On Anger and the Atonement
by Becky Watson
To say I was ‘angry’ doesn’t quite cut it. ‘Livid’ wasn’t much better. Furious, irate, irascible … I had surpassed all of these long before.
A near member of my family had made some devastating choices that had changed – forever – all of our lives. Because of someone else’s mistakes, I was daily facing the consequences.
And I was mad.
It was an anger that consumed me. I had trouble sleeping. Constant stomachaches. I could think of nothing else during the day – just the same dizzying thoughts, shouting circles in my head. It took all of my mental energy to merely function – and frankly I wasn’t doing that very well. I kept my three small children alive, but that was about it. I was tense all the time with a boulder on my brain; I had zero patience or capacity to care for their pebble-sized problems. Even now, years later, my breath quickens and my fists clench at the thought of that time.
My anger was justified. I had been wronged. Severely and irreversibily. People I loved were suffering. And all because of someone who absolutely knew better – and worse, someone we loved. The betrayal tinged my anger a deep black, infecting my wound to a festering point.
I didn’t want to feel this way. I knew it was poisoning me – and by extent, my family. Forgiveness, after all, is medicine for the one on the receiving end of sin. I needed to forgive for my own sake.
I did all the right things. I prayed until my knees were literally raw. I read the scriptures any spare minute I could. I arranged sitters and went to the temple weekly – sometimes two or three times a week. I sung hymns on repeat, trying to quiet the shouting voices in my head.
But a few months later, the rage was still just as raw, the voices just as gutteral.
One night, I got up from my prayer with a jerk. Frustrated to breaking point. “Apply the Atonement!” I snorted to my husband. “Apply the Atonement, everyone says. To forgive, to love your enemy, you must APPLY THE ATONEMENT. But how? It’s not an ointment I can open up and rub on. It’s not a cold compress I can press to a bruised soul. What am I doing wrong? I’m trying so hard to forgive!” I demanded of my companion. My partner. My best friend.
He paused, searching my eyes. Perhaps testing if I was ready to hear the truth.
“You can’t, Becky.”
“You can’t. You can’t forgive.” And then my partner became my teacher.
Forgiveness is not ours to achieve. We cannot “earn” it. The fact is. the person I wanted so desperately to love again was already forgiven – by our Savior and Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. HE had forgiven this person. HE loved them. And if I ever hoped to feel that way, I had to ask for that gift. I could not hum my way ouf of it. I could not read my way out of it. I certainly couldn’t serve my way out of my anger.
My fury was a wall I had been pushing for so long, determined to make move. I had exhausted myself trying to do the impossible. I had to step aside, admitting that I was powerless to budge it, and let the Master take over.
“Applying the Atonement” – that ubiquitous cure-all – meant acknowledging my inability to fix my problems. It wasn’t a weakness issue; it was a capacity issue. I was unable to forgive this person because he was already forgiven. I could not find a solution; it was already found. I had to release the mental dam I had built in my head and tap into the flood of love and charity that was waiting for both of us – me, and the subject of my suffering.
Once I stopped trying to fix it myself, my prayers changed. My heart changed. Almost overnight, the dark burden of anger I had been shouldering for so long disappeared. In its place, love and compassion swelled. Where there was darkness, light shone. Where once I had slumped under the heavy weight of anger, “walking on air” took new meaning.
That infinite, incomprehensible suffering that Christ experienced in the Garden of Gethsemane covers all. All. My mortal mind may not comprehend the how, but my heart fully understands the why. Because the Savior of mankind loves us. And that is enough.