5 Places I Found the Atonement

Two fish swim in a tropic setting

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During a commencement address, the late great author David Foster Wallace told the following joke. Two young fish were swimming along, when they crossed the path of an older fish. The older fish looked at the two and said, “Enjoy the water today boys.” The two fish nodded, and when they had passed the other fish they looked at each other and asked, “What’s water?” This joke got me thinking about the water in my own life. What is the stuff that is all around us, such an ever present factor in our lives that it becomes easy to forget it is even there? Let’s talk about all the places we can find the Atonement.

When I sat down to write this article, I tried to brainstorm a catchy hook. My first thought was to call it “Where’s the Atonement” and compare finding the Atonement to Where’s Waldo. Not only was the allusion in the title tenuous, the entire premise seemed wrong. Finding the Atonement was nothing like finding Waldo. Finding Waldo requires detailed searching and work. Finding the Atonement merely requires awareness. Just like the water and the fishes.

1. My delicious breakfast this morning

I’m in love with food, and I really did have a very delicious breakfast this morning. But this really represents all the blessings of creation. The opportunity to come to Earth is a free gift for all of mankind. Because we do nothing to earn it, it only comes from the grace of God which is enabled by the Atonement. In addition, Jesus Christ was the one who created the Earth under the direction of His Father. So whether it’s the beautiful weather, a lovely walk in nature, your home built from the substance of the earth, or like me, a delicious breakfast, you should thank the Atonement for all the wonders of creation.

2. The warmth that allowed me to stop crying late last week

So in two months I’m going to become a father, and I’m fairly confident I’ll be awful at it. I’ve accepted this and tried to accept that most fathers are terrible when they start, but you try to get better. But for some reason the whole thing got to me, and aided by some sappy music, I wept for all the legitimate fear about the future. And after several minutes, it became clear that hope existed, and everything would in fact be just fine. This is a blessing of the Atonement. While the comfort comes through the Holy Ghost, the knowledge that you are never alone comes from Jesus Christ. In the Garden of Gethsemane, He not only suffered for our sins, but also experienced all of our sadness, fears, and injuries, so that He could succor us and understand us no matter what happened in our lives.

3. The awesome kiss I had with my wife last night.

My wife and I have been married for about two and a half years. We are really starting to like each other pretty well. And I have the Atonement to thank. Here are two of the reasons (I’m sure there are thousands of others). First the Atonement acts as the model of forgiveness. We are like the debtor in the parable who is forgiven for a large and substantial debt. How can we then not forgive our spouse for the many small things they do. (To be fair I’m mostly the beneficiary of this type of constant forgiveness). The other way the Atonement blesses our relationship is through knowledge of the plan of salvation. Bruce C. Hafen, emeritus member of the Seventy, identified this knowledge as one of the blessings of the Atonement in his Ensign article “The Restored Doctrine of the Atonement” Knowing the potential for having an eternal family focuses and refines the way my wife and I treat each other, improving our relationship for the long term.

4. The rather good lesson I taught the young men on Sunday.

I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but I teach the young men in my ward, and last week’s lesson on missionary work was pretty great, especially since I had only seventeen minutes in which to teach it. Of course this has almost nothing to do with me.  The Atonement helps us by giving us capacity as we strive to become better than we are. The major purpose of life is to become more like our Heavenly Father. Of course we are wildly incapable of this on our own, but when we rely on the Atonement, we are blessed through spiritual gifts that help us to work beyond our own capabilities and become someone better than we used to be. Because teaching a good lesson to those boys is important to me and my Heavenly Father, and because I approach it prayerfully, he gives me the undeserved gift of competence, and inspiration of a couple of good ideas. This is a blessing of the Atonement.

5. That insistent nudge that I get out of bed this morning.

You know the feeling. It’s just a little chilly in the air, and your bed wants to swallow you up in a cocoon of warmth. And you want to sink in forever. And since the day before you seems so overwhelming you might just do that. But then you get up, because you know the day will be worth it. That’s the Atonement. Without the Atonement, we would be doomed from the moment we are born into a fallen, sinful world. But the Atonement forgives the sins of all little children, and allows all adults the opportunity to repent. This opportunity makes it worth it to get out of bed every day and face the world. Because I will screw up, but I know just what to do when that happens.

Christopher D. Cunningham is the managing editor for Public Square Magazine and contributor to Third Hour. He loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas.