For those of you who wanted to read my talk and weren't able to make it to my farewell, I decided to post it to my blog. Keep in mind, I did use an outline when I gave the talk, so this isn't word-for-word what I said, but this is the gist of it. Enjoy! :)
I would like to begin with a question. Honestly search your heart and ask yourself, "If I could change one thing about my circumstances, what would I change?" Perhaps you would like a nicer car, a better job, or a larger home?
Then search your heart again and ask yourself, “If I could change one thing about my character, what would I change?” Perhaps you would like to be a little more friendly, or patient, or humble?
If given the choice between the two, which one would you choose?
If given the choice between the two, which one would you choose?
David O. Mckay taught that "Man’s chief concern in life should not be the acquiring of gold, or of fame, or of material possessions . . . but [his highest aim in life] should be the development of a Christ-like character."1 3rd Nephi 27:27 reads, "What manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you: Even as I am." Christ asks us to become like Him. Why? Because only through becoming Christlike in character can we find happiness and fulfillment in this life and in the life to come.
How can we, as fallen man, subject to weakness and sin, become as Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and had perfect character? How can we make His character our own?
The answer is through the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In the April 2012 Ensign, David A. Bednar wrote an article entitled “The Atonement and the Journey of Mortality,” in which he talks about how the Atonement is not only for sinners, but for good men and women striving to change and become better. The enabling power of the Atonement is what gives us strength beyond our natural capacity to grow Christlike in character. As fallen man, we do not have the natural capacity to live a perfect life and become as God. According to 2nd Nephi 2:8, we need to rely on the “merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.”
What is grace? Grace is divine means of help or strength2. President Bednar teaches us that it is through the grace of God that individuals, through their faith in the atonement and repentance, receive extra strength beyond natural capacity to both cast sins aside and continue to grow Christlike in character.
This is exemplified in one of my favorite novels by C.S. Lewis entitled, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.” One character, by the name of Eustace, transforms himself into a dragon through his greed. He meets Aslan, who leads Eustace to a well of water. Eustace knows if he were to enter the well, his pain and suffering would be alleviated. Aslan tells him he must shed his skin before entering the well. Eustace claws at the first layer until he is free. He feels clean, but finds as he looks at himself, he is just as rough and scaly as before. He scratches and tears again until he sheds another layer of skin, and although he feels clean, he does not change. After shedding a third time with the same results, he begins to feel discouraged and wonders how many layers of skin he must shed before he will be clean enough to enter the well. This is when Aslan steps in and says, “Looks like I must do it.” He makes a tear so deep, Eustace feels it right in his heart. And although it hurts above any other pain Eustace has ever felt, he finds that Aslan has freed him from his dragon form. Alone, Eustace did not have the capacity to free himself from the dragon form that had ensnared him.
So it is with us. Have you ever felt frustrated by your own weaknesses? Have you ever felt trapped by that sin you have tried over and over to cast aside and root out of your heart? When we understand the enabling power of the Atonement, we pray that we will be given the extra strength from on high to overcome our weaknesses. We pray that God will grant us the power, the strength, and the courage, beyond our natural capacity, to turn our weaknesses into strengths. It is through the enabling power of the Atonement that Christ lends us the strength to overcome our weaknesses. It is through this power that Christ helps us change our hearts, refine our characters, and become more like Him.
How is it that the Atonement grants us this power? Alma 7:11-12 reads, “He shall go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities.”
He knows how difficult it is. He understands the weight of sin because he has carried it. He knows how hard it is to struggle under the weight of sin and knows exactly how to help. He will give us of this strength if we turn to him. For God will not suffer us to be tempted above that which we are able to bear3.
What, then, prevents us from accessing the power of Christ’s atonement?
While my best friend was in the MTC, his branch president taught him that "there is no limitation on our access to the power of Christ but us."
We limit ourselves. How? By failing, or refusing, to align our will with God’s.
In a talk entitled “The Fourth Missionary” (2010), Lawrence E. Corbridge teaches that “you cannot be spiritually changed against your will . . . [God] cannot work on what he does not have, and He cannot have you unless you give yourself to Him." It is only when we align our will with God's that we become changeable.
I have found this ring true in my own life. Deciding to serve a mission was the most rewarding, yet most terrifying, decision I have ever made. I knew it was the will of the Lord when President Monson gave the announcement, but I had plans of my own. I had hopes and desires I was afraid I would lose if I were to leave on a mission.
As my mission drew closer, I grew in fear and plead to God for courage and strength of character, but I felt no change. I tried to be strong, but I felt as if I were on my own. I was obedient in my mind, but my heart was not quite right. I still clung to the future that I wanted instead of the future that God wanted.
I knew I needed God’s help, and the only way to get it was to align my will with His. One night I wrote down the details of the future I wanted for myself on a piece of paper and prayed to God. I told Him that’s exactly what I wanted my future to look like. Then I asked for the heavenly strength to have the inner courage to put my desires aside, and that everything in my life be done according to God’s will, and not my own.
Then, through the enabling power of His atonement, I finally received the courage that I had been pleading for. I learned for myself that God will give us strength to overcome any obstacle or challenge, whether it be internal or external, if we are willing to give of ourselves to Him. Only then did He give me the courage to fold up the piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and stick it in a drawer, where it will stay until my work is done. And it was then I finally internalized the truth that God’s plan for me is far more grand and glorious than any future I could write on my own.
Now we may not all be going on missions, but there comes a time in all of our lives when we have to put our plans on hold in order to make room for God's plan. It is only when we give Him our whole heart, and trust in Him, that He can change us spiritually and refine our characters to become more like His Son, who was the perfect example of someone who was perfectly willing to submit to the will of God. John 6:38 reads, “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.”
Bro. Corbridge urges us to "Trust Him that He will make of you, immeasurably more, than what you will ever, ever, in all eternity, make of yourself. He will create of you a masterpiece. You will create of you . . . an ordinary man. He will create a God."
Believe that you can change. Believe that Christ can and will change you as you yield your heart to His will. And line upon line, precept upon precept, grace by grace, you will develop Christlike characteristics through the enabling power of the Atonement until at that great day when you will be able to stand before God, clean and pure. Through His grace, He will save you, and make you into the God or Goddess that you now have the potential to become.
1Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: David O. Mckay (2003), 215.
2 Bible Dictionary: Grace
3 1 Corinthians 10:13