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My assigned topic is: The atonement gives us strength to bear our burdens and accomplish our tasks. As I was reading in preparation for this talk, I was directed to a talk by Elder Bednar called “The Character of Christ,” given in 2003 at a BYU-Idaho Religion Symposium. The main take-away for me was that the Savior, even while undergoing immense suffering, reached outward to lift others. Here are just three examples, taken from the last hours of his life.
By way of context, the Savior had just taken upon himself the pains, temptations, afflictions, sicknesses, infirmities, and sins of everyone who ever had lived or ever will live (see Alma 7:11-13). His suffering was so great that the scriptures say he “[bled] at every pore”; nevertheless:
- While suffering on the cross, he was concerned about his mother and made arrangements for her care.
- He prayed for the soldiers that were guarding him: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
- He comforted one of the thieves on the cross beside him: “To day thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
The Savior had recently bled from every pore in Gethsemane, underwent betrayal and an unjust trial, and he was suffering extreme pain upon the cross. He would have been completely justified had he been focused on himself and his own agony, but he still had the perspective to look outward.
The point that I hope to get across this morning is this: If you look outward during challenging times, as the Savior did, you will be given the strength to bear your burdens and accomplish your tasks.
So how does this work? As I studied and pondered, three ideas came to my mind:
Our Natures Are Changed
FIRST, as we reach outward, our natures are changed. In the Book of Mormon it reads: “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father” (Mosiah 3:19). So as we serve others, we put off the natural man and the Savior is able to sanctify us. As we become more “saintly,” we are also strengthened to bear our burdens and complete the tasks that we have been given to perform.
For example, earlier this week my mother-in-law passed away. She had kidney disease for more than thirty years. She underwent three kidney transplants, many years of dialysis, and many, many hospital stays. For decades, my father-in-law stood by her side and cared for her. When he called me on Tuesday night to tell me the news—just minutes after she passed—he was concerned about me, and he took advantage of the opportunity to express love to me and share his testimony with me. Those decades of selfless service changed his nature and sanctified him so that his natural instinct was to be concerned about others. And he was strengthened to perform his often difficult role as a caregiver.
Our Capacities Are Expanded
SECOND, the Savior—through his Atonement—expands our capacities as we give selfless service. I am reminded of a story from President Eyring that he shared in a May 2001 Church Education System broadcast. He told of being a graduate student in a very difficult program. A full one-third of his peers flunked out. Their weekends were spent cramming in preparation for the following week’s lessons. President Eyring, however, was not able to study on Sundays because his calling required him to travel extensively to minister to the members of his district. But President Eyring said that, miraculously: “In the few minutes I could give to preparation on Monday morning before classes, ideas and understanding came to more than match what others gained from a Sunday of study.” Through his service, his capacities were expanded and he was able to accomplish the tasks that were necessary for him to complete his program of study.
By way of personal experience… I love being a mom, but it is a lot harder than I expected. I have four children; my oldest is seven and my youngest is almost one. For the majority of our marriage, my husband and I have lived far from family, and my husband has been very busy with work, school, and weighty callings. So the task of raising our children has fallen largely—sometimes exclusively—on me. The load is really heavy and times, but through consistent service to my husband and children, it has gotten easier over the years, even though the load has gotten heavier as we have added more children to our family. My capacity has been expanded as I serve, and I know that it wouldn’t be possible without the Savior.
Our Strength Is Renewed
THIRD, because of the Savior and His atoning sacrifice, your strength will be renewed when you feel weak and weary. I love the story of the widow of Zarephath in the Bible. She lived during a time of drought and famine. She and her son were literally starving to death. She was preparing their last meal when Elijah came and asked her to feed him first. She exercised her faith, and she did as he asked. The scriptures say that, as a result, “The barrel of meal wasted not, neither did the cruse of oil fail” (see 1 Kings 17:8–16). Miraculously, her stores were replenished. I think this is a beautiful metaphor for what Christ can do for us.
If you will indulge one more personal experience… When I was a younger adult, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Prior to that time, she had set a goal to serve in the temple weekly. She decided that she would maintain that goal while undergoing cancer treatments. She recalled that “one time it took all my physical energy to get inside, but then my burden seemed light and I was renewed.”
I love this scripture in Isaiah 40: “He giveth power to the faint; and to no might he increaseth strength. . . . They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (vs. 28-31). I love the use of words like weary and faint; I have felt that way sometimes when laboring under burdens. But the Savior promises us the strength and renewal necessary to press forward.
I want to share one last story from President Eyring. This is actually a story about his father. He was eighty years old and suffering from bone cancer. The pain was so great that it was hard for him to even move. He was serving on the stake high council, and one of his assignments was to recruit volunteers to pull weeds on the welfare farm. He assigned himself to go pull the weeds. President Eyring spoke to others who were there that day and said: “The pain was so great that Dad was pulling himself along on his stomach with his elbows. He couldn’t kneel. The pain was too great. [But] Dad smiled, and laughed, and talked happily with them as they worked in that field of onions.”
I share this story for two reasons: First, Brother Eyring smiled and laughed and talked happily even though he was suffering. I have not achieved that level of sanctification, but we should do our best to serve with a happy heart. There have been times that I have served out of duty and I have been grumpy about it. And at those times I have felt even more burdened instead of less, so I don’t recommend that.
The second reason I share this story is because sometimes the promised blessings don’t come as quickly as we’d like. President Eyring said:
Dad never got better. He just got worse. So you might say, “Well, he waited upon the Lord, but he couldn’t run and he couldn’t walk.” But that was true only in this life. There will be a day for you and me when, whatever difficulties and limitations we have here, we will have that promise fulfilled for us. We will be lifted up as on eagles’ wings.
Sometimes we work and we serve, and yet we still feel worn out and weary. Just know that the promised blessings will eventually come. Over time, your nature will be changed, your capacity will be expanded, and your strength will be renewed.
I testify that these principles are true. There have been many times in my life when I have felt the Savior strengthening me and blessing me with peace during times of great difficulty. I know that He can do that for all of us as we keep our covenants and reach out to others in love and service. I leave this testimony with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.