As Easter approaches once more, I think of my late Episcopalian friend and teacher Vera Infelt, who often told me about her traditions in regard to the pre-Easter week–how she commemorated the Last Supper and the day of the crucifixion, how she celebrated the joy of the resurrection. She said she thought those were traditions celebrated by all those who follow Him completely. I want to follow Him completely, but have too often let the week before Easter slip by without thinking much about it. How ironic, I thought, that Protestants, without the fullness of the gospel could in some ways seem to “get” the message of the importance of the Savior’s life and mission more than I do.
Have you wondered like I have, why we, in Christ’s church usually do very little to celebrate this joyous season? I’ve concluded that our focus is to celebrate the birth of Christ, His Atonement and resurrection every day, not just during the Christmas and Easter seasons. The purpose of this article is to encourage that practice of daily focus on the Savior. I’m determined all over again to have my own private devotionals about Jesus as often as possible and to make the Sacrament each Sunday an important part of my worship
There is so much to ponder. This past week I’ve been re-reading the book Believing Christ by Stephen Robinson, and thinking about his introductory material telling of his troubling discovery that many of his college students were well versed in the peripheral doctrines of the Church, such as tithing and Word of Wisdom, but not in the central doctrine of the Atonement. I want to be certain I don’t fall into the category.
I recently found and re-read a soul-searching journal entry I wrote on Easter Sunday 2002. What I was learning then seems to be exactly what I’m trying to learn all over again now. Maybe it will touch a chord with you as well:
This week I have read the Easter story in the Bible and in Proctor’s beautiful book Source of the Light. I have thought much about the Savior and His gifts and rejoiced that “He is risen.” I have earnestly asked the question “what lack I yet?” knowing I am not taking full advantage of His gifts or consistently feeling “the peace that passeth understanding.” I have received an answer. I am still withholding, still wanting my will to be done, and still trying to control others to suit me. As usually happens, this very week I was editing material that touched on this very theme and clarified it for me. The author quoted Neal A. Maxwell who said, “The submission of one’s will is really the only uniquely personal thing we have to place on God’s altar. The many other things we give,’ brothers and sisters, are actually the things He has already given or loaned to us. However, when you and I finally submit ourselves, by letting our individual wills be swallowed up in God’s will, then we are really giving something to Him! It is the only possession, which is truly ours to give! Consecration thus constitutes the only unconditional surrender which is also a total victory!” (Ensign, Nov. 1995, 24). Also Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin, who, speaking about devoted members, said, “They have largely surrendered their own interests, and in so doing have found the peace of God, which passeth all understanding”” (Ensign, May 1996, 34).
In my “inner space” where I have felt there was still darkness when I so desired to have light, there is still a little clenched fist of self-will, still a little girl stamping her foot and wanting what she wants. I want my children to make the best choices and not have to suffer. God’s will is to give them total agency and the chance to learn from what they suffer. I want all my family members to look and act in ways that do not bring me discomfort. God requires that each of us make our own choices and suffer the natural consequences from them. He wants me to learn from the fact that I can’t and shouldn’t infringe on the agency of anyone else–and He wants me to learn that what needs to change is my own heart. I desire greatly a new heart and a new spirit about all this–with the commemoration of Christ’s resurrection, the promise of newness of life, I pray for the ability to unclench that fist, truly give every scrap and bit of my will over to Him, withholding nothing. I believe the Lord will let me keep beating my head against the wall of self-will, failing in my efforts to control others, sorrowing over the necessity of natural consequences until I finally “get it.” Until I learn that the whole plan of God requires that we all have ultimate agency, and learn through the things that we suffer. It is through our suffering that we can be best brought to humbly kneel at His feel in total recognition that “without Him we can no nothing.”
I’ve thought I was there a hundred times. Oh can I truly, really be there today, on this Easter Sunday? I want to raise my hand in a total sustaining vote for God’s plan a second time–surely I already did that once in the pre-existence. But this time from the position of knowledge of good and evil, of experience with suffering and sorrow, yet having fought against the inevitability of sorrow and suffering.
As a young adult I remember singing “I Stand All Amazed” with great love for the Savior, yet with ignorant and prideful thoughts. For when the words say, “I marvel that he would descend from his throne divine To rescue a soul so rebellious and proud as mine,” I sat there and thought, “I’m not rebellious and proud. I’m obedient and humble.” There was pride and self-righteousness in that very thought and I have lived long enough to experience sorrow from my pride, to recognize my rebellion against the plan of suffering. I want to learn the lessons of life and I want my children to learn them, but Oh, I’ve said in my heart, surely there must be an easier, less messy way than through making all these mistakes and suffering all this sorrow. So now, today, can I quit rebelling against God’s plan? Can I let go of the idea that any of us can or should choose well enough to avoid the refiner’s fires of life that God has ordained to temper and refine and humble us? Can I see once and for all that God is wise and that His plan is perfect? No . . . there is no once and for all, and I will have to be reminded over and over. But my desire is truly to submit to Him, to open my whole heart to His cleansing power. I want Him to clean out every room of the house of my heart, to learn to truly say “Thy will be done” and to learn to love as He loves. I want to become His disciple indeed.
My will has been so short-sighted, so selfish–often motivated by desires for my own comfort and happiness.
His will always takes into consideration all eternity and what will best serve my growth toward celestial goals. He knows everything about me; He knows everything about everything! I know not even enough to cover the eye of a pin. For me to pit my will against His is the greatest foolishness, the greatest folly. For me to attempt to align myself with His will is the greatest wisdom. When I’ve wanted my children to make wise and righteous choices I thought surely that WAS His will, too. But His will rises above the moment to eternal principles and His ultimate will is always to honor agency and its chastening, refining process. The Atonement is in place precisely because of the reality of this plan. God, knowing the inevitability of wrong choices, gave us the way back and it is for us to accept and recognize.
I keep thinking that we miss the boat as parents by not teaching better the Lord’s part in our progress. We try to do too much on our own, then get discouraged because we can’t do the impossible. Almost every step of spiritual progress comes only by the grace of Christ as gifts of the Spirit. Our part is not to prevent the suffering of our children, the very suffering they may need to learn life’s greatest lesson. Our part is mostly to ask for and be willing to receive spiritual help, not to get strong enough to do everything on our own, because we can’t. Many scriptures say, in effect, “I can do NOTHING without Christ, who strengtheneth me.”
I rejoice in the knowledge that Christ is risen. Christ lives and loves me. He will strengthen me to fill my life’s mission and learn to love as He loves. The character of my life is painted by the pictures I choose to hold in my mind. Every Sunday as I partake of the Sacrament I proclaim my willingness to picture in my mind the Savior of the world. I am promised in the sacramental prayer that as I remember Him I will have His Spirit to be with me. How could I ask for more? What is the tiny price I am asked to pay for the abundant blessing of the Savior to guide me, love me, comfort me, heal me, wipe away my tears? Only to repent and remember Him, to draw my mind again and again to the wonder of His birth and death and resurrection and Atonement.
This Easter Sunday as I partake of the emblems of His flesh and blood, I hope to remember, to feel, to promise again with a full heart to commit more fully to be Jesus’ disciple and to remember Him always in my mind. In this uncertain world, I can always choose what I will think this moment, I can always choose the pictures I hold in my mind, and consequently choose the focus of my life. May my focus always be my Savior, King, and Redeemer. I truly know that My Redeemer Lives!
Author note: Special thanks to my dear friend and editor, Debbie Bake, who often gives such helpful suggestions when she previews my articles.