Monday, March 9, 2015

President's Weekly Letter #126

Atonement and Agency
I am a sports fan; all sports from Ping-Pong to baseball.  My favorite sports are football and basketball and I also ran track (high jump, high hurdles and 440) in high school.  I would rather play than watch, so today I regret that back then my school had no golf program for spring and summer which would have greatly improved my current golf game.  Lessons of great value for life are taught on the athletic field.  These lessons are enumerable such as, get up after every mistake, set-back or failure, make new commitments and try again.  Roger Bannister changed his life story by doing just that.  I have paraphrased his story from details written by Joel Runyon.

In 1954, Roger Bannister, from England, was the first man to run a mile in under four minutes. In the 1940s, the record for running a mile had reached 4:01, but it had not budged since. Some doctors, scientists and most people thought the four-minute mark was impossible to break. They thought the human body could not physically go that fast; that the body would collapse under the pressure.  No-one could run a mile in less than four minutes.  It was impossible. 

Bannister came from an ordinary working class family.  He wanted to study medicine, but he knew his parents would never be able to afford to send him to the university.  He failed to medal at the 1952 Olympics and was so discouraged that he spent the next two months deciding whether or not to quit running.  In the end, he decided to prove to himself, and to everyone else, that he could do better.

Bannister’s chance came on May 6th, 1954.  The experts believed that the record could only be broken on a day with no wind, at 20 degrees Celsius, on a hard dry clay track and in front of a huge cheering crowd of tens of thousands of people. This was ideal conditions.  May 6th, 1954 was no such day.  It was cold, the track was wet, and there were only 3000 people in the crowd at the Iffley Road track.

Six men entered the race. Straight away, Bannister and Brasher took the lead. Brasher led the first half-mile. Chataway was right behind Bannister. Then Chataway overtook him.  Bannister began his last lap with a time of 3.07 minutes. He needed to do the last one in 59 seconds.  He flew past Chataway onto the last straight. He knew this was it. The world stood still. It was just him and the track.  He was exhausted but, driven by the years of training and his determination, he crossed the finish line and collapsed – exhausted.

The announcer said, “The time is three…” and then was drowned out by the cheers from the crowd.  Bannister had finished in 3:59.4, he had done it.  He’d broken the world record.  He had done what so many believed was impossible.  He’d made history.  Bannister's Mile opened the door for others to do the impossible as well.  Other runners had lost heart – the four-minute mark had become a barrier for them. 

Just 46 days after Bannister broke the record, Landy beat his time.  Over the next few years, more and more people broke through the four-minute mark once they realized that; yes, it was possible, proving an important lesson: once you stop believing something is impossible, it becomes possible.  The current world record for the mile is; 3 minutes 43.13 seconds.

Roger Bannister’s running career is a metaphor of the how you should approach the power of the atonement in your life.  He did not quit after mistakes, set-backs and failures.  He got himself back up and tried again.  One thing the atonement offers is Christ paid the price exacted by the law of Justice for your sins.  But, the atonement is much more than correcting sin, it opens the door for you to make all kinds of changes in your lives, to improve while erasing the past.  Some changes may simply be good to better.  Because you have free agency, you are responsible to choose your acts, experience consequences, correct up, make new choices and make changes in your life.  Our Heavenly Father wants us moving along the middle of the road toward obeying the Celestial Law and developing Christ-like attributes, making course corrections along the way.  That is called enduring to the end.  Eventually, you will reach living the Celestial Law fully.

All people have sins needing forgiveness, and bad habits, addictions or just weaknesses that need correcting for more fulfillment in life.  I have observed most people follow a cycle. You start completely committed to make a change.  This might come during the remorse and confession phase.  You are completely committed to never do something again or to always do something in the future; kind of like a New Year resolution.  After time passes, temptations arise, you forget your resolve, the desires come back and you drift into the behavior again.  You make some mistakes.  Frustrated you say, ”I have got to stop this and then I hope God will forgive but, until I stop, there is really nothing more God can do.”  You are then on your own with your whole life ahead of you and you are desperate to get this corrected so the atonement can kick in.  But, the atonement is not meant to just take affect at the end of your life.  Change using the atonement is a process.  Time goes by and you probably ask, “Is the power of the atonement real?  If so, how can I make the atonement meaningful in my life?”

You are here with a physical body to gain experience that you can gain in no other way.  God expects you to grow, develop, gain spiritual maturity, apply truth, be proven, be tested by facing challenges, resolve difficulties, seek, recognize and follow promptings, think, exercise faith in Jesus Christ, work, struggle at times, act, be obedient, repent, etc.  

“By making repentance a condition for receiving grace, god enables us to retain responsibility for ourselves.  Christ died not to save indiscriminately but to offer repentance so your failure to live the celestial law perfectly can be erased.  The act to repent is a self-willed change.  We alone can choose to receive the gift of grace or mercy, so God enables us to retain responsibility for ourselves.” (D. Todd Christofferson)

So here is the key to make the atonement come alive every day in your life?  Break the atonement down into small daily events instead of having a lifetime view.  You do this by making commitments in prayer to your Heavenly Father each day to improve.  Every night confess your mistakes, ask forgiveness, ask for the burden of your sins be shifted to the shoulders of the Savior and ask for the desire for sin be removed from your heart. (Alma 19:33)  Elder D. Todd Christofferson places a big exclamation point on this:

“We do not need to achieve some minimum level of capacity or goodness before God will help.  Divine aid can be ours every hour of every day, no matter where we are in the path of obedience.

Asking God for our daily bread rather than our weekly, monthly, or yearly bread is also a way for us to focus on the smaller, more manageable bits of a problem. To deal with something big, we may need to work at it in small, daily bites. Sometimes all we can handle is one day—or even just part of one day—at a time.” (D. Todd Christofferson, CES Fireside, 9Jan2011)
You understand commitments.  You always ask investigators to make commitments, so apply the same teachings to your own life.  “As people [you] choose to keep commitments, they [you] will feel the power of the Holy Ghost more strongly and will develop the faith to obey Christ.” (PMG p. 93)  But, do it daily.  Those small daily steps will bring you closer to the spirit thereby receiving strength daily from the atonement.  You will have a daily view not a lifetime view of your progress.  The small daily victories add up.       

“In your prayers at night, give the Lord an accounting of your day’s activities.  Then review with Him your plan for the next day.  Listen for the promptings of the Spirit.  Make commitments to act.  (PMG p. 95)

“As you retire to bed, think about the successes and failures of the day and what will make the next day a little better.  And thank your Heavenly Father for the manna He has placed along your path that sustained you through the day.  Your reflections will increase your faith in Him as you see His hand helping you to endure some things and to change others.  You will be able to rejoice in one more day. One more step toward eternal life.” (Elder D. Todd Christoffeson, Jan 2012 Liahona)

“Take it one day at a time. . . . Don’t look ahead to the pain. Just get through the day.” (D. Todd Christofferson, CES Fireside, 9Jan2011)

President Robinson

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