This is what Easter Sunday looked like at my house. Somehow I got the focus wrong and the only shots that turned out were the “goofy” ones!
During our Easter services one of the speakers asked the questions: What does the Atonement mean to me? I spent the remainder of the day pondering that question. The simplified answer is- To me, the Atonement means that its ok for me to make mistakes. I can mess up and pick myself up, dust off my pants and try again- and that God doesn’t love me any less for it. To me this is HUGE.
I grew up understanding that I could not make mistakes. Mistakes meant you were weak and weakness was not tolerated. I don’t think my parents intentionally set out to create these boundaries, but none-the-less they were there and I knew it. How this played out in my everyday life is a long story for a memoir I may one day write! Suffice it to say I grew up trying desperately to hide my flaws and my weaknesses, rationalizing them away or denying that they existed. But I knew I wasn’t perfect and the self loathing that came from secretly acknowledging my mistakes did a number on my self esteem. I began to define myself by all the things I couldn’t do right- never even acknowledging the things I was good at.
I continued on this path until I was in my mid-thirties. And then I had a moment of clarity and I began to recognize the good in myself. I suddenly saw myself in a completely different light, as if my strengths were being hit by a giant spotlight. I slowly realized that I had been choosing to define myself by my faults; which was ridiculous! I thought about the Atonment and how a loving and benevolent God does not define us by our mistakes, but our successes! It is through the power and wonder of the Atonement that my mistakes are blotted out from that great record book.
The epiphany continued when I realized what my example may have been teaching my own children. My heart broke as I recognized certain behaviors in them that I knew stemmed from a fear of making mistakes. I made a conscious choice that this would STOP with me and that I would NOT pass this on to my kids.
What does this look like in action? When my daughter comes home and tells me she is stupid because she can’t do math and failed her math test- we talk about how the test went, did she understand the material? Does she recognize what she did wrong and know how to fix it? She then continues to lament (in her dramatic 8year old way) that she is just stupid, stupid at everything. I begin to ask her more leading questions. Well, you failed your math test and that is a total bummer, but are you still a good big sister? (yes) Are you still really helpful in class- always helping people in need? (yes) What about art, are you still really good at putting colors together and drawing animals? (yes). I point out to her that while yes, she failed a test, she is still really amazing at so many other things. Those other things are the ones that define who she is as a person, not the fact that she flunked today’s math test.
I do NOT want my children defining themselves by their mistakes. We all make them, but they are not who we are. I talk openly about the mistakes that I make each day- when I yell, I apologize. I tell them mommy messed up, but tomorrow is a new day and I will try to do better. I want them to know that they too can make mistakes- and then pick themselves up, dust off their pants and try again tomorrow.
And that is what the Atonment means to me.