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It’s autumn in North America, and a common harvest game kids played years ago–maybe still do—is bobbing for apples. The ideal apples float, but just barely, so a child has to bend over and get a bit wet to bite one and get it out of the tub. Most apples contain just the right amount of substance and air to rest comfortably bobbing in water. They neither sink, nor float completely above the liquid.
And this is due to an interesting principle. As youngsters, many of us heard about the great Greek scientist, Archimedes. The story goes that King Hieron II of Syracuse was suspicious that an artisan who’d made his gold crown had secretly cheated him and mixed in part silver. So he asked Archimedes to solve the mystery.
Archimedes discovered the answer as he got into his bathtub and noticed how much water ran over the edge (one immediately wonders how such a smart guy filled his tub too full to allow for himself and the water, but this is a very old story and is perhaps not accurate in every detail). At any rate, this water displacement became the basis of the principle that the volume of water displaced is always equal to the volume of the object. Kids love the idea that he jumped from the tub and ran naked through the town, shouting, “Eureka!” There’s even a statue of him in his tub, in Israel’s National Museum of Science, Technology, and Space.
One by one, Archimedes put a bar of gold, a bar of silver, and the crown into water and measured the volume of water each one displaced. Since he already knew the mass of each one, he was now able to determine density. And the crown was determined to be less dense than gold, thus proving the craftsman had indeed cheated the king.
All of this led to the Archimedes Principle of Buoyancy which states that a body immersed in a fluid is buoyed up by a force equal to the weight of the fluid displaced. Basically if a thing’s density is less than that of water, if will float. If it’s greater, it will sink, which is why apples bob—they’re less dense than water, but only just barely.
And I was thinking about this principle last week when I realized that every one of us is buoyed up by Christ. Even if we think we’re pretty dense—ha!—Christ’s atonement covers us all. Or, I should say, his atonement boosts us up from beneath, overcoming gravity and every possible force that could keep us down, if we but access His wondrous gift.
Every one of us has sinking moments. We all struggle, we all lose hope from time to time as we despair over tragedies and setbacks that are part of mortal life. Sometimes we feel we are spiritually drowning, falling down into an abyss from which we can never again rise. (Satan loves promoting this idea.) We see no break in the storm, we feel no connection to our Heavenly Father.
But Christ’s love transcends any possible trial we can endure. He broadens our base, pushes up on it, and keeps us afloat. In the depths of misery and even in the harrowing gall of sin, we can put our trust in Christ and rely upon his atonement to cleanse and heal, to comfort and calm.
Does he defy the laws of physics? Or does the atonement work in perfect elegance with the laws of nature? Christ infuses light and lightness into our souls, enlarging our understanding, lifting our burdens, and making us not only rise, but soar. Up, up, above the worries and anguish of mortality, he empowers us to overcome the weight and heaviness of mortality. As we repent, as we strive to follow him, and as we steadfastly refuse to give up, we gain buoyancy.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated this beautifully: “However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines.”
There’s another definition of buoyancy I like, and it’s that of a buoyant outlook. It means a cheerful, optimistic temperament, and it’s something every one of us can have, especially when we ponder the amazing gift Christ has given us in paying fully for all our sins and woes. When we turn our burdens over to our Savior, we feel gratitude and immediately recognize a joyous sense of weightlessness. Quite simply, we float.
Hilton’s LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.