Elder Holland’s recent Conference talk about the intense depth of suffering experienced by the Savior for the Atonement–and the Church’s incredibly successful YouTube clip from it–have got me thinking about how this episode also teaches us perhaps history’s greatest lesson about charity.
Sometimes I’m tempted to pull my head back into my shell and call it quits as far as the world is concerned. I think we all feel that way sometimes. Work is stressful–or lost, finances are tight, illness is soaking up strength, family problems are heartbreaking, addictions are threatening, or a combination of these or any of a thousand other adversities conspire to drag us down. Often we may feel that the best option to preserve what little sanity we have left is to circle the wagons and just worry about yourself, and let the rest of the world go its way.
When this temptation surfaces, it’s good to remember how the Savior conducted himself in the midst of the Atonement. In the Garden of Gethsemane, as Jesus Christ felt infinitely for “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and…the pains and sicknesses of his people…their infirmities…[and] the sins of his people” (Alma 7:11-13)–truly, every negative experience every mortal has been, will be, or even could be called to pass through–a sacrifice so profound that the “suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit–and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18), He did not pull his head into his shell, or circle the wagons, or give Himself up to worry or self pity, letting the rest of the world fend for itself.
First, he declared His intent to obey every expectation perfectly, in all things, no matter the cost: “And he went a little farther, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39). No begging or whining, just a request, and with a statement of resolve to rise up and perform at level the needed.
When His disciples didn’t exercise the stamina expected of them, He gently corrected them, then helped them by teaching the importance of spiritual diligence: “And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray , that ye enter not into temptation…” (Matthew 26:40-41). No angry lectures (“What’s wrong with you guys? I have to undergo ultimate suffering, and you can’t even stay awake?! Some days I don’t know why I even bother…”), just patient understanding, a noble, stoic acceptance of His role as the bearer of responsibility, unfair to Him as it was.
And when they fell asleep again, He now having felt that great physical, emotional, and spiritual burden that He came to Earth to bear, His reaction was more gentle still: “Then cometh he to his disciples, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest…” (Matthew 26:45).
As stunning as His maturity toward Peter, James, and John was in the Garden, consider further His behavior on the cross. He was scourged, whipped, abused, beaten, crowned with thorns, and finally nailed to the cross that He’d been forced to carry, before being stabbed in the side and left to hang there, groaning with thirst (John 19:18). Surely, if anyone was ever in a position where self pity, resentment, doubt, or a selfish disregard for others would have been understandable, this was it. But not only did He not give in to those human failings, He continued to serve, even reaching out to those who had hurt Him, always knowing that those He gave himself for hadn’t suffered as much as He had, could never understand what He’d been through, and would never appreciate it enough.
But He didn’t use it as an excuse. He never tried to impress anyone with it, or make anyone feel guilty about it, and He certainly never threw His hands in the air and said, “I’ve given enough! This is where I draw the line! When is it my turn to be taken care of?”
Here’s what He did do:
He asked his Father to forgive those who had hurt Him so badly (Luke 23:34).
He assured a condemned man in need that he could receive salvation (Luke 23:43).
He made sure that His mother would be taken care of (John 19:26-27).
So when I’m stressed out, or tired, or worried, or all of the above, and I need to visit someone, or teach a lesson, or help someone out with something, or anything at all, I need to remember that this is not the greatest injustice in history, that Someone has walked that sharp and lonely path before and already shown the way, and prepared the strength needed to accomplish all things. Thank you, Master, for Your example.
“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13).