BLOG: (April 11-17) Easter, "Straight Up the Mountain"
The Ultimate Personal Trainer
The past couple of years have been very intense for me. In our recent General Conference, President Nelson said that the covenant path “is rigorous and at times will feel like a steep climb” (source). I know exactly what he is talking about - I have been living it! These were straight-up-the-mountain years for me. I was pushed out of my comfort zone again and again, and given so many opportunities to grow, and I didn’t always like it - I like to be comfortable! But I knew it was what God wanted for me, and I trust Him, even if I do grumble sometimes, so I did what He asked me to do.
I had some quiet time to reflect a few weeks ago, and as I thought back over the past year, things suddenly came into focus for me. I realized that I could see a pattern in everything that had been happening. The Savior’s fingerprints were all over all of those experiences that had been so hard for me! I could see His love for me woven throughout all of it, and I realized that none of it had been by chance - He had been involved the whole time. He had carefully tailored each of those learning experiences FOR ME. He was helping me, line upon line, baby step by baby step, to heal my heart, to get over my fears, to expand my comfort zone, to see myself as He sees me.
It turns out that Jesus Christ is the ultimate personal trainer. He patiently led me through a carefully developed training regimen that took me to my limits but no further, that was hard enough for me to have to stretch and exert all my strength but not hard enough to break me. I realized in that moment of reflection that all of the stretching and discomfort I had gone through was personally and perfectly planned by the One who knows me best, giving me exactly the experiences I needed to grow. It was to help me, not to hurt me.
He Descended Below All Things
How can the Savior know how to succor each of us in our individual experiences so perfectly? He has been through what we are going through. He suffered every aspect of the human experience just so He would be able to guide, direct, and tailor our experiences for our good. He knows what we are feeling, and how to help us, because He has been there - not because He needed that refining life experience, but because we did, and He wanted to be there for us. He knew we couldn't do it alone. We would need Him.
I have a sweet son who struggles with anxiety. I have learned that when he is struggling, when he is in a dark place, there is nothing I can do to pull him out of it from the outside. I have to go where he is, sit with him in his fears, in his worries, in his anxiousness, hear him out, and watch with him until he is ready to take my hand and walk out into the light with me. This act of sitting with him where he is, with love and without judgment, is called empathy, and it took me many years and lots of trial and error to find out that, along with prayer, it is the only thing I can do to help my son when he cannot help himself.
Neal A. Maxwell called empathy “that everlasting and vital virtue” (source). It is a quality that each of us must develop in order to lift and strengthen those in need around us. We must be willing to go where people are, to be with them, love them, and connect with them – deeply – if we ever want to help them find their way back into the light.
In the book of Jacob, chapter 5, there is a story about an olive tree that is getting old and decaying. The master of the vineyard takes branches from that tree and grafts them in different places in his vineyard. Later, as he returns to check on them, he finds that although some were grafted into less desirable locations – “a poor spot of ground” – as he has taken special care of them and nourished them himself, they have become beautiful, fruitful branches. We all have people in our family history who were raised in “a poor spot of ground” but went on to accomplish great things, becoming cycle-breakers for their families. I believe that sometimes those choice spirits chose to go to the families that needed them, knowing they could be endangered spiritually and/or physically, knowing there would be much to overcome, and also knowing they could, with great love, do the work to break the chains of generational trauma and abuse and lead that whole family line back into the light. They had to go where the pain was, and live that story, to be able to turn it around.
This is exactly what the Savior did, for everyone. He was born into the humblest of circumstances. As a young child he was a refugee, fleeing those who would kill him just because of who he was. He grew up in poverty and obscurity. He was homeless, he was rejected, he was beaten, and whipped, and imprisoned wrongfully. He was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He went where we were - to the dark places, to the heartbreaking depths of the human experience - so that He could sit with us there, and ultimately lead us back into the light. He knows what it feels like to grieve, to suffer, to be misunderstood, to be persecuted. He did all of this for us, so He could meet us where we are. And because He has been there, for and with us, He can help all of us find our way out. He is the way. He “descended below all things”, “that he may draw all men unto him” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:6, 2 Nephi 26:24). What a gift it is to know that there is One who understands me perfectly, because He has been where I am. He loves me - and you - enough to come after us in our dark places.
“And he shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people.
“And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
I know that Jesus Christ is my personal Savior, and yours. He is intimately involved in the details of our lives. He knows and loves us perfectly. He has been RIGHT HERE with me, through everything I have been through, protecting me and guiding me and tempering all of it for my good. Brad Wilcox, in his talk “His Grace is Sufficient,” said this:
“Jesus doesn’t make up the difference. Jesus makes all the difference.”
I know that is true. I am so grateful.