I still remember when Elder David A. Bednar gave his talk on the enabling power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It was later quoted and focused on by Carol J. Rasmus.
Here is a direct quote from Bednar’s address:
I frankly do not think many of us ‘get it’ concerning [the] enabling and strengthening aspect of the Atonement, and I wonder if we mistakenly believe we must make the journey from good to better and become a saint all by ourselves through sheer grit, willpower, and discipline, and with our obviously limited capacities.
The belief that through our own “sheer grit, willpower, and discipline” we can manage just about anything seems to be widespread these days. This simply is not true…
Before I continue my own commentary on this topic, let me place before you a couple parable-like metaphors.
- A three-year-old young girl wants to play basketball, but the 10-foot-tall hoop is simply beyond her capacity. So, she grits and practices and throws, but no matter what she does, after weeks of total devotion, all she manages to do is to hit the rim—once. And not with the proper technique needed to grow up and become an accomplished player. Her father offers to alter the hoop, to lower it, to a realistic height for her to develop the proper skills and techniques. But, offended by the offer of assistance (since she thinks she can do everything for herself), the four-year-old rejects it and decides she simply won’t try to play basketball anymore. It’s too hard, and the years it will take to “grow up” seem too far away.
- A middle-aged man, an inventor, has always been brilliant beyond his years. But, no matter what he invents, he can’t seem to get it from invention to market. He gets several offers for help on the business side from what appears to him to be fairly qualified people, but he simply doesn’t have faith in their ability to understand him or his inventions the way he does. He’s worried his inventions will lose integrity if he lets anyone else assist him. He also doesn’t want to share any of the glory of the invention simply to get it to market. So, refusing assistance, he remains unable to move forward and find success.
Stop for a moment. What do you think the commonality is (the shared ideal/belief) between the three-year-old girl and the middle-aged inventor that prevents them from accomplishing something they desire?
The word enable means:
To make (someone or something) able to do or be something: to make (something) possible, practical…: to cause (a feature or capability) to be active or available for use: to make able; give power, means, competence, or ability to; to authorize…
God has taught us through the scriptures that the atonement of Jesus Christ gives us grace. That grace cleanses our sin—when we repent—and ENABLES us to learn and grow from our experience. The cleansing is ENABLED when we sincerely repent. That grace AUTHORIZES/ENABLES us to be physically resurrected at some future day. But, above and beyond these very accepted aspects of the atonement of Jesus Christ; that grace ENABLES us to practice being godly on a severely adjusted hoop, so that over time we learn the proper godly principles, doctrines, and skills in the proper way. Grace ENABLES us to become godly by giving us assistance for our mortal handicaps.
Lowering the hoop for the three-year-old ENABLES her to practice her skills correctly. The hoop can be raised, little-by-little, as she grows in capability and skill. At some point, she won’t need the adjustments. But by lowering it initially, she can practice correctly.
Taking on a partner with a different kind of brilliance does not lessen an inventor’s invention. It ENABLES him to accomplish his design by leaning on the knowledge and help of another who has the skills he does not. Does it make the invention belong to both? Yes. But without help it would have only ever been an idea. Trusting in another makes it possible for hopes to become reality, just as trusting in God makes our ideals possible, even if we have to give Him most of the credit.
God ENABLES us Physically and Spiritually
Several years back, when I was teaching early morning seminary, I began to have severe nerve pain in my back right heel. The nerve pain was right next to my Achilles tendon, and because of that, I immediately thought I had strained or even injured that vital muscle. It has always been a fear of mine to injure my Achilles. So, when this nerve began acting up, I immediately began all the necessary home treatment. I took ibruprofen. I iced it. I rested it. I stayed off of it. I tried to walk carefully and stretch it when possible. But, after a few weeks, so petrified I was going to rip the muscle, I borrowed crutches. The crutches ENABLED me to continue to get around. It ENABLED me to teach seminary (when I just as easily could have let another sub for me).
It was so difficult to trust in those crutches. I was so angry that all my diligent treatment hadn’t saved me from needing so much help. I was in despair that I couldn’t help my parents or my family as I normally did. I was completely “benched” from most of my life, but those crutches ENABLED me to accomplish, minimally, the mission the Lord had for me at the time.
It took a priesthood blessing, another ENABLING gift, to learn that God would heal me. It took a visit to a foot doctor (something I’d spurned up until that point), another ENABLING gift, to learn that my muscles were fine, that it was a nerve that was the problem. It took anti-inflammatory medicine and orthotics—two more ENABLING gifts—to rehabilitate that nerve and get it to quiet down.
Ultimately, it is the atonement of Jesus Christ that will completely ENABLE a full healing in our souls: emotionally, psychologically, physically, and spiritually. But, until that day comes, God has provided ENABLING help: friends and family, psychologists, medical methods and apparatuses, and repentance, priesthood power, blessings, and the gift of the Holy Ghost to ENABLE us to learn and grow and become like Him (and to serve Him).
If it’s a lowered basketball hoop, a business partner, a walker or wheelchair, a translator, a piece of workout equipment, a friend, a medication, or one (or many) of several other things; ALL of it is part of God’s ENABLING power made possible through the atonement of Jesus Christ. There is no aspect of this life that He hasn’t designed to ENABLE us to become like Him. We should never give up because our own grit and hard work isn’t sufficient. It is because of the ENABLING power of the atonement of Jesus Christ that any of our efforts gain any power or validity.
Learn to See
For many of us, it’s hard to admit that our own efforts aren’t enough. It’s hard to admit that not only do we make mistakes but that our best efforts need an extra push. But, learning that all that we do requires grace can lead us in two different directions. Either we can throw up our hands and decide that we don’t have to make any effort at all—which is, counterproductive. Because that means all that godly power has very little to enable and so we make very little progress. OR, we can realize that all that we have ever accomplished has been with help and that we can accomplish even more the more we trust in and rely on God—and His many ENABLING gifts and blessings. That’s when the enabling power gains momentum in our lives and we make real progress.
We sort of have to alter the way we see ourselves. We have to learn to see that we’ve had a “lowered hoop” since day 1; and that realizing that in addition to that lowered hoop we need to add on metaphorical knee pads, tape up a few ankles, and get a lighter basketball shouldn’t daunt us, but allow us to press forward faster, better than we did before. Accepting the gifts of the ENABLING power of the atonement in our lives, accepting that we need them, seeing ourselves in the proper light, allows us to progress faster, not slower. The more we trust in and accept God’s grace (in whatever forms it manifests itself), the faster we learn, grow, progress, and become the person that God designs for us to become.
I spurned those crutches. I spurned having to ice and put my foot up nearly all day every day. I hated not being able to do what I wanted to do. But those little things ENABLED me to press on until I was willing to get real help. Then, even that real help didn’t make me independent (which is what I was going for). It gave me power, it ENABLED me, to understand my weakness and learn to use other ENABLING gifts to walk again and serve the Lord and function in my life. It made me more dependent on God, not less.
I still have to make special adjustments to my shoes to keep that nerve from acting up. I am now limited to the kinds of shoes I can wear. And, I have to spend a lot more on the shoes I can wear because my feet require a lot of ENABLING help. But, the knowledge I have gained has ENABLED me to learn how to continue to progress in my life. It has ENABLED me to keep walking (even it if it is with a little help). It has helped me to recognize other nerve problems that have surfaced. The entire experience with that nerve has ENABLED me in other ways.
Life has taught me that grit and willpower are powerful because of the enabling power of God’s grace, NOT that I can get by without grace because of my grit and willpower. At this Christmas season, I hope each of us will see ourselves as we really are: being with all sorts of handicaps already depending on many ENABLING gifts and blessings. I hope we will see that Christ came to ENABLE us, to save us from depending solely on ourselves. He came so that our efforts have both meaning and power, because of His grace.