve come to understand that they are inextricably linked. You can’t know one without the other.

Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches “Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”

“No mud, No lotus.”

Former General Young Women President, Elaine Cannon says, “the daily work of the Lord involves changing hopeless to hopeful—for all of us. And it is for us to find at last that in the midst of winter we have within us an invincible summer. In a world filled with adversity we can reach for joy.”

I love President Cannon’s word choice.

First, invincible. No matter how dark and hopeless we feel, we are God’s children, there is inherently in each of us a light that cannot be overcome that can never be extinguished.

Secondly, reach. A great action word. It’s like stretch. You might not want to do it at first but when you do it feels good. It also requires a change in position (and that can be ideology, a paradigm or an attitude).

It’s like Maya Angelou says, “If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude.”

Our Father in heaven wants us to be filled with joy. So much so that he was willing be separated from us, to risk losing some of us, to watch his Only Begotten suffer unimaginably.  All so that we may have this Earth school.

President Cannon went on to say, “But whatever life offers, it is to be lived, it is to be learned from. We need to get on with it—and reach for joy.”
By reaching for joy, accepting it and sharing it with each other, we are a living testament of Jesus Christ.