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How a Latter-day Saint's Last Written Testimony Deepens Our Understanding of Grace

“' ___________' by His Grace.

Saved.

Amazed.

Changed.

Empowered.

Overwhelmed.

Mentored.”  

           — Jarem Hallows

The concept of grace can be hard to understand. Just the word itself can have many different meanings—it can be a title, it can mean a prayer, it can denote style, refinement, or civility.  It can mean different things in different religions.

According to the Bible Dictionary, grace is an “enabling power” to do what we cannot do on our own. It is a “divine means of help or strength, given through the bounteous mercy and love of Jesus Christ.” It is that enabling power of grace that gives us access to His Atonement.

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Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf described grace as a powerful expression of God’s perfect and everlasting love for us. “That love is what the scriptures often call the grace of God—the divine assistance and endowment of strength by which we grow from the flawed and limited beings we are now into exalted beings of ‘truth and light, until we are glorified in truth and know all things.’”

An “endowment of strength” seems so fitting when we view grace through the lens of our deepest heartaches and most harrowing trials. Jesus Christ endows us with power as we face these struggles because He loves us. He knows that facing them head-on, armed with His grace, is how we grow and become more like Him.

Grace: An Endowment of Strength

I recently read another definition of grace that spoke to my soul. It builds upon this view of grace as an “endowment of strength” and adds another level of engagement with deity.

My cousin’s wife had a brother battling cancer. She often posted links to his blog detailing his latest health update. I had never met her brother, Jarem Hallows, before but his blog kept me interested in how he and his wife, Camilla, were coping with the cancer diagnosis. Not only would Jarem post health updates, but he would write the lessons he was learning as their family dealt with this immense trial. Every post seemed to testify of eternal truths, magnified by God’s outpouring of love for their family. He would write about the peace and hope he found in the Savior, even as the outcome of his own fight was in doubt.

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In his final blog post, Jarem wrote about how his life had been changed by grace. During this valiant, hard-fought battle with cancer, he felt personally “mentored” by the Savior.

“What I’ve been feeling more and more lately is that while grace is a gift that Christ gives us, it also comes with an invitation to engage in a mentorship, or maybe better said, an apprenticeship,” Jarem wrote. “His desire is to have a hands-on experience with every aspect of our soul so that He can stretch and mold and shape us in every needful way. He gives us His grace, the power to make it through the apprenticeship, but He wants to personally teach us the lessons over a lifetime of experiences rather than some one-time injection or magic pill.”

Jesus Christ invites us to learn from Him, then teaches us and guides us in a way that stretches us to our core and shapes our very soul.

He is our ultimate Mentor.

Brad Wilcox spoke on this concept in an LDS Living “All-in” Podcast. “Grace isn’t just a description of God’s attributes; it’s actually how He engages with us. It’s His invitation to engage with Him. It’s the power He shares with us as we strive to make those attributes our own.”

Listen to the episode in its entirety on iTunes or below:

The Savior’s grace refines us; it helps us become our best selves if  we let His enabling power do its work in us. But it is up to us to utilize its continuous influence.

“Receiving grace is like receiving a scholarship,” said Brad Wilcox, in his book Changed through His Grace. “It doesn’t guarantee learning. It facilitates it. The scholarship donor doesn’t want the money back—he or she wants it utilized.”

He doesn’t care if we pay Him back; His joy comes when we value His gift and use it to become more like Him.

Grace Given Freely

Too often we feel like we don’t deserve grace. Not yet. Others deserve it, but definitely not us! We may feel that we need to be better before we can qualify for it. We should know more, do more, be more . . . and we end up holding ourselves to a higher standard than the Lord does! There’s not some arbitrary spiritual height we must reach, as if we are riding some celestial roller coaster—“You must be this righteous to ride!” We qualify automatically, no matter where we are spiritually on the roller coaster of life, simply because the ride was built for us!

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We each have an innate sense that we can be better than what we currently are. This desire helps us grow. Elder Neal A. Maxwell called this “divine discontent.” It comes when we compare what we are to what we have the power to become.

In the October 2018 general conference, Michelle D. Craig taught:

“We have these feelings because we are daughters and sons of God, born with the Light of Christ, yet living in a fallen world. These feelings are God given and create an urgency to act. . . . Divine discontent can move us to act in faith, follow the Savior’s invitations to do good, and give our lives humbly to Him.

"We should welcome feelings of divine discontent that call us to a higher way, while recognizing and avoiding Satan’s counterfeit—paralyzing discouragement.”

When we buy into Satan’s lies and convince ourselves we must wait until we feel “worthy” to receive God’s power and help in our lives, it denies the very purpose of grace!

Grace is the strength Christ offers us in order to make us even stronger. It is His enabling power, given unconditionally, that endows us with this strength so that, with Jesus Christ at our side, we can do hard things.

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Beyond the Edge of Our Souls

Often Christ’s mentoring is most effective when we are fully immersed in the Refiner’s fire. When He forges us in the fiery furnace of affliction, we are at our most malleable, our most teachable. It is there, in the midst of our suffering, that we become most receptive to His tutelage as the Master shapes us in His image.

And then, just when we think we are at our very limit, and that our heart will simply break if it bends any more, the Savior takes us further than we ever imagined. He stretches us, He pushes us, He molds us into who He knows we can be. Sometimes we may feel like kicking and screaming along the way, but He patiently waits for us to realize that He knows better than we do. He knows what we need. He knows that if we will just hold on a little longer, we will begin to see His vision for us, one far greater than we could ever envision for ourselves.

“Forget staying in the comfortable core of our faith where we might mistake what is really His grace for some of our own ‘developed strength,’” Jarem wrote. “Christ takes us out to the edge of our soul, often to a spot we didn’t know existed, and where we can recognize in full humility that His grace is all that we have.”

Because it is there, at the edge of our soul, where He does His best work! We come to Him and offer up a heart broken seemingly beyond repair. We are finally humble enough to be teachable (Ether 12:27) and we can finally offer Him our will, fully relying on His merits. It is there where we come to know Him and that He is mighty to save (2 Nephi 31:19).

The Savior mentors us each individually, in a way wholly unique to each of us.

“As the omniscient Master Craftsman,” wrote Jarem, “the Savior knows when His apprentices need His close presence wrapped around them in order to survive, just like He knows when they need distance and silence to sort things out for themselves. He knows when to reward and when to discipline, when to use a warm blanket and when to use a fiery furnace. And His motive is always love—love that has been perfected through His own earthly experience.”

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In the end, the full measure of God’s love for us, that enabling endowment of strength, is enough to see us through all of our earthly challenges, however they turn out.

For Jarem, God’s grace saw him through to the end of his mortal journey. He passed away just seven days after he shared this final written testimony:

“So as we all suffer through unforeseen and unwanted challenges, it feels natural to ask ‘Where is God? Am I now forsaken or forgotten by His grace? When will this end? How is this going to be resolved?’ . . . Christ and His infinite love are always there and He never leaves our side, especially in the most bitter of times. Contrary to how it might feel in the moment, His grace is most prevalent and most effective in our weakness and suffering. And so we carry on . . .

‘Forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, press[ing] toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus’ (1 Philippians 3:13-14)."

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