by James L. Ferrell
Editors’ Note: What does the atonement mean, practically speaking? How is Christ the answer to a strained relationship with a spouse, child, parent, or sibling? What if I am being mistreated–how can the atonement help me cope with that? How can I discover the desire to repent when I don’t feel the need to repent? Beginning today, Meridian Magazine, in conjunction with Deseret Book Company, is running a serialization of The Peacemaker, a groundbreaking book from Jim Ferrell, the managing director of the Arbinger Institute. We have run two other book serializations from Abinger, namely, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Bonds That Make Us Free. Follow along in the next twenty-five weeks each Friday.
We live in a world at war. I am referring not only to wars between countries but also between former friends, siblings, spouses, parents, and children. Conflicts between countries are perhaps more dramatic, but the hot and cold wars that fester in the hearts of family members, neighbors, and friends bring more pain and suffering to this earth in a single day than have all the world’s weapons since the beginning of time. If there ever is to be peace on earth, we first must find the way to peace in our hearts and homes.
“I am the way,”1 the Lord declared. “After your tribulation, I will feel after you,” he promised. “And if you harden not your hearts, and stiffen not your necks against me, I will heal you.”2 Nothing is more important than understanding not just that the Lord’s atonement is the answer to our daily, painful predicaments, but how it is the answer. This book is an account of how the Lord “feels after us to heal us,” and what we must do to receive the peace of his healing. It is the story of a husband and wife whose marriage is in trouble. It could just as well be the story of a father and child who aren’t speaking, or of neighbors who bristle at each encroachment over a property line. The Lord’s atonement reaches deep into the trouble of daily life to the very bottom of every dispute and hurt feeling. To the predicament of a hard heart, he offers the promise of a new one. To the pain of hurt feelings, he offers the balm of his love. To utter loneliness, he offers the companionship of the heavens.
His birth was heralded by the words “Peace, good will toward men”3 because his atonement is what makes peace and good will possible. Whether in a home or a bunker, the way to true, deep, lasting peace is only in and through the Prince of Peace. “He is our peace,” Paul declared, for through his atonement he has “broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity.”4
There are far too many partitions in our hearts and homes and too much enmity between us. But the carpenter of Nazareth has constructed for us peace. My desire is to explore with you how.
A Storm in the Soul
The night was cold, in more ways than one. Outside, a heavy wind pounded thick raindrops against the windows. The eves above Rick Carson’s bed creaked, as they always did in such windstorms, and he could hear the lawn furniture scraping slowly along the patio, as if each chair were reaching out in a futile attempt to grab a handful of concrete. At times it felt as though the house’s wooden frame was bending, a movement Rick supposed he could have measured if he had either the inkling or the instruments to do so. He felt himself leaning heavier into his bed, perhaps in his own futile attempt to keep the house anchored to its moorings or in an equally futile attempt to moor himself to something solid.
Behind him lay his wife of twelve years. They were hugging their respective edges of the queen bed, she facing the window and Rick the wall, careful not to touch each other. It had been three days since they had spoken a word to one another except out of necessity-nearly as long as the rain had been pounding at their home. Rick lay awake, wondering what he had done to deserve this. Our marriage is a sham, he thought, despite what he considered to have been his best efforts. There is no tenderness, no understanding. He ached with despair.
Things had been so bad with Carol for so long that Rick could barely remember the good times. There had been some. In fact, during the early years of their marriage Rick had thought he was quite happy, and he had believed Carol to be as well. But the increasing unhappiness of the intervening years had called these early beliefs into question. Rick was no longer sure how happy he or Carol had ever been. His memories of the past and hopes for the future sagged under the weight of a depressing present.
Despite the cloud of unhappiness he felt enveloping his marriage, Rick had until then done his best to minimize and deny the problems. He survived by employing a kind of inner diversionary trick-by pushing from his mind thoughts of Carol, his marriage, and the injustices and pains that inhabited his inner chambers and by concentrating on other things. Everything will be okay if I can only hang on, he thought, as he did his best to put a happy face on their relationship. Carol will come around. But Carol hadn’t “come around,” and their relationship was only deteriorating the more.
As he lay there, Rick could sense something amiss in the patience he had been purporting to exercise. For the longer he exercised it the more bitter and impatient he had become. He felt not unlike the drug addicts and alcoholics who assuage themselves with the naive lie that “this hit or drink will be the last.” His marriage was in trouble, and what frightened him most was that he wasn’t sure he cared anymore.
Over the last five or so years he had shed many tears over the predicament he found himself in. One night, Carol had suggested that perhaps it would be better if he moved out for awhile. “The time apart might help us appreciate each other more,” she had said. But her voice lacked conviction and rang hollow of hope. It was a voice Rick knew, for he heard it within himself as well.
Rick remembered that terrible night as he now lay listening to the storm. When Carol suggested he leave, it was like hell itself opened wide its jaws to give Rick an immediate and threatening view of what he had wanted to keep himself from seeing. He began to shake uncontrollably, and tears that felt like they originated in the marrow of his bones gushed from his eyes. The tears, shudders, and cries came in torrents. Just as one spasm of heartbreak would seem to pass and his body would start to settle, a new wave would burst from deep within him and his wailing would begin anew. He felt his hope for happiness, which he had clung to until that moment, slipping away with each teardrop. All the while, Rick recalled, Carol lay next to him, emotionless. She hadn’t reached over to comfort him.
As he lay in memory, Rick could still feel the echo of those shudders within him. Things had calmed a bit between himself and Carol over the past eighteen months, but the bleak essentials of their relationship remained the same. He hadn’t left as Carol had asked because, probably out of pity, she had withdrawn the suggestion. But her words still hung in the air between them-“Perhaps we need to get away from each other . . . maybe that will help . . . “
Rick knew better. With the indifference he was feeling within himself, he feared that he might like the time away-time away from demands, expectations, criticisms, and the weight of Carol’s unhappiness that pressed upon and accused him whenever they were together. Even worse, Rick was afraid Carol might like the time away as well-a risk with implications he couldn’t bear to think about.
The streetlight in front of their house cast enough glow through the storm and against the wall Rick was facing to illuminate the painting of the two of them that hung there. The artist had captured Carol perfectly, he thought, from the straight line in which she set her mouth, to the determination in her jaw and the icy glare of her eye. Even the painter couldn’t deny it, he thought to himself, feeling all the more discouraged. Why didn’t I see it before we married?
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.