As a teenager, I can vividly remember sitting in the hallway of my bishop’s office. I remember my blue striped skirt and I remember why I was there. Because my parents were divorced, I found it easy to slip through the cracks at church. We moved a lot and I used that to my advantage, new bishops, new starts, which were mostly short lived.
I was terrified, every time, to walk into a bishop’s office and sit across from a light wood desk. I shook like a leaf and sweat through my thin white shirt my mom had bought me from Ross. I quickly confessed 2/3 of my mistakes and waited for the punishment.
There wasn’t a punishment though, to my surprise. No slap on the wrist, no raised eyebrows, no “now let’s get your mom in here”s. More like, “thank you for sharing that, and for being brave and coming here today. Try harder to choose the right.” And shake hands and I’m on my way.
I was taught the repentance process was for us all, that bishops love and bless and are there to serve. I never had a rude bishop or one who wasn’t understanding and kind. But, somewhere along the way I had missed the young women lesson that explained the Atonement wasn’t up to one man here on earth to administer to me. There wasn’t one man here on earth that upon learning of my hardest moments and deeply painful abuse had the power to grant me wholeness.
I kept trying, I was desperately seeking forgiveness, wholeness, and a magic potion to erase the shame and guilt and desire.
I wanted the memories to dissolve into nothing. I desired the atonement. I just didn’t understand what it was or WHO it was.
As an adult, I still carried around shame and regret and guilt. The broken cracks in me never fully healed. And they continued to manifest themselves over and over again like a broken record.
Finally, it all came to a breaking point and I once again found myself sitting in a bishop’s office across from a cheap wooden desk.
But this time, I wasn’t a scared 17-year-old girl. I had the courage to figure this all out, once and for all. And my dear bishop was all in with me.
There’s a painting in his office of a little girl in river rapids, reaching up to Jesus’s hands that pull her out of danger. Many minutes were spent in silence in that room feeling exactly like that little girl. I would talk, and we would listen in silence. I would cry, and this one man who held sacred priesthood stewardship over me, would hold it all. When it was right, he offered wise counsel and mostly just love.
I had never had an experience like that in a bishop’s office and I learned over the next few months that the Atonement was truly a mind, body, and soul connection with a Savior who heals ALL wounds, rather than a confession and out the door experience.
The act of showing up to that room in our small church building mattered though. It was an act of submission and willingness to go through a process that is powerful and important. But what happened inside the room wasn’t confessing to another person and spilling my guts for the sake being granted human pardon. What happened was sacred and raw and life altering in every way.
After many attempts, I finally found access to my Savior Jesus Christ through His Atonement. My feelings, emotions, questions, and brokenness weren’t up for negotiation, they were validated by the Spirit. My desire to become whole was acknowledged by His grace and love. My struggles were strengthened and even my painful and vivid memories have begun to fade. No man on earth had the power to forgive me, heal me, or love me the way Jesus has. There was no magic potion or punishment that could be administered that could put me back together better and complete.
The Atonement is so much more than letting someone know your hardest stuff. It’s a real and tangible connection with your Savior Jesus Christ.
I think as a teen I imagined and day dreamed that grown-up Courtney would finally be rid of Satan’s power and temptation. I would finally be safe all the time and never stray and wander. I would be free from dangerous people and situations.
Maybe we all had a little bit of that dream as a teen.
I’m learning how much of a daydream that was. Reality is quite the opposite. Don’t be fooled into thinking what teenage Courtney thought. Be aware and diligent in strengthening your faith and connection with God. And maybe most importantly, don’t wait to access the healing power of the Atonement until Satan has a life altering grip on you. Take care of those small cracks now.
If you’re sitting there right now thinking Courtney, you don’t know my bishop, he’s x,y,&z, I’m here to say, it doesn’t matter. He holds real stewardship over you and your family, and whether he has the exact right words to say or not, does not matter. The Atonement isn’t his to offer, it’s not his forgiveness, it’s not his healing to extend. It’s your Saviors and I am promising you that He will show up with you if you show up with a willing heart. He will administer to you in that folding chair. He will reach out His hands and rescue you. He will heal your wounds and strengthen your weaknesses. The “repentance process” is there for a purpose. When you’re in the thick of sin or darkness, coming back to faith can be a disorienting process, hard, and painful. Having simple “instructions”, if you will, is HELPFUL! But it’s not just boxes to check off and out the door with an “I’m forgiven” sticker to wear.
The “steps” get you to where Jesus is. They open the door to the Spirit. And then you get to do the real redeeming work with your Savior.
I wouldn’t trade even the most treacherous moments for the sacred ones of rescue and unwavering love from my Savior.
I’m promising you, He will show up, and His Atonement is for you.