This may sound familiar. It’s a Monday afternoon. Your teenager just walked in the door with a freight-train size chip on her shoulder because, apparently, “no one in the entire universe” likes her. Somehow this is your fault.
Moments later your fifth grader makes an appearance and complains that he’s at the point of death from lack of food and “why won’t you ever buy the stuff I like, Mom?”
Hoping for consolation, you call your spouse, but instead of answering, he texts you back, letting you know that “Now isn’t a good time, and by the way, I’ll be late for dinner.” Again. As you walk out to grab the mail, Sister Baker from down the street drives past and turns her head so as to avoid making eye contact.
I wonder if she’ll ever say she’s sorry for gossiping about me, you wonder to yourself. You’ve already forgiven her, of course. Or maybe not…
Almost daily, we have interactions with others that may cause hurt feelings, disagreements, or even anger. These exchanges occur within families, at work, at church, and in virtually every other human relationship. Although offense may sometimes be intended, most of the time those that hurt us don’t mean to. But this doesn’t change the fact that these feelings are painfully real, and that they can often rob us of the peace and harmony we yearn for.
At the heart of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is the idea that the Savior can mend what is broken, no matter how bad the break. He is able to bring into alignment anything—or anyone—that may be at variance.
But perhaps we don’t fully understand that He can also change us so that our responses to life’s inevitable frictions are “even as” His responses would be (see 3 Nephi 27:27). As we learn more about Him, we see a way of life emerge that can transform our own mortal interactions.
Beauty for Ashes
In Isaiah chapter 61, the prophet foretells the moment when the Savior would proclaim His mortal mission:
1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;
2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
3 To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.
“To give unto them beauty for ashes.” It sounds so lovely—to be able to love and forgive as the Savior did seems so right, so obvious, and yet also so difficult. Can we really respond to unkindness with kindness? Can we truly forgive someone that doesn’t “deserve” our forgiveness? This seems difficult, unfair, and even, at times, impossible.
How can we exchange “beauty for ashes”?
But the gospel teaches otherwise. Our hearts—our very natures—can be changed. The Savior can change us, and when we are changed, the way we respond to those moments when someone gives us “ashes” can indeed become “beautiful.” As we become the Christlike response, the hearts of others, even our enemies, can change in powerful ways. Such a process is not easy, but it is also not optional.
During the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord taught the sobering truth that “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:43-45).
Love our enemies? Bless them that curse us? Pray for those that despitefully use or persecute us? A difficult doctrine indeed. But we are not expected to go it alone. The Savior is eternally invested in the process of our perfection. He initiated it with unimaginable suffering and at the cost of His own life. In our relationships, we find countless moments intended to help us develop a Christlike nature. How we respond to these moments matters tremendously.
With the Savior’s loving, gentle, and patient help, we can respond to hurt, heartache, and even hate as He would. We can learn to give “beauty for ashes” and ultimately, miraculously become even as He is. His life and teachings show us how. Living prophets invite us to walk the path of the disciple. It is a path we cannot walk without heavenly Help.
How do we begin?
Is there a list of steps we can take to “become the Christlike response”? The Holy Ghost gently suggests a better way. Heartfelt, pleading prayer. Humble and consistent searching of the scriptures and the teachings of prophets. Sincere pondering during the sacrament and in the House of the Lord.
Perhaps the most helpful suggestion is to commit ourselves to act in faith in seeking to know and follow the Son of God. He wants to teach us how to respond in His way, but in order to learn that, we must come unto Him in humility. His Atonement is both the means and the model of “how,” and by studying it, we will learn how to look past offenses and then, gracefully and persistently, give others the benefit of the doubt. Through the Savior and His restored gospel we will receive grace sufficient to give “beauty for ashes” until, miraculously, we, like our Savior, become truly beautiful.