Messages shared at Easter, Christmas and in general conference frequently reflect the joy to be found in living the life of a follower of Jesus Christ. On these occasions we celebrate the positive impacts of the Saviour’s Atonement upon our lives. These occasions reinforce our appreciation for the future possibilities that we may experience as we follow the covenant path.
For some, especially for people who are weighed down with heavy physical, emotional or spiritual burdens, it may be difficult to find the joy that general conference and the holiday seasons foster.
Some, in contemplation of personal weaknesses or burdens, become extraordinarily melancholy and wish somewhat wistfully for a better day when the promised gospel blessings may magically appear.
This unfortunate sense of hopelessness has been addressed on numerous occasions, one in a talk by Tad R. Callister, a former Sunday School general president.
“On occasion, I have met with good Saints who have had trouble forgiving themselves, who have innocently but incorrectly placed limits on the Savior’s redemptive powers. Unwittingly, they have converted an infinite Atonement to a finite one that somehow falls short of their particular sin or weakness. But it is an infinite Atonement because it encompasses and circumscribes every sin and weakness, as well as every abuse or pain caused by others” (Tad R. Callister, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ,” Ensign, May 2019).
Later in that talk he quoted Truman G. Madsen who made this comforting observation:
“If there are some of you who have been tricked into the conviction that you have gone too far, … that you have had the poison of sin which makes it impossible ever again to be what you could have been—then hear me.
“I bear testimony that you cannot sink farther than the light and sweeping intelligence of Jesus Christ can reach. I bear testimony that as long as there is one spark of the will to repent and to reach, he is there. He did not just descend to your condition; he descended below it, ‘that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth’ [Doctrine and Covenants 88:6]” (Callister, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ”).
These assurances, given frequently by our leaders, should provide significant comfort to everyone despite their particular circumstances. However, some still feel that they may be exceptions – not worthy of this universal free gift proffered by the Saviour.
A personal example that gives hope this Easter season
Upon viewing details in the life of Billy, a young friend whose life story was tragic, we may mistakenly assume that he may be an exception to the universal truth that the Atonement of Jesus Christ applies to everyone.
Details of Billy’s birth are currently unavailable, except that he was born into an unfortunate situation. Billy’s parents rejected him early for reasons that are best known to them. Within a few years he became a ward of the government. By the time he was just eight years of age he had been rejected by his biological parents and from three foster homes. One can only imagine the hopelessness that he felt.
On his eighth birthday he landed alone at an airport where his fifth set of “parents” met him. These new parents immediately took him to the home of a relative and cleaned him up since he had vomited on the flight. They dressed him in much needed new clothes, and fed him.
The adoptive parents had one biological child and three whom they had adopted earlier. Their objective was to build an eternal family and provide a sense of security to souls whose future otherwise seemed relatively dismal.
It is noteworthy that Billy entered his new family on his eighth birthday, the age of accountability before the Lord. However, habits acquired in less than ideal circumstances had largely destroyed his sense of trust. It took some time for his new Mom and Dad, together with his new siblings, to convince him that he was indeed a loved son of God – not just a nuisance to be controlled, disciplined and ultimately rejected. Family home evenings, attendance at church meetings and his eventual baptism were major contributors towards helping him discover his true eternal destiny.
It was discovered that Billy had an excellent singing voice and he excelled both in choral work and singing duets with a friend.
In the summer of 1960, he went to live and work with a bishop and his family on a nearby ranch. He continued to attend the same high school and was succeeding in his studies.
One Sunday morning the bishop forgot to bring a loaf of bread from his home to be used in the sacrament service. He asked Billy to take his car and retrieve the bread from his home, about one mile down the country road. Five of Billy’s buddies piled into the car to ride along. Billy, of course, was the driver. Upon securing the bread, Billy and pals headed back to the chapel. The road proceeded down a long, winding, graveled, rather steep grade. Billy lost control. Five of the six boys were ejected from the car (no seat belts in those days) and suffered extensive injuries including two broken backs, two concussions, fractured shoulders, hands, and multiple contusions and bruises.
Billy suffered the most serious injury. He was taken to the nearest hospital and then moved to the neighbouring urban medical centre. There he underwent surgery that proved to be unsuccessful. He died on Monday morning. He was seventeen years of age. The other boys all healed and went on to become successful in their chosen fields.
What will happen to Billy?
Now, what can we assume will be Billy’s eternal destiny? Will the handicaps he had as a child, which greatly influenced his later years by leaving him suspicious and untrusting, be reconciled with his later attempts to become successful? Or will the deficits of an unfortunate start in life label him forever as a failure in many respects?
Billy’s family and friends firmly believe that because of the Atonement every blessing available to every other child of God will be his. By the age of seventeen his adoptive parents and family instilled in him the conviction that rejection is not part of the Saviour’s plan, that the worth of a soul is great in the sight of God, and that his future in the hereafter is secure. Reinforcing the influence of his home environment, Billy’s attendance at church meetings and seminary had given him the rudiments of a testimony. There is every reason to believe that at age nineteen he would have gone on a mission. Although his mortal life ended in the hospital, his spirit, because of the sacrifice of the Saviour, continues to soar as he fulfils interesting and important assignments in the spirit world.
At this Easter season it is our opportunity to reflect on the elements of our own lives that have been reconciled with gospel principles through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. May we forgive ourselves as we continue to attempt to be obedient and overcome the deficits in our lives by contemplating, understanding and embracing the enormity of the gift given to us by the Lord Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and upon the cross.