When I encounter a difficulty in life, whether through sin or affliction, I’ve recognized that I tend to fall back on three basic reactions to the pain. To illustrate, I’m going to relate each of the three methods with going to the dentist, not because I don’t like going to the dentist, I love it (seriously, it’s weird, but I totally do), but because the parameters fit so well!
The first reaction to pain is avoidance. This is like having a known dental issue, and pretending it doesn’t exist. The dislike of the dentist is greater than the discomfort at the moment so I put it off either by telling myself that I’ll “eventually” make an appointment when I’m not so busy, or that the problem isn’t that bad so it doesn’t really matter. I compensate by chewing on the other side of my mouth, or by avoiding certain foods that are too hot, cold or sweet. Sure, we can get away with avoidance for awhile, years even, with relatively minimal discomfort but eventually it will catch up to us. It will eventually come to a head and other greater problems will emerge, a cracked tooth, problems on the side of the mouth you were using to compensate because of the increased load, gum issues, infections, root canals, etc.
When we are experiencing a trial, or delaying repentance, it can seem like avoidance is possible. Months and years go by with relatively minimal discomfort. As long as you avoid that person, or stay away from that place, or don’t bring up that topic, you can keep on skipping down the lane whistling a tune and pretending the problem doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, just as with the tooth, eventually it will get to the point where you cannot avoid the problem anymore, and it will be compounded with greater issues and manifest itself in a variety of ways. Anxiety, depression, marriages fall apart, you lose those who love you, guilt, shame, and the list goes on. I am not saying that these things only happen as a result of sin or affliction, in fact some of these very things are often the affliction we are dealing with in the first place. I only want to point out that they compound on each other when we avoid the initial problem.
The second method is when we become proud of our pain. This is like going to the dentist for a root canal without anything to numb the pain. Maybe you hate needles so you don’t want a shot. Maybe that pinch of the shot is so terrifying that you’d rather just not have it. You know the problem needs to be solved, and so you white knuckle your way through it so you can survive to the end.
This one is so common and is done by righteous and well meaning people everywhere. We recognize that we are to learn from our sins and our trials and so we don’t avoid the work involved. Maybe we don’t like that pinch of confession or repentance. Maybe we don’t want to forgive someone. Maybe we just don’t think this problem is serious enough for pain relief. We become proud of our pain, as if the pain itself is the lesson we are supposed to learn. We are hurting like crazy with tears streaming, but we put a smile on our face and are so impressed with ourselves that we are fixing the problem. We hang onto our pain like a badge of honor. Look at what I survived. Look at how much I can handle. Look at how brave I am. Unfortunately this is just as unnecessary as dental work without any pain relief. Which leads us to our third method:
The third method is when we allow the atonement of Jesus Christ to take the sting out of our pain. This is like what most of us do when we have work to be done at the dentist. We go to the dentist, we close our eyes when they put that big needle in our mouth and we are relieved when they start the work and we feel nothing. The work is still being done, the problem is still being solved, but we don’t feel the pain. It may be uncomfortable as your mouth is stretched as big as it can go and 27 instruments and hands are in your mouth at the same time, but it is not painful.
When we process our sins or afflictions using the atonement of Jesus Christ the work will be done. We may feel uncomfortable as we are stretched and grow, but we will not feel the pain. We will see that the real lesson to be learned is the understanding of how great the atonement of Jesus Christ is and how to enact that more fully in our lives. We recognize that when we have faith in Him, and on Him, He truly can accomplish all that He has promised us. The work that needs to be done hasn’t changed one bit, but our ability to bear it has significantly increased.
But there is a resurrection, therefore the grave hath no victory, and the sting of death is swallowed up in Christ.
The sting of death, the sting of sin, the sting of affliction, is swallowed up in Christ through the atonement and resurrection. He felt all the pain so we did not have to. So how do we enact the atonement in our lives so the work can be done without us feeling the pain?
11 . . . for he is strong that executeth his word: for the day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and who can abide it?
12 ¶Therefore also now, saith the Lord, turn ye even to me with all your heart, and with fasting, and with weeping, and with mourning:
13 And rend your heart, and not your garments, and repent, turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and he will turn away the evil from you.
Joel 2:11-13 bold emphasis added, italics from JST
He is strong that executeth his word: This is the biggest difference in whether you feel the pain or not. Do you sit in church, or do you worship in church? Do you read the scriptures, or are you actively becoming what the scriptures are intended to help you become? Do you believe Jesus Christ is who he says he is, or do you also have that he can do the things he says and allow him the space to do those things in your life? Executing his word is greater than just listening, it is to carry out or put into effect.
Turn ye even to me with all your heart: We know we are children of God. When you encounter a difficulty, as yourself “How would a child of God solve this problem?” It seems silly, but so often I’ve found myself trying to solve problems myself instead of remembering that I have a divine nature and I can call upon the powers of Heaven to help me and angels to guide, direct and protect me. I need to know with all my heart that I am a child of God, and live my life that way, with all my heart.
And rend your heart, and not your garments: Rending garments was a way that people in the Old Testament times expressed their grief and sorrow. In this verse we are being counseled to focus more on the inward expressions than the outward ones. Focus on the methods and solutions that change our eternity, even if that means short term discomfort, and don’t worry about the rest. We will recognize how little it matters. Don’t get distracted by what you think you’re supposed to do, or ways you think you’re supposed to act, or things you’re supposed to feel. Focus on the counsel you receive from God. It doesn’t matter what other people think of us, it matters what God thinks of us. It doesn’t matter what our consequences are if they are returning us to the path that leads to God. It doesn’t matter what the cause of our affliction is if it is teaching us of the infinite nature of the atonement.
The more I understand the atonement the more I recognize that it truly has the power to take away the sting of pain. It truly can stretch us and help us grow efficiently and quickly without breaking us. We do not have to just survive this mortal journey, but we can thrive in it. We do not have to grin and bear it, we can become glorious in it.