Church was quite enjoyable today. I really enjoyed Sunday School a lot. I almost didn't go to church today at all (I just opened a show (we had two performances yesterday)) and attended a Halloween party, and didn't get to bed until 3:00 AM, so I was quite tired. But I'd also been given the "all-clear" to sing in Sacrament Meeting and wanted to let the ward chorister know (in my bishop's words, "President ________ and I agreed that we see no reason why you can't sing, and I look very forward to hearing you sing soon"). Anyway, I'm singing next week (not sure what yet).
In any case, I did go to church and was glad I did. The main focus of the lesson was the atonement, and I felt the Spirit whisper several things to me today.
One of the main points I want to get across was that I really felt the worth of a human soul, no matter what condition that soul thinks he or she is in. So many people feel unworthy or unloved or alone. People feel depressed because they feel they are feeling short of their potential. And yet the Savior purchased each and every one of us individually because he knew we were worth it. Think about it. Think about the heavy price the Savior paid for that purchase. It would be easy to say, "Whoa, Lord, you're not going to get a very good return on your investment," and yet the most perfect, most knowledgeable man who ever walked the earth thought it was worth it. It might be easy to think, "Well, he just did that for the souls that had the most potential," but I am convinced that if had just been for your individual soul or just for mine, the Savior would have done exactly the same thing. That is how precious we are to him and our Heavenly Father.
Satan is really good at making us feel like crap. He's good at making us feel worthless and unloved and alone and afraid and guilty. I spent a good portion of my life feeling that way. It's easy to lose sight of the fact (or even not believe) that God and Jesus really do love and value each and every one of us as much as they claim they do. My gosh, if you think about what both of them went through just to pay the ransom that was on each and every one of our souls, it's incredible. Jesus Christ made the choice to suffer and to die for us not only because he knew it was the right thing to do, but because we were worth it.
Which brings me to another point that hit me today: We're taught that if we do our best, Christ's atonement will take care of the rest; it will fill the gap that we are unable to fill ourselves. Well, what is a person's best, really? How do we measure that? For years I thought, "I'll never be good enough; I'll never be able to do enough to merit the perfection and eternal life our Father in Heaven has promised us if we just do our best." Well, guess what? None of us can. That's the whole point of the atonement. You and I could work our little heinies off until we were bruised and battered, and it would still never be enough. The least spot of sin or weakness automatically shuts us out and no matter how hard we try, without the atonement, we would all be shut out. That's the justice part.
The mercy part (which is the part I love) is that Christ and Heavenly Father love and value each of us so much that the price was paid. All we have to do is the best we are able under the conditions life has given us. So what if one person's very best is only 60%? Well, Christ's atonement fills in the 40% gap, making the payment 100% (which is exactly what is required - no more, no less). Suppose somebody's very best is only 10%? Christ fills in the other 90%, and we're still at the needed 100%. What if a person's best is only 5%? Christ gives 95%, and the required 100% is still attained. Suppose a person is given circumstances in life where after all they can do, they can only muster a measly 1%? Others might look at that and say, "Hey, I gave 75%!" or "I gave 98%! Surely my 98% is worth more than that person's paltry 1%! Surely, Lord, you wouldn't let that person in without making them try harder!" It seems to me that if 1% is all that person can give, that is all that required. The miracle of the atonement (and it is indeed a miracle) will fill the 99% gap that that particular individual lacks, and 100% is all a person needs.
When the widow gave her measly mite, she gave all she had. As Mark 12:43-44 says, "...this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
"For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living."
It's also akin to the parable of the vineyard workers found in Matthew 20:1-16:
"For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard.
"And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
"And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
"And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way.
"Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise.
"And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?
"They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive.
"So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first.
"And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny.
"But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny.
"And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house,
"Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.
"But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny?
"Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee.
"Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?
"So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen."
Although there are other applications to this scripture, I want to concentrate on the point that the Savior gives us exactly what he promises us. We all must work to receive the promised reward. Some work a lot and some work a little, but if each does exactly what they were required to do, they will all get what they were promised to be paid. Of some is required a lot and of some is required less. Some people's 1% is just as fairly earned as other souls' 99%, and those who were able to achieve 99% on their own might be tempted to look at the person who only got to 1% on his or her own and cry foul and say, "That's not fair! We worked so much harder! Why do they get in?"
But who's to say that they didn't work just as hard and sweat just as much and toil the best they could to get that 1% as someone else who managed to get to 99%? Well, the only ones who can judge that fairly and perfectly are God, the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. And that's what's wonderful. We don't have to judge ourselves or each other as far as who is going to "make it" and who is not. That isn't to say we still don't have personal responsibility to do the best we feel we are able; but leave the final decision and judgment up to the Godhead.
Jesus is often referred to as the Mediator or our Advocate. I think too often people look at God or the Son as beings who are judging us and picking apart our every flaw, weakness, and sin, just waiting for us to fail so they can shut us out of the kingdom, and too many people take on that position themselves when the only one who has the right to is God Himself. I think the Father and Son are loving, merciful beings who are proud of the littlest successes we have in life, who cradle us in their arms when we have a setback and quietly encourage us to get up and try again. They are infinitely patient. No matter how many times we fail, they are there to encourage us and pick us back up. And if our 1% or 5% or 10% or 25% or 45% or whatever is all we can muster, they are happy and satisfied with all we are able to do to draw closer to them. I imagine Jesus as someone who pleads our case to the Father with great mercy, not as someone who is trying to block us or condemn us. In those cases where someone is denied promised blessings because they squelched their mortal probation, I imagine the Father and Son feel a great deal of love and compassion for that individual because that's simply the place they operate from.
I used to believe Heavenly Father was disappointed in me or frustrated with me or sorry for me that I was such a failure. I've come to a place in my life where I feel such an unimaginable amount of love and compassion and mercy and patience and happiness coming from my Father. I am worth the price Jesus paid for me and always have been, even when I didn't believe it. I do not know where I will end up in the afterlife, but I feel great peace and joy in my life and am grateful that the Lord knows my heart so beautifully and infinitely and that I will be judged accordingly and with an absolute perfect knowledge, something none of us can do here in mortality.
I love the Lord so much. I am indeed grateful for him, and I am grateful for the things he teaches me. I pray I am doing Him proud and representing Him. Whether I am or not, I know He values and cherishes my soul on a level I can't even begin to comprehend. And that's how He feels about your soul, too.