Vertically Connected Blog
We live in a world where we are constantly bombarded by worldly messages of self-reliance - messages that we, and we alone, are responsible for the success, health, wealth, progress, peace, and happiness of ourselves, our families, and maybe everyone around us.
We are programmed to believe that only the proactive and self-motivated win the prizes in this life.
Indeed, it seems everything is up to us.
And although I think there are some true principles that underlie this idea – principles such as agency, accountability, responsibility, sacrifice, hard work, and faith – the problem with this skewed concept is that there is no room for another absolutely critical component of the gospel of Jesus Christ: grace.
We know about grace. We hear about it all the time. But it seems we sometimes have a hard time finding room for it in our lives and maybe even in our righteous efforts to be "anxiously engaged" and proactively doing things of our own will.
Indeed, for the driven and ambitious, the concept of grace can feel foreign and maybe even uncomfortable.
So, what exactly is grace?
How does it correct the world's false doctrine about self-reliance?
And where does it fit in our discipleship of Jesus Christ?
While I don’t know all the answers to those questions, I have a few thoughts.
To me, the grace of God spoken of in the scriptures is the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. And it is essential that we have and use that power in our lives.
Elder David A. Bednar clarified that there are two powers available to us because of Christ's Atonement: the redeeming power and the enabling power.
He said, “I suspect that you and I are much more familiar with the nature of the redeeming power of the Atonement than we are with the enabling power of the Atonement. It is one thing to know that Jesus Christ came to earth to die for us. That is fundamental and foundational to the doctrine of Christ. But we also need to appreciate that the Lord desires, through His Atonement and by the power of the Holy Ghost, to live in us—not only to direct us but also to empower us. . . . I frankly do not think many of us “get it” concerning this enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.”
In our conscientious and faithful efforts to be anxiously engaged in ministering to others, receiving revelation, fulfilling callings, studying our scriptures, raising children, turning to the Lord, becoming like Him, or a host of other righteous efforts, we may forgot the part that grace plays in all of it.
Sister Carolyn J. Rasmus, a BYU professor and administrator, shared the following experience:
“Some time ago, while serving as an institute teacher, I discovered that my students would occasionally come to me for comfort when they had problems. Over a period of many months, I became acquainted with a woman who shared with me her life story. It was not pretty. As a child she had often been abused, and this had led to years of therapy because she could not cope.
I remember the day she came to my office pleading for help. I could clearly see her pain, but I was just a teacher. I had had no training in how to comfort people who had suffered such things, and I pled with the Lord to know how I might help.
I recommended that she counsel with her bishop, but I also felt impressed to play some recorded Church hymns. After a time, when she was calmer, I seated her in my office chair. On the wall at eye level was a painting of Jesus Christ. I invited her to look into His eyes as I read to her from the scriptures:
“Fear not, little flock. . . . Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not” (D&C 6:34, 36).
“The Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted. . . . Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (1 Nephi 21:13, 15–16).
“Behold, he suffereth the pains of all men, yea, the pains of every living creature” (2 Nephi 9:21).
“Look unto God with firmness of mind, and pray unto him with exceeding faith, and he will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause” (Jacob 3:1).
As each scripture came to my mind, I felt that I was being prompted by the Spirit to know and do things beyond my natural ability. She later described having felt “an overwhelming feeling of love and peace.”
To help my friend, I had called on Heavenly Father to help me in an area of weakness, and He granted me help. This kind of divine assistance, often given through the influence of the Holy Ghost, is one of the gifts of the enabling power of the Atonement.”
And so, for me, grace has become a power that gives us the ability to do things we would not otherwise be able to do of our own power.
Yes, it is by grace that we are resurrected, something we cannot do on our own.
By grace, we are forgiven of sin, something we cannot do on our own.
But it is also by grace that we are able to help someone in their need when we have no idea how to help them or what they really need.
And it is by grace that the person we are trying to help finds comfort and peace when they do not know how to help themselves.
The Atonement of Jesus Christ was an infinite Atonement – not only meaning it is never-ending, but also that it has no bounds, meaning it is limitless in space, extent, and size; it is impossible for us to measure or calculate.
Thus, the grace offered us by Jesus Christ has no bounds.
There is no situation we find ourselves in that is outside the bounds of it.
Once I started to understand what it really is, I realized I have seen this power manifest in so many different ways, in my own life and in the lives of those I love.
It is by grace we reach out to someone who is always rude to us.
By grace we are enabled to succeed in a subject that is difficult for us to learn.
Grace helps a teenager understand why is it is hard for her to make friends.
It helps a young man overcome his fear of asking for help from his parents.
It is by grace that a young woman follows the impressions she has been having to serve a mission, even though talking to people she doesn’t know and finding herself in situations that are unfamiliar are probably two of the hardest things for her to do.
It is by grace that a young man accepts a mission call to serve and love a people, even a specific race, that he has had many negative experiences with as he was growing up.
It is by grace that someone can find the power and ability to love others in a deep and profound way when they were not raised with this love.
It is by grace that a mother finds one more ounce of patience after a long, busy day with children.
But it is also by grace that a mother finds a peace and love in such abundance in her heart - and that she did not know was there - as she visits her son in jail.
It is by grace that a husband and father finds hope and healing and an enhanced ability to overcome a pornography addiction that has spanned almost 3 decades – a battle that could not be won until he finally accepted that he could not of his own power overcome it.
It is by grace that an unmarried sister in her 40’s is still able to come to Church week after week even though Church is probably one of the hardest 3 hours of her week because of all the things she is reminded she doesn’t have right now in her life.
This is what grace looks like. This is how we lift it out of the scriptures and see it manifest itself in every day mortal life.
On a personal level, it is by grace, indeed by a power that I did not have on my own, that I have been able to be lifted out of the dark and lonely world of depression.
It is this enabling power of the Atonement that has helped me see some of the sources of my depression – things I did not understand about myself and my beliefs about the world and my God that were keeping me trapped in a vicious negative cycle.
And it is even by grace that I have been able to understand that part of my struggle, part of my discouragement and despair, was because I was trying to do everything by myself. It is by an unseen power that man does not possess on his own that my husband has been able to reach out to me, wrap his arms around me, and reassure me that no matter how nasty and irrational I had been to him, he still loved me.
It is by grace that my family has been able to move forward and heal from the negative effects of such an ugly situation.
Grace kicks in at whatever point we cannot do something on our own – when our own efforts are depleted. Grace begins where our ability ends - no matter why or where it ended.
For some situations, His grace comes almost immediately, like maybe when we are struggling to even find the desire to believe. In other situations, we might meet somewhere in the middle and feel we have at least brought something to the table. And still other times, it comes in the final moments, hours, or months of a trial, one where we have handled it so faithfully, trusting in God’s “perfect plan” so well for so long, but we run out of steam near the end and just don’t know if we can endure it anymore.
I have discovered that it is no surprise to our Heavenly Father that we cannot do it all and do it all right. Not only is it no surprise to Him, He specifically designed mortality to be this way.
On the eve of Jesus Christ’s suffering in Gethsemane, He issued this benediction to His disciples: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you. . . . Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid” (John 14:27).
Of this invitation, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “[This] may be one of the Savior’s commandments that is, even in the hearts of otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints, almost universally disobeyed; and yet I wonder whether our resistance to this invitation could be any more grievous to the Lord’s merciful heart.” Elder Holland added, “I am convinced that none of us can appreciate how deeply it wounds the loving heart of the Savior of the world when he finds that his people do not feel confident in his care or secure in his hands.”
He promises us that because He has overcome the world, there is nothing is this world that can overcome us – if we turn to Him and are empowered with His power.
This is the doctrine of the Atonement: that our Father sent His Son to ransom and redeem all of us and provide for us a power to return to Him. It is something we cannot do on our own. Although we live in a world that beats an incessant drum that we can and should make happen in our lives everything that needs to happen, that everything is up to us, that relying on someone or something else is weakness, and that somehow we earn our way back to God, the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is that the more we rely on Him, the more power is made available to us.
I know this is true. I have experienced this for myself. Indeed, I have spent the majority of my life buying into what the world and the adversary have been saying – that everything is up to me. And that's not only a lie, it's absolutely impossible.
I challenge you to think if there is a struggle in your life right now that could be lifted, eased, changed, or healed, if you were to use more deliberately, more specifically, and more faithfully the enabling, healing, cleansing, strengthening, and enduring power of the Atonement – even something that maybe you may not think has anything to do with the Atonement or something that, whenever you think about it, you say to yourself, “I can’t do this.”
For it is in those very words, in that honesty and frustration and even anguish, that we will realize that indeed we can’t – at least not by ourselves.
We need the grace of Jesus Christ.
Stephen & Michelle Hunsaker
Stephen teaches at the Logan Institute of Religion for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has been teaching for over 26 years.
Michelle is a full-time mom who enjoys reading, writing, teaching, and anything and everything to do with musicals.
They are the parents of ten children and authors of the book : Boxing the Lord In and Other Ways We Hinder Revelation.
Their hope is that each week through the thoughts and ideas they share in this blog, you can become more "vertically connected" in your lives. They seek to see and share "things as they really are" and "as they really will be" (Jacob 4:13) by learning how to build more and more on the sure foundation of the Savior, Jesus Christ and the doctrines and principles of His gospel.