I was sitting recently with my son Warren listening to some sacred music. He looked up at me and asked, in his little husky two-year-old voice, “What this song about Mama?”
“It’s about Jesus Christ.”
I walked him over to a picture that we have sitting in our front room. The picture, a painting of Jesus rising out of the tomb by artist Simon Dewey, was gifted to our family the day of my Mom’s funeral. A depiction of resurrection, of new life, of redemption and power and the ability to overcome, given the day we buried her.
As I held Warren, I told him as plainly as I could that Jesus Christ came to earth to help us understand love, unity, power and healing. I told Warren that he is loved, and that he will feel the strength and love of Jesus Christ as he grows.
Warren listened, then pointed to the black square behind Jesus in the painting, the tomb entrance, and said, “Mom, he go in the dark side? I go in the dark side too?” Now, for context, you need to understand that Warren loves to “go in the dark side,” which means to run into a room or a closet and close the door and hide where it’s dark. It usually lasts no longer than 30 seconds, but it’s very thrilling for him. His question stirred depth and feeling in me, and with tears, I affirmed that Warren may go “in the dark side” one day too.
The “dark side” is a place we are taught to avoid. A place of devils and demons (sometimes our own), bad guys and monsters, fear, loss, confusion. We condemn it, shame it, and teach, in every way that we can possibly think of, to avoid the darkness at all costs. It is there, that we hear “wailing and gnashing of teeth”; there that we cannot see the light and cannot feel truth.
One night a couple of years ago, I found myself trying to keep my head above water while waves of emotion pummeled me until I could physically no longer stand. It was late in the evening, and trying to find a container for my overwhelming feelings, I locked myself in our little tiny bathroom and crumpled onto the tile floor. I was exhausted and confused, feeling completely broken and empty. My hurt and tears filled that small room as the pain crashed over me again, again, again and again. My beautiful 3 month old baby slept peacefully in the bedroom connected to the wall I was slumped against, and my husband sat helplessly in our bedroom on the other side of the door, where I had pushed him away.
My Mom had died 6 months before Warren was born. We had rushed to be with her in the hospital, and watched the numbers fall on the vitals screen until she passed. Weeks after her funeral I learned her death had been intentional, and for months afterwards I created every story possible to justify her passing, to assure myself it had not been her choice, and to give her redemption from my own power.
The stories, the image of her lifeless body, and the responsibility of my son’s life riddled every vessel in me with anxiety. I could not find rest. I had been praying, crying to God for relief. Daily. Hourly. I had asked for help. I had asked to know what more could be done—for my mother and for my child. Where can I turn for peace? Please. Please help me. Please. But I had felt no peace.
I desperately missed Mom. I had missed her for years before she had passed. When I thought of her life I felt so much confusion, so much anger and sorrow and longing. I needed my mother. I needed someone to hold me on that bathroom floor. To come to me, to hold my child when my arms could not, to brush my hair away from my sweaty face, to listen to and hold my fears. I needed the assurance that my Mom was just a phone call away, and that I could talk to her and have her love me in a way only a mother could.
As I felt this all, a new image poured into me: Mom, sitting desperate on her own bathroom floor, the nights, weeks and months before she had left. The picture was fuzzy, but the feelings….they were tangible. A new wave of pain overcame me. My longing, just a second before, paled in comparison to what I felt now. My own agony paled in light of what I was suddenly experiencing. Beliefs of depleted worth and deserved isolation dug into my heart and mind, angry and ferocious, veined with fear and desperation.
In an instant, my tears and breath both stopped.
These new feelings, this deeper hunger for love and comfort, was not mine. It was hers.
New sobs poured from my heart as I understood that I was feeling her pain, and as I cried, I ached with my Mom. I ached with her, in that image of her crying on her own bathroom floor. As her beliefs, her false sense of self and fears rammed me, I saw the reality of a man clinging to a rock in a garden called Gethsemane. A man, with an understanding of His own divinity and infinite capacity, sit in solidarity with the pain of those He loved. And in that moment, He loved deeply the entire human race.
Is this what the Atonement actually is? I wondered as I gave room for my Mom’s pain to breathe in and out of me. My love for her felt infinite, and I saw her as a child, a broken heart, a soul veiled by fear and misunderstandings. If Christ came to teach us how to become like God, then wasn’t what I was experiencing part of that becoming? If my potential is to be like Him, then could I feel a small piece of what He felt in that garden? That was the whole point, wasn’t it? That a child of God would come to earth to live a human life, with full clarity about who He was, why He was here, and what He would work to become, and help us to do the same. Isn’t that the message of the gospel, the good news, that we are made pure and able through universal, infinite, grace-laden love…the love of an infinite God?
Peace held me, as I picked myself off of the floor, slightly stunned by what I had experienced, and carried myself to bed. I think I actually slept that night. And though my longing for my Mom, for help and rest, didn’t subside, a new room had been built in me for this love to abide. A new and unknown place for my wandering soul to find refuge as I constructed my new reality.
I believe I embodied a sliver of the Atonement that night. Though minuscule, I believe that as I felt my Mom’s agony, I was experiencing the actual message of the gospel. I grasped the truth of His invitation to be even as He is—that our capacity and potential to feel, mourn, carry and honor the worth and depth of one another is as limitless as His.
That’s why (I believe) He came: to show us how we can be alive and empowered in the love and glory of God, here and now; and that as we live with this power and love, we can heal the broken hearts and veiled souls of our brothers and sisters. If we can truly mourn with those that mourn, and stand with those who are in need of comfort, we can heal one another, and one by one, heal this eternal family.
As I’ve continued to ponder my experience, I find myself reaching for dark places, for the unknown corners of my being. Darkness offers a sacred place for retreat, healing and transformation. It is where life is prepared to be born— the womb that all life comes from. It was in the darkness of Gethsemane, in the darkness of the tomb, that Jesus Christ’s power as a Son of God was fulfilled. It was in the darkness that He carried the love and pain of the world on His own shoulders, and learned to trust God’s promise that He was able to all things. It was in the darkness that he was reborn, and rose as the Savior.
This memory filled me today as I sat with Warren’s question, “I go to the dark side too, Mama?” Subtle fear coursed through me for just a heartbeat before it was replaced by hope. Hope that Warren will indeed “go to the dark side”, where he will learn the reality of his own power as a child of God. That in the dark nights of his soul, which he undoubtedly will have as a human being, he will know what it means to actually walk by faith, and that his faith will evolve to trust in love. I hope that darkness will be holy to him, because it is there that he will create a path lit by the light of his own soul, a soul created by the infinite love of God, a soul he can trust. It is through darkness that we are born again and again and again, and the resurrection transforms our human limitations to endless power and creation.