Author's note: I want to be clear that I am not a certified psychologist or a specialist on female adolescent development. I am one woman who is fortunate to have a job that exposes me to stories and gospel truths on a daily basis that expand my experience and knowledge. I hope some of what I can share will help others understand their place and purpose in the Church a little more fully.
I loved my Young Women leaders in the Church—they loved me fully and taught me well. But there are some transformative truths I now cherish that I wish I could have known earlier in life. Here are the things I wish I had known as a young woman:
1. The Atonement covers everything. Period.
No matter what you have done, no matter what object lessons you've experienced, no matter what someone may have told you, and no matter what you are telling yourself, the Atonement is infinite and it is there for you. It covers every sin, heals every hurt, and atones for every mistake. Period. No buts or exceptions.
"However late you think you are, however many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines."
But extending forgiveness is only one facet of the Atonement. When others hurt us in ways that feel irreversible and seem unforgivable, the Atonement will help us find peace, healing, grace, and forgiveness. Alissa Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting, testifies, "Heavenly Father helped me see the man who murdered my daughter through His eyes. For me, forgiveness isn’t just this one moment where you decide that you’re done and you’ve forgiven someone and it’s over. It’s a process." Even in the moments when you don't have the strength to extend forgiveness, the Savior will lend you His.
The Atonement also covers the soul-shaking pain, hurts, and trials of your testimony you will experience as a product of life because the Savior has traveled your path. He knows the questions and cuts tearing at your soul. He will help you forgive and love yourself. And He will help magnify your joys and hope. Mental illness, spiritual apathy, excruciating loss, heartbreak, finding love, joy, embracing the peace of the Spirit—the Atonement is in it all and can bless us through everything.
2. Sexual intimacy is a sacrament.
When we understand the purpose and sanctity of sex, much of the questioning and wondering about chastity disappears. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland declares:
"May I suggest that human intimacy, that sacred, physical union ordained of God for a married couple, deals with a symbol that demands special sanctity. Such an act of love between a man and a woman is—or certainly was ordained to be—a symbol of total union: union of their hearts, their hopes, their lives, their love, their family, their future, their everything. It is a symbol that we try to suggest in the temple with a word like seal. . . .
"Sexual intimacy is not only a symbolic union between a man and a woman—the uniting of their very souls—but it is also symbolic of a union between mortals and deity, between otherwise ordinary and fallible humans uniting for a rare and special moment with God himself and all the powers by which he gives life in this wide universe of ours.
"In this latter sense, human intimacy is a sacrament, a very special kind of symbol. For our purpose here today, a sacrament could be any one of a number of gestures or acts or ordinances that unite us with God and his limitless powers. . . .
"These are moments when we quite literally unite our will with God's will, our spirit with his spirit, where communion through the veil becomes very real. At such moments we not only acknowledge his divinity, but we quite literally take something of that divinity to ourselves. Such are the holy sacraments. . . . [I]f our definition of sacrament is that act of claiming and sharing and exercising God's own inestimable power, then I know of virtually no other divine privilege so routinely given to us all—women or men, ordained or unordained, Latter-day Saint or non-Latter-day Saint—than the miraculous and majestic power of transmitting life, the unspeakable, unfathomable, unbroken power of procreation. . . .
"And I submit to you that you will never be more like God at any other time in this life than when you are expressing that particular power. Of all the titles he has chosen for himself, Father is the one he declares, and Creation is his watchword—especially human creation, creation in his image. His glory isn't a mountain, as stunning as mountains are. It isn't in sea or sky or snow or sunrise, as beautiful as they all are. It isn't in art or technology, be that a concerto or computer. No, his glory—and his grief—is in his children. You and I, we are his prized possessions."
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3. Life will not meet your expectations—and that's a good thing.
Your career, your education, who you become, when you marry, who you marry, what your family looks like, in short, all of the major points you have mapped out for your life will not meet your expectations. But, if you are relying on your Heavenly Father for direction, they will surpass your expectations in ways you couldn't anticipate. Whether some of your goals end in unanticipated success or epic failure, one constant remains in life—change. And no matter how many plans we make, we can never anticipate the twists and turns of life, sudden illnesses, ways people let you down, and the unexpected joys you will find in each new transition. So decide now. You can either live your life embracing change or live life consumed by disappointment. Let go of your expectations now and surrender yourself to following revelation. Be flexible. Find optimism in every circumstance. And embrace the adventure of it all. Remember, God can make more of your life than you ever could, so let Him.
Brad Wilcox's The Continuous Atonement is a landmark work that helps to clarify what the Atonement is—and what it isn't. It corrects misperceptions and offers hope to those who struggle again and again.
This teen adaptation will help teenagers better understand and apply the Atonement in their lives and help them teach the nuances of the Atonement to others, whether on a mission, at home, or with friends. As they better understand and apply the Atonement, its transforming power will have a lasting effect in their lives.
4. We need to get comfortable with questions.
Whether you have questions about Church history—"How could such-and-such happen?"—or much more personal questions—"Do I have a place in this Church?"—know that questions have power and can drive us closer to our Heavenly Father. After all, our Church began with a question from a 14-year-old boy. Many answers only come after we seek, wrestle, and search—why else would the scriptures be filled with the phrase "ask, and ye shall receive"? But the only way these questions can "pierce the veil and gain the help of heaven," as Sheri Dew puts it, is when we ask in faith and are willing to work to earn the answers. The mysteries of the kingdom of God cannot be opened if you don't already have a foundation of its basic principles. Become familiar with the Church's Gospel Topics Essays, search the scriptures, scour lds.org, and speak with family, friends, or new acquaintances who understand your experience.
"Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it this way: 'We should not assume . . . that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.' The Lord has promised to open the 'eyes of our understandings' and to 'reveal all mysteries' (D&C 76:19, 7). But He isn’t likely to do either of these unless we seek to know. He will not force us to progress.
"No wonder the Lord wants us to ask every probing question we can muster. . . .
"The Lord needs men and women who know how to get answers. Men and women who aren’t easily deceived and whose testimonies aren’t shaken by someone with carefully crafted talking points. Men and women whose faith isn’t threatened when they don’t have all the answers and can’t always effectively respond to alternate points of view. Men and women who have had witness after witness that Jesus is the Christ and that His gospel has been restored—so that when circumstances confuse or discourage them, they turn toward the Savior rather than away from Him. And men and women who are secure enough in their own testimonies that they can help others who are struggling to find their way. He needs men and women who are willing to engage in the wrestle."
5. Motherhood is about so much more than having children.
“That was the choice Eve made. It’s one we all must make." I heard these words in a seminar filled with powerful women in the Church who served as international business leaders; general Relief Society, Primary, and Young Women presidents; mothers; and humanitarians. They were talking about the sacrifices they made to raise families.
Eve has long been a role model of mine. She was not only a “noble and great one” of our Heavenly Father and Mother’s children, she was crowned with glory, a leader and shaper. It was she who had the strength, courage, and fortitude to choose a life of mortality and a life of perpetual creation and unlimited potential and power.
But Eve had to give up Eden to become the “Mother of all living” and gain an eternal family. But Eve didn't accomplish that merely through bearing children. Eve was a creator, a provider, a master teacher, an innovator, a guardian, and so much more. Motherhood isn't measured by our ability to have children—it is measured in how we sacrifice, uplift, and create better lives and worlds for others, as our Savior did. This vision is embodied in the role of our Heavenly Mother—a goddess of glory, power, divinity, light, and multifaceted roles who loves us unconditionally. She is a Shaper, Mover, Creator, Lover, Mentor, Mother, and so much more—and so are we.
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None of us will have the families we envisioned. Whether we're infertile, single, sisters, aunts, friends, stepmoms, adoptive moms, single moms, etc., motherhood will not turn out how we anticipated, which is why we need to expand our view and realize, as Sheri Dew teaches:
"Motherhood is more than bearing children, though it is certainly that. It is the essence of who we are as women. It defines our very identity, our divine stature and nature, and the unique traits our Father gave us.
"President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that 'God planted within women something divine.' That something is the gift and the gifts of motherhood. Elder Matthew Cowley taught that 'men have to have something given to them [in mortality] to make them saviors of men, but not mothers, not women. [They] are born with an inherent right, an inherent authority, to be the saviors of human souls . . . and the regenerating force in the lives of God’s children.'
"Motherhood is not what was left over after our Father blessed His sons with priesthood ordination. It was the most ennobling endowment He could give His daughters, a sacred trust that gave women an unparalleled role in helping His children keep their second estate."
6. Your body should be your best friend. Treat it that way.
Your body is yours, and it will be for the rest of your life and through eternity. I know comparisons are tempting, I know media is bombarding, and I know seeking perfection is tantalizing. But don't. Just don't.
I wish I could say you reach a magical age when you wake up and feel comfortable in your own body and love yourself unconditionally. But that doesn't happen—not unless you work for it.
If you want to feel comfortable in your own body, you need to recognize it as your best friend. Develop an honest and true relationship. Would you constantly criticize and tear down your best friend? Would you starve, cut, manipulate, and distort your best friend, merely to make yourself feel better? Then stop acting this way toward your body. Like any relationship, you need to find ways to listen to your body. Eat and rest and exercise and sleep when your body tells you what it needs. Consciously compliment your body each day, be grateful for all it allows you to do, and own your unique beauty.
Remember the glorious things your body does for you. Every moment your heart beats, your lungs fill with air, and your body is filled with sensation that allows you to accomplish everything you now have or will yet do in this life. Your body brings you closer to our Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother, allowing you to better understand what They know and experience through their immortal, divine bodies. Because of your body, you can obtain celestial glory and power, create life, and one day create worlds. That is a power Satan will never possess, and because of that, he will do all in his power to distort your relationship with your body and create resentment and loathing for this most glorious gift of God. Don't let him. Even though we may be imperfect now, our bodies are divine. Love yours and let it teach you about love, connection, and the glorious possibilities of eternity.
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Do your teens have questions? Most do! In Q&A they’ll find the meaningful, relatable answers for many of their most pressing questions, all in one book! Drawing from the most popular questions of Why?, How?, and The Big Picture—and adding some timely new questions about current issues—John Hilton III and Tony Sweat help youth understand the doctrinal “whys” that reinforce the teachings found in For the Strength of Youth. Then they share the “hows” and “whats” to help youth live the gospel in today’s world. With an eye-catching graphic style, this new paperback format is fun and engaging for today’s LDS teens.