I did a double take.
I’d expected my father-in-law to walk into the chapel. Although not in our ward, he was visiting from out of state for the holidays.
But Elder Dallin H. Oaks? I blinked and looked again.
Sure enough, my father-in-law entered the chapel with the apostle, the two chatting as if they were old chums. Papa Mortenson waved at us, and Elder Oaks waved, too. They parted ways as my father-in-law found a seat in the congregation and Elder Oaks walked to the stand to shake hands with the surprised bishopric.
I felt like I was in a superhero movie discovering that I had super-heightened senses. I became ultra aware of my body--how awkward and sweaty my hands felt in my lap, the throbbing behind my eyes from too-little sleep after a late family dinner, the sound of my hair rustling on the back of my coat.
In this new sense of embodiment, I watched Elder Oaks sitting on the stand while I waited for the meeting to start. And it hit me: He’s a real person.
This may seem like a strange realization, but surely I’m not the only one who tends to forget that other people are their own souls and have inner thoughts embodied within flesh and bones?
Especially when it’s someone who, like Elder Oaks, really only touches my life through a TV or computer screen. Such individuals can seem less tangible—like they exist primarily as an idea or a concept. I don't often stop to think that they might be hot in their suitcoat or are hiding a tickle in their throat or can feel the fibers of a hymnbook as they turn the pages.
But there he was, an apostle of the Lord. Later, when he sat one seat away from me in Relief Society, I could even hear his voice during the closing hymn.
Pondering this brought me to another stunning realization—Christ, too, has a body. He really lives. He’s a physical being. If He were here, He could sit next to me on the bench and put His arm around me. I’d be able to feel the pressure, the warmth.
Of course, I’d always believed that Christ had a body, but it had never sunk so deep.
Tears came to my eyes as I pictured Christ by my side in a variety of everyday situations. It changed everything to imagine Him reaching out to give me a hug in a moment of stress, whispering in my ear when I was at a loss for words, or seeing the expression of love on His face when I was struggling.
In Luke 24:39 Jesus tells his disciples, “Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have.”
Although most of us will not have the opportunity to “behold” the Savior with our physical eyes in this life, I find it remarkable that the definition of “behold” also includes perceiving through apprehension, or in other words, perceiving mentally.
Mentally beholding Christ’s physical presence can increase our ability to recognize His influence in our lives. The phrase, “What would Jesus do?” is easier to find an answer to when we picture Him walking in our shoes and interacting with the people we associate with.
As I sang with the ward choir for the Christmas program that Sunday, I was extra-conscious that an apostle was in the room. I put added energy into each song, secretly hoping that if Elder Oaks glimpsed my face he’d be able to see light and conviction.
In a similar manner, when we think of Christ being physically present in our lives, it helps us be more engaged and conscientious in our efforts to be like Him. Like the lyrics of the primary song “If the Savior Stood Beside Me” suggest, we should live our lives as if the Savior is near us because, in reality, He always is.
It also helps when we feel like our strength is sapped, our spirits confused, or our hearts burdened. In my experience, it's easier to trust in the Savior and give my burden to Him when I imagine Him holding me up, taking my hand to lead me, or meeting my eyes to give comforting words.
As we roll into the 2017 Christmas season, let’s take time to behold the Christ Child and to ponder on the stable scene as a physical reality. Let Christ walk with you. Let Him enfold you in His arms and guide you on His errand—because He lives.