March 29-April 4
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This is honestly one of my favorite stories to tell mostly because it always shocks people when they haven’t heard it before.
When I was a naive child of sixteen years old, I found myself pulling up to a stop sign in my mom’s car. I had a friend in the front seat and three friends in the back seat, and we were headed back from running an errand for my mom before we turned around to go to a little summer party at my bishop’s house. As we rolled to the stop sign, we looked over and saw a friend, Chris. To be honest, he wasn’t really my friend. I knew who he was because our sports teams shared the same hallway at the high school, but I don’t think I’d ever talked to him. My buddies in the backseat knew him and egged me on to race him.
Because I was in my mother’s car and not my own little old stick shift, I of course, took off and Chris pursued. We were flying down the street when we turned around a bend and saw a police car coming from the opposite direction. He flipped around, and both of us pulled over.
When he came up to the window, he immediately asked if I had been racing, and I answered honestly (hoping this would help my case). He left for what seemed like an eternity and came back. He asked me whether I knew that racing was a class B misdemeanor. I answered in the negative, and he proceeded to ask me to step out of the car.
I was completely shocked. I knew that I’d at least get a ticket, but it didn’t even cross my mind that I’d ever get arrested. My friends told me they felt the car move when he put me against the car and put the handcuffs on. I was already in the back of the police car when my parents showed up to get the car. My mom won’t love me sharing this but she told me I was lucky the cop got to me first because she would have killed me (I laugh as I remember that by the way). My dad looked at me concerned and asked if the handcuffs were necessary. Apparently, they were.
By the time the officer brought me down to the station, I think he had realized what kind of naive child he had just arrested. He started kind of saying things like, “Well…your dad didn’t seem too mad at you…” They put me in a jail cell for a bit and brought me out to fill out my information. That’s when the lady who was typing started looking concerned because I was 16 and supposed to be in the juvenile room, not a jail cell.
It was interesting sitting in the tiny white room. I remembered visiting the police department and seeing that room when I was younger at an Achievement Day activity. And here I was, sitting in it as a hardened criminal.
I must say, I was rather impressed with myself for not crying up until this point. It wasn’t until my “lawyer” showed up that I lost it. My bishop at the time was a lawyer and was able to get me out of jail for free instead of going to a juvenile detention center until a judge could be found. He walked into that tiny white room, and that’s when I started bawling. He gave me a big hug, and led me back to my parents.
In case you didn’t already notice that I amended my ways as a hoodlum, I now want to talk a little bit about what I learned about the Atonement from my experience of getting arrested.
The reality of the matter is this. I DID break the law. I totally raced a car, and as the judge reminded me, I could have killed someone or all of my friends in the car. It didn’t matter that I had read The Book of Mormon over the summer so I could attend the party at my bishop’s house. It didn’t matter that I was a decent person despite various imperfections. It didn’t matter that I was a good student. None of these things mattered. The police was well within his rights to arrest me even if I had been perfect up until that point.
It’s the same concept with justice. No unclean thing can dwell with Heavenly Father. He lives in a consuming fire and the fire destroys anything that’s impure. We could make one mistake, and we would be barred from living with our Heavenly Father. Heavenly Father has to be perfect in order to remain Who He is,and so His justice has to be perfect.
In our world, the police officer could have let me off. In the kingdom of heaven, Heavenly Father has to be true to justice.
Because of Christ, Heavenly Father can remain perfectly just and still allow us to return to live with Him despite our mistakes.
One aspect of repentance is the fact that Christ made it possible. He paid the price. My bishop attended law school and paid all the prices associated with that: long hours away from home and family, financial costs, mental and physical effort, etc. Nothing I ever did for my bishop afterward ever paid him back for his trip to law school and consequently, my free get-out-of-jail card. But he didn’t mind getting me out. He didn’t expect payment in return. He didn’t expect anything in return. He loved me and came and got me as soon as my mom called him.
Doctrine and Covenants 45:3-5
3 Listen to him who is the advocate with the Father, who is pleading your cause before him—
4 Saying: Father, behold the sufferings and death of him who did no sin, in whom thou wast well pleased; behold the blood of thy Son which was shed, the blood of him whom thou gavest that thyself might be glorified;
5 Wherefore, Father, spare these my brethren that believe on my name, that they may come unto me and have everlasting life.
In those verses, as we imagine ourselves before the judgement bar, Christ is not spouting off the great many good things we did. He is asking the Father to look at His sufferings and death. He is asking the Father to look at His perfection. He asks if we can be spared and have everlasting life through His merits.
The second aspect of repentance is our effort. This effort can come in the form of acknowledgement, remorse, restitution, and effort to become better. This effort, as I mentioned previously, doesn’t pay Christ back. However, this effort is still immensely important because whether or not we make the effort answers the question of whether or not Christ’s suffering was in vain for us. What I mean by that is this: Christ suffered so that we could return to live with our Heavenly Father and eventually become like Him. This is accomplished by two means: the supreme atonement of Jesus Christ and our effort. Our effort doesn’t pay for anything, but it does change us. It is that change that’s necessary in order for us to become like our Heavenly Father.
I was not in jail long, but I did get put on probation for six months. I had to visit my probation officer once a month, I had a 7:00 pm legal curfew, complete various community service hours, attend a class to stop destructive behavior in teens, and write a paper on defensive driving. I had to put in effort. That effort combined with the remorse I felt definitely ensured that I never wanted to race my friends in a car again. To reiterate, my probation and consequent efforts didn’t pay my bishop back. I didn’t perform those acts while in jail so that I could get out. All of those efforts occurred afterwards and served to change me.
Returned to my family
One of the most poignant parts of my story is this: my bishop came and got me, legally led me through the doors I could not have crossed on my own, and he returned me to my family.
My mom and dad drove with my bishop to the police station, and they were waiting down the hall to take me home. My mom had since been able to take a breath, and I was no longer afraid she would kill me. I guess seeking forgiveness is also a part of the process of repentance. Anyway, I got to go home with my family because of my bishop. I got to go to church the next day and bawl through my friend’s confirmation because I felt so terrible. I got to have Sunday dinner where my brother kept dropping hints that my parents had told him so he could tease me to death. I got to have friends over all the time since I couldn’t legally go anywhere after 7:00 pm. I got to live my life and enjoy things and be with my family.
Now in this less than perfect analogy, I would have gone home eventually regardless even if my bishop hadn’t come to pick me up. But in the world of the justice and mercy and kingdom of heaven, Christ is the only way. We stay in jail forever separated without Christ and His atonement.