In Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, the villagers of a small town mid-western town gather together in the square on a beautiful summer’s day. Village children, who have just finished school for the summer, run around collecting stones. They put the stones in their pockets and make a pile in the square. Men gather next, followed by the women. Parents call their children over, and families stand together. Tessie Hutchinson joins her husband and children at the front of the crowd.She’s excited about the lottery—until she draws the slip of paper with the black dot. As the unfortunate lottery winner, she’s marked for death and ultimately stoned by her family, friends and villagers.
There’s horror in Shirley Jackson’s story. In our day and age, we know that the sacrifice of one individual cannot appease the gods or secure a bountiful harvest. Human life is valued, held sacred and protected and we, as a people, in general, as a nation—abhor violence and the shedding of innocent blood. Love, serve and bless—protect not only yourself, but those around you from harm and evil. These are the values I’ve been taught—this is what I have tried to teach my children.
So, in this mortal, earthly frame of mind—I will admit that I cannot understand the atonement of Christ. How can one person suffer and die for the salvation of all humanity? From an intellectual distance—it’s unfathomable to me. But I also accept that I can’t understand everything, that there are many things I have to accept on faith. There are just so many things that I don’t understand how they work—satellites, cell phones, kidneys and hormones—but just because I don’t understand how something works, doesn’t mean that I can’t make use of them--appreciate them and express gratitude for them.
Today I’d like to share with you what I have learned of the atonement of Christ. Please forgive me for sharing a very personal experience. My understanding of the atonement is, if nothing else, personal—as I think it must be for each of us. President Monson said, "Every Cinderella has her midnight." Let me tell you about one of mine. (Decades later, I fictionalized this experience and used it in the first chapter of my novel, Beyond the Hollow.)
After the doctors told my mother that there was nothing more that they could do, my parents traveled to Mexico for experimental cancer treatments that were illegal in the United States and left me with my twenty-four year old brother, who decided to go to Canada. We lived in rural Washington on a large piece of property. I was fourteen years old and for the first time, went to bed in an empty house. I woke up around two in the morning—the stereo was turned up and blasting in the next room. Let me describe the 1970’s stereo system. It had a turnstile and a receiver and because our system happened to be broken, the receiver had to be manually lifted and placed on the record. This was not a matter of flipping a switch and pressing a button for instantaneous music. No—someone would have had to go into the music chest, select an album, place it on the turnstile, turn on the stereo, lift and place the receiver on the spinning record and then crank up the volume as loud as it could go. In the nearly forty years since, I’ve had many terrifying experiences, but this remains one of the most frightening.
In my midnight, I turned to the only one I knew who could hear me. My Heavenly Father. And for the first time in my life, I came to know the very real, calm and reassurance that only He can give. I felt an outpouring of his love and I held onto that comfort and peace—not only on that dark night, but through the long days of my mother’s illness and subsequent death. Because of that midnight—I know where to turn when things look bleak, chaotic or hopeless and for this—I’m profoundly grateful. How I wish my mom hadn’t suffered. I wish I could have been raised in a happy home free of sickness and suffering—but I’m grateful that at a very young age, I learned where to turn for peace, because when I’m sometimes plagued with doubts and fears—I remember that night when the Lord heard and answered my prayer. I’ve had many midnights since then—times when my faith has been weak, times when I’ve been lonely and scared and each time I’ve recalled the feelings of peace and comfort of that long ago night.
Doubt not fear not. Every experience shall be for our good. Be believing and faithful and rejoice that the Lord not only understands your pain, in His infinite mercy, He is able to transform your suffering into a blessing. How is the Lord able to take our pain and turn it for good? I can’t understand it, but I believe in His power, love and infinite abilities. How is it done? I don’t know, but I know that He will do it for you. Because He has done it for me.
Elder Holland tells us in his beautiful sermon, Broken Things to Mend,
“If you are lonely, please know you can find comfort. If you are discouraged, please know you can find hope. If you are poor in spirit, please know you can be strengthened. If you feel you are broken, please know you can be mended.”
In Nazareth, the narrow road,
That tires the feet and steals the breath,
Passes the place where once abode
The Carpenter of Nazareth.
And up and down the dusty way
The village folk would often wend;
And on the bench, beside Him, lay
Their broken things for Him to mend.
The maiden with the doll she broke,
The woman with the broken chair,
The man with broken plough, or yoke,
Said, “Can you mend it, Carpenter?”
And each received the thing he sought,
In yoke, or plough, or chair, or doll;
The broken thing which each had brought
Returned again a perfect whole.
So, up the hill the long years through,
With heavy step and wistful eye,
The burdened souls their way pursue,
Uttering each the plaintive cry:
“O Carpenter of Nazareth,
This heart, that’s broken past repair,
This life, that’s shattered nigh to death,
Oh, can You mend them, Carpenter?”
And by His kind and ready hand,
His own sweet life is woven through
Our broken lives, until they stand
A New Creation—“all things new.”
“The shattered [substance] of [the] heart,
Desire, ambition, hope, and faith,