This summer, at a family reunion, my lovely, light-filled girl was engulfed in a paralyzing darkness. Unable to face the world, she isolated herself, hiding in the sleeping bag on her bunk.
Oh my sweet, wonderful child! I could not understand, nor fathom the enormity of her pain but I did feel some of it. I ached for the agony, whatever it was, that was keeping her away from us and I ached at the loss of the experiences she was missing because of the agony that was keeping her away from us.
So I prayed. In my prayer I shared these feelings with my Heavenly Father. After sharing the feelings, I thought to make a deal with Him. I’ve read of people who make deals with Diety—If you will help me with [whatever], I will do [something]—but I could not think of anything I could promise to do or to give to my Heavenly Father that I have not already promised Him. And I could not promise to do anything better because I am already doing the best I can. I’m certainly not perfect but I’m holding nothing back. I am honest in my efforts.
Having failed to find a deal I could make, I thought to offer to take her pain on myself—let me suffer her anxiety and let her enjoy my health—but I was paused in my thought. Could I handle it? I wasn’t sure if I was strong enough or loving enough to handle the burden she has to carry; it is truly a tremendous load and I really enjoy having good health. And I couldn’t sincerely offer to take her burden until I knew that I had enough love and strength to carry it.
I was searching my soul for strength and love when the Spirit stopped me. “You don’t have to carry her burden,” I was told, “because Christ already has.”
Selfish, personal relief and deep, deep gratitude filled my heart. My question was moot. I would not have to find the strength necessary to carry her load because the task was already done. Christ, in His infinite atonement, already did it. Christ has carried my loads and the loads of the ones I love. Done.
This is the true gift of Christmas. Christ the Child was born and we celebrate His birth. But His birth was only the necessary antecedent to His Atonement and this, His Atonement, is the true gift. The Atonement, guaranteeing our resurrection and offering us exaltation, also grants compassion.
In the scriptures compassion literally means “to suffer with”. Speaking of Christ, Alma wrote “And he shall go forth suffering pains, and afflictions and temptations of every kind…he will take upon him their infirmities that his bowels may be filled with mercy…that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities” (Alma 7:11-12, underlining added). He knows. He knows how it hurts and He knows how to help. And He will help. With intimate understanding of our pain and infinite compassion for our suffering, He will help. This is Christmas’ true gift.