I have so many Christmas memories—some blurry, some bright. The ones I treasure most are all about the Savior. For instance, I see myself as a young teenager, kneeling with my teacher and friend by a lovely nativity scene positioned on a table at the YMCA. Through her reverent words and example, I deeply felt the reality of Christ’s birth. Many years passed, however before I felt the reality and scope of the Savior’s mission.
All my favorite youthful Christmas memories are full of the awe I felt for the nativity. My dad always read the Christmas story from Luke on Christmas Eve, and I loved it. During my growing-up years my love for the Savior continued to grow; I just didn’t know yet that His birth was only the beginning. I didn’t know where it led. When the subject of Christ’s Atonement did come up, I thought it was more for “serious” sinners than for me.
After three years of college I served a full-time mission and bore my testimony of Christ with great zeal. I savor my memories of the wonderful people I taught who made the promises of Christ real in their lives. In retrospect, though, I see that while my testimony of the Savior was strong and bright, I had no inkling of my own need for Him. For so long I was oblivious to the height and width and breadth of the Atonement .
As a young mother I remember playing the piano for a Christmas cantata, feeling the joy in music about the Savior. Soon after Christmas we had a Relief Society lesson on the Atonement and all the marvelous gifts the Savior offered mankind. I believed it all, but was still feeling disconnected, thinking the Savior’s gifts were more for others than for me.
Adversity Began to Change My Perspective
After divorce shattered my idealistic worldview I earnestly began a new Christmas quest. I suddenly had a much more urgent need to understand the deeper meaning of the birth I had so blithely celebrated each Christmas.
One December, with my personal need for the Savior in full bloom, I led the ward choir in its traditional Christmas program. I was hurting, searching for answers to painful dilemmas in my life. One of the songs we sang was, “Shine for Me Again, Star of Bethlehem.” Every time we got to the words, “Do not despair, your star is still there,” my eyes misted and my heart felt a greater measure of comfort and hope.
Slowly but surely I had become acutely aware of my failings and shortcomings–and of my own very personal need for the Savior’s love and promised redemption. The book, In the Arms of His Love,1 came my way when I desperately needed its message. The author, Steven Cramer, presents the most compelling case for Christ’s love. The vivid examples and scriptures helped me feel the Savior’s arms around me in a real and comforting way; I was reassured that I was not “cast off.”
More Books that Blessed My Life
Another wonderful book deepened my understanding of the Atonement: Stephen E. Robinson’s Believing Christ.2 I was deeply touched by his “parable of the bicycle,” grateful for the comparison: that if all I could possibly do added up to only “sixty-one cents,” (the full amount his little daughter had been able to save for her heart’s desire) that the Savior would gladly pay the rest. Many of his other stories, such as the swimming lesson, seemed to apply to me in a special way. His daughter began to kick and scratch and scream when he took her into water over her head, He said to her, “Becky, I’m your dad. I won’t let anything happen to you. You’re perfectly safe. Now relax and trust me.”
And so, he says, when we are in over our heads and the rising panic begins to paralyze us, we must believe Christ, and hear His voice. He is saying, “I’m your Father, and I love you. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’ve got you! Now relax and trust me and I’ll teach you what you need to do” (pp. 107-108). Whenever I relax into his loving guidance, He does teach me.
Another Christmas season, the quiet early morning hours found me reading Maurine tne Scot Proctor’s book, Source of the Light,3 which captures in superb photographs and prose the places Christ lived and walked. I felt I was walking with Him in the Holy Land as I viewed pictures of the very ground on which the Savior stood so many years ago, and read majestic scriptures and prose telling of His life and mission. His whole earthly sojourn seemed somehow more real; magnifying my desire to build my life on Christ, on the rock of my Redeemer.
Face to Face with Failure
I had struggled with feelings of personal failure when I divorced, but nothing like I did after the suicide of my son in the fall of 2004. As Christmas approached that year, I wanted to cover my ears and run when someone gave a talk and quoted the familiar, “No success can compensate for failure in the home.”
There I sat with a record of divorce and a child who had killed himself. “How could I fail more miserably than that?” I thought. The Lord is kind, and again a Christ-centered book gave me solace. I cried with relief when I read Elder Bruce C. Hafen’s words: “Sometimes we say that no other success can compensate for our failures in the home. And while it is true that no other success of ours can fully compensate, there is a success that compensates for all our failures, after all we can do in good faith. That success is the Atonement of Jesus Christ. By its power we may arise from the ashes of life filled with incomprehensible beauty and joy.” 4
And arise from the ashes I did! I grew to love that book, The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences, in which the author so beautifully explains how the Atonement covers so much more than sins. When a sense of failure begins to settle over me like a dark cloud, or when my heart feels wounded all over again, I’ve often been able to recover my perspective by reading Elder Hafen’s words, such as, “The Atonement not only pays for our sins, it heals our wounds—the self-inflicted ones and those inflicted from sources beyond our control. . . It is the ultimate source of our forgiveness, our perfection, and our peace of mind . . .” (The Broken Heart, 1989, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 29).
I believe those words. I believe Christ’s promises. Brother Robison says, “If we believe only in Christ without believing Christ, then we are like people sitting in cold, dark houses surrounded by unused lamps and heaters, people who believe in electricity but who never throw the switch to turn on the power.” (Broken Heart, p. 12) He says that people like this may pretend that merely believing in electricity makes them warm and gives them light, but they still shiver in the dark unless they turn on the power.
And so I determined to believe Christ, not just believe in Him! And I am warmed by His power.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the Savior is not only the ultimate source, but the only Source of those priceless spiritual gifts. I’m grateful for the trials of the soul that have taught me those important truths.
“A Sword Shall Pierce Through Thine Own Soul”
So many times, we find our way to an unfailing relationship with Christ through our own Gethsemanes. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus walked this path.
The December after my son died I read the Gospels in the New Testament, seeking solace. I noticed something that Simeon said to Mary that I had paid little attention to before. Here’s the story:
“And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him. And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.
“And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law. Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel. And Joseph and his mother marveled at those things which were spoken of him. And Simeon blessed them, and said unto Mary his mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2: 25-35)
Jesus was tiny when this happened. Mary had had such a short time to revel in the reality of Christ’s birth and to enjoy the beauty and wonder of this holy child before she was reminded that His birth was only the beginning. I’m sure she didn’t understand at that moment, but three decades later she would see it all clearly: before the Savior’s mission was accomplished, and before His glorious resurrection, this dear son of hers would have to endure Gethsemane and Calvary. And those times were like a sword piercing her heart.
In our lives too there are Gethsemanes, times that pierce our souls. But it is my witness that our Gethsemanes can draw us closer to the Savior than anything else, maybe because broken hearts are more likely to be open to the miracle of Christ’s love and healing.
Focusing on Christ’s Infinite Atonement
This Christmas season, I’ve been reading The Infinite Atonement.5 My new e-mail friend Debbie Avila sent it to me when she learned I had somehow missed reading this exquisite book. I often gallop through a book, eager to grasp the most important ideas quickly because I’m pressed by other priorities. This book I read slowly, however, savoring one chapter at a time because the subject is so sacred. The ideas are of such eternal significance that I don’t want to miss a thing. As I near the end I have already determined to re-read and study it.
The author’s clear explanation of the importance of the Atonement has made such an impact on me. No other way, without the sacrifice Jesus made, could the price demanded by justice be paid. Without His Atonement there would be no resurrection, no return to the presence of our Father, no possibility of becoming like Him. No wonder the Song of Redeeming Love should be always on our lips! No wonder that Christmas and Easter should be the happiest of times as we bring to the forefront of our minds what Jesus has really done for us!
“We’ll Witness a New Beginning”
One of the songs our ward choir has been preparing for the Christmas program this year is “Hurry, Hurry Now to Bethlehem.” Each time we sing the words, “We’ll witness a fresh new beginning; a new beginning for you and me,” I think of what that really means. The birth of Christ was the most important new beginning ever. And because it led to the Atonement, it gives each of us a glorious invitation to begin anew each day. Could any Christmas message be more joyous?
1 Steven Cramer, In the Arms of His Love, Covenant Communications, American Fork, UT, 1991. (New soft cover edition, 2010.)
2 Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1992.
3 Maurine Jensen Proctor, Scot Facer Proctor, Source of the Light: A Witness and Testimony of Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of All, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1992.
4 Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1989, 22, 29. (expanded paperback version released in March 2008)
5 Tad R. Callister, The Infinite Atonement, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2000.
Author’s note: Visit me at my website: darlaisackson.com to learn more about my books, Trust God No Matter What! and After My Son’s Suicide: an LDS Mother Finds Comfort in Christ and Strength to Go On.