Raimo and I spoke in church yesterday, which was a little quick. We’ve only been in the ward for two weeks. It is always a good experience though, even if it is nerve-wracking. Raimo did such a good job, and I would post it, but he didn’t write out his talk like me. But I, being an English major, chose to type mine up like I would an essay. So here it is:
My husband and I are new to the ward so I guess this is a perfect chance for us to introduce ourselves to all of you. My name is Jessica Laitinen. I grew up in Riverside, California, went to BYU where I studied English and also met my husband, Raimo. I’ll tell you our story really quickly. We actually met ballroom dancing. We were in the same dance class my sophomore year, and I thought he was so cute—he was a little aloof. Our dating happened little by little, but Raimo turned out to be the most determined man. I was actually dating someone else in the class with us, and that guy would walk with me halfway to my next class and we would part ways. Well Raimo started following behind us, and he would pick up where the other guy left off and would walk me the rest of the way to my next class. This says a lot about Raimo—he is very persistent, a little bit funny, and very determined, and these characteristics continue to shine through in our marriage, in his work, and in his testimony. After much dancing and much dating, we were married a year and a half later in the Newport Beach temple. And just this last July our sweet baby girl, Rose Colette, joined our family. She is the joy of our life. Being first-time parents, we are so in love and just in awe of how wonderful it is.
So that is a little bit about our family. We are speaking today about the Atonement. Last Sunday our relief society lesson was about the Savior, and I loved hearing the women share their feelings about Him. We all reverence Him and love Him so very much, and it strengthens my testimony to hear others speak of Him. He is beloved. He is sacred to us. He is our helper, friend, and (perhaps most importantly) the one who redeemed us. I have a testimony of Jesus Christ—I know He lived, I know His teachings are true, I know He died and was resurrected, and I know He was more than just a wonderful man and teacher. He is God’s son, and I know He atoned for my sins so I can have the choice to repent of my mistakes and live with God again one day.
The bible dictionary gives a wonderful overview of the atonement so I will start with that as a reminder of what the atonement actually was and what it means for each of us. I like this because it is so well-written and covers so many important points in just a few words. It says:
“The word describes the setting “at one” of those who have been estranged, and denotes the reconciliation of man to God. Sin is the cause of the estrangement, and therefore the purpose of the atonement is to correct or overcome the consequences of sin. From the time of Adam to the death of Jesus Christ, true believers were instructed to offer animal sacrifices to the Lord. These sacrifices were symbolic of the forth-coming death of Jesus Christ, and were done by faith in him. Jesus Christ, as the Only Begotten Son of God and the only sinless person to live on this earth, was the only one capable of making an atonement for mankind. By his selection and foreordination in the Grand Council before the world was formed, his divine Sonship, his sinless life, the shedding of his blood in the garden of Gethsemane, his death on the cross and subsequent bodily resurrection from the grave, he made a perfect atonement for all mankind. All are covered unconditionally as pertaining to the fall of Adam. Hence, all shall rise from the dead with immortal bodies, because of Jesus’ atonement. “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive”, and all little Children are innocent at birth. The atonement is conditional, however, so far as each person’s individual sins are concerned, and touches every one to the degree that he has faith in Jesus Christ, repents of his sins, and obeys the gospel. The atonement of Jesus Christ redeems all mankind from the fall of Adam and causes all to be answerable for their own manner of life. This means of atonement is provided by the Father, and is offered in the life and person of his Son, Jesus Christ.”
In preparation I studied some talks from the recent General Conference. My talk today is just a collection of their thoughts and my own interpretation of those thoughts.
Elder Carl B. Cook talked about an experience in which President Monson caught him looking down in an elevator—he was overwhelmed by his new calling and feeling the stress, and was showing those feelings in his face. President Monson said, “It is better to look up!” Elder Cook says that if we, like President Monson, exercise our faith and look to God for help, we will not be overwhelmed with the burdens of life. We will not feel incapable of doing what we are called to do or need to do. We will be strengthened, and our lives will be filled with peace and joy. We will come to realize that most of what we worry about is not of eternal significance—and if it is, the Lord will help us.” I found this particular quote to be very encouraging, and a good reminder that Heavenly Father wants to help us and wants us to be happy. I think sometimes I feel guilty asking God for help. But He wants us to! I put myself in His position for a moment—if my son or daughter were struggling in any way or was in need of my help, I would want them to come to me! It can be extremely difficult to admit the need for help, but we can remember He is our Father and has this infinite ability to forgive! And that for me is quite hard to imagine, but he wants to forgive us and wants us to recognize our faults and weaknesses. It is part of the purging process on this earth in which we are stretched and become more perfect and more like Him. “President Monson’s encouragement to look up is a metaphor for remembering Christ. As we remember Him and trust in His power, we receive strength through His Atonement. It is the means whereby we can be relieved of our anxieties, our burdens, and our suffering. It is the means whereby we can be forgiven and healed from the pain of our sins. It is the means whereby we can receive the faith and strength to endure all things.”
I like the fact that he lists so many different ways the atonement can work in our lives. Perhaps the most obvious way is allowing us to repent of sin, but he also lists how it can take away the pain of our sins, our guilt, once we have repented. It can give us strength, relieve our anxieties, burdens, suffering, and give us the faith and strength to endure all things. Whenever I am reminded of all the many facets of the atonement, I think to myself—am I really making good use of this gift?? I think I just forget from day to day the many ways it can bless me and help me to become a more faith-filled, happy person.
I want each of you to think of a trial, or a burden, or a hardship in your life right now, or anything that is weighing you down. Keep it in mind as I share this. A Stake Relief Society president at a conference in South Africa gave each attendee a helium balloon. She explained that their balloon represented whatever was holding them back in their lives. On the count of three, they all released their balloons, or their “burdens.” There was an audible “Ahhhhh.” I want you each to imagine what it would feel like to let go of your balloon, or your trial. That is how the atonement can work for us. I have felt that relief of turning over my burdens to the Lord, both in repenting of my sins and also in turning to Him for strength and metaphorically releasing my balloons when I am experiencing hardships or trials. It is the most wonderful relief!
Elder D Todd Christofferson said, “Rather than interrupting the celebration, the gift of repentance is the cause for true celebration.” When we think about repentance, I think we dread it. But he is saying it is a joyful thing. He also points out that “suffering for sin does not by itself change anything for the better.” That’s an important point. Holding onto the sin or the guilt of sin does not change us for the better, nor does it make us feel any better.
Elder LeGrand R Curtis pointed out an insight in his talk that offers new meaning to Christ’s title “Redeemer”. To redeem is to buy or to buy back property. For example, property is redeemed by paying off its mortgage. I think it is interesting to consider the atonement as an act of paying off my mortgage. Not my house mortgage, but actually paying off ME. I think I sometimes equate the “Christ redeemed me” with “Christ suffered for me” and while each is true, their meanings are totally different. The fact that our Redeemer was willing to buy each one of us back shows us how important we are to him. Not only did he suffer for us, he satisfied the demands of justice. This can teach us that the worth of every soul is great to Him. It can help us to choose to repent, knowing He believe in us. It can also help us, as we repent, to know that He values us that much, and therefore we ought to believe in ourselves and in our ability to become better.
One final thought that came to me is the point of life is not so that we can do everything right. The point is that we already know we are going to get it wrong, but will have the courage to repent and improve ourselves. Elder Cook said “Real repentance, real change may require repeated attempts, but there is something refining and holy in such striving.” I thought that line was just so beautiful and it rang true with me. It is the striving that is so important—this continual repenting and turning of our hearts will prepare us for celestial living.
I am grateful and feel lucky to know about the atonement. It is not a subject other religions focus on—the focus is more on his death on the cross. But this most important event happened earlier, in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ kneeled down, prepared to undergo this most painful and unbelievably difficult event in order to offer salvation to every person who had and would ever live. It amazes me that he did it knowing that not all people would choose to accept this gift from Him. It was His greatest sacrifice both of body and spirit, and it is what saves you and me from spiritual death.
I love Him.