Monday, February 2, 2015

Reflecting on Joy and the Atonement

Lately, I've been reflecting on what brings joy to my life. I'm not talking about mere happiness, like the happiness of finding an awesome pair of shoes on sale. I'm talking about joy...that beautiful, warm, peaceful, sweet feeling that seems to fill our hearts with a feeling of love and pure light. This beautiful, peaceful joy has filled my heart on many occasions, both during happy and during sad occasions. In fact, it's been during some of my most difficult, trying times, that I have felt this joy most profoundly. So, this joy is not dependent on my situation or my surroundings, rather it comes from having my heart in the right place. It comes when I open my heart and invite my Savior to fill it with His love. That love, Christ's pure love, is truly the most precious gift that one can possess. In fact, it's the only thing in this world that can guarantee joy. I like that thought. Nothing else can guarantee joy: Not riches, not beauty, not prestige, not popularity, not marriage, not children, not excitement, not vacations, not friends, nor any thing else. Because you can always find people who have those things, who are miserable and full of despair. But a heart full of the love of God will never and can never be full of despair, because God's love is full of hope and joy. God is the source of gratitude, compassion, humility, and all things good. No, we aren't always going to be "happy", but we can strive to always feel this joy. Even a heart that is aching with sorrow can feel this peace and love. God's love is a very real and physical feeling. It comforts and heals and fills us with true joy, a joy that can't be obtained from any other source. 

On that note, how do I find this joy when my heart feels dark and cold, when I'm angry and frustrated. I've been giving this a lot of thought. Every time I do something wrong...when I say something unkind, when I'm selfish or prideful...I feel awful. Sometimes, I'll justify my sin and not think about the consequences, and for a time I might avoid that awful feeling...but eventually, when I truly own up to what I've done, I feel yucky. I feel guilt and sadness.  I think about the consequences of my sin: How my words or actions have  hurt someone else or how my thoughts or actions have disappointed my loving Heavenly Father. Each sin has a ripple effect. It affects our character, our attitude, our reputation, our spiritual well-being, our ability to feel peace. It can also affect others. It can cause sadness and hurt to those who witness the sin and to those who have been directly affected by our sin. Every single sin that we commit does harm, whether to ourselves or others. And once it's committed, there's really nothing that WE can do to undo it. It's done. Our soul is stained with that sin. We have literally become a different person. We are changed for the worse. Our light, our integrity, is dimmed. The harm and hurt to others has been done. We can't do a single thing about it.  Each one of our sins has a heavy price. That price is the full effect of our sin, with all its suffering, sadness, and hurt...the entire negative ripple effect. I don't think we can even comprehend just how great that price is. We can feel bad for what we've done, but our feeling bad doesn't take away the effects of that sin.

Jesus Christ
This is where Christ's Atonement comes in. Think about it. What a wonderful plan! Our sweet and loving Savior came into this world and lived a perfect life. His soul was free from any earthly stains. And he willingly decided to pay the full price for each one of my sins, meaning that he suffered all the pain, hurt and sorrow associated with every single one of my sins. And not just my sins, but of every single person's sins on this earth throughout history. Just think of all the awful things that have been done, all the hurt, the abuse, the violence, all of it, every last terrible act...our brother, Jesus Christ, suffered and paid the full effect of each and every wrong ever committed. In all the history of the world, no other person has suffered even a millionth of what he suffered on our behalf.....But because He loved us so much and was willing to "buy" our freedom from the effects of our sins, we are free to repent. We no longer have to pay for our own sins (which we can't anyways), all we need to do is to acknowledge His ultimate sacrifice on our behalf, repent and commit ourselves to follow Him. As we do this, he washes the effects of sin from our souls and we are literally cleansed from all our dark stains. But, he can't cleanse us unless we choose to be cleansed. The choice is ours. He has paid the price already, but it's up to us to allow Him to into our hearts. We have to want His peace and love more than we want the praise of the world, more than we want our sins. We don't have to be perfect, but we do have to desire perfection. We have to want to be cleansed from sin. We have to desire to become more like Him and to live our lives in a way that is pleasing to Him. What a loving and beautiful plan. The most wonderful part about it is that when we follow Him, we are filled with joy. 
Anyways, as I have pondered these thoughts on joy and sin and repentance this past week, I've been overwhelmed with gratitude for my Savior, Jesus Christ. I'm amazed at what he's done for me and for each person on this earth. He provided a way for me to experience joy, real beautiful joy...and to return to a joyful state of heart even after I've been selfish and prideful and have done things that have hurt myself and others. He loves me so much, that He is constantly beckoning to me to choose His way...His joyful, peaceful path. His invitation is constant and all-inclusive.  He is the path to joy. All that is good comes from Him. He has asked us to be grateful, compassionate, kind, humble, selfless, service-minded, considerate, obedient and loving. All the things that He asks us to be and do, will eventually bring us joy. As we gaze with gratitude and wonder at our precious children, we are filled with joy. As we serve a stranger in need, we feel joy. As we humbly acknowledge our dependence on God, we are filled with joy. As we  bask in the beauty of God's creations, we are filled with awe and joy. That joy comes when we open our hearts and allow His love to flow into our souls. His precious love fills us with light and peace. It enlarges our character and our souls and allows us to experience true joy.

Feeling profoundly grateful today for my Savior, who is the source of joy.