The Amazing Race

Recently, one of the inmates here on our prison yard has been in touch with a charity that is important to him. It helps disabled children, and those children are soon going to be running a 7K race to help raise money and awareness for their organization. My fellow inmate decided he wanted to organize a small 7K run here. His goal was to have it occur weeks before the one run by the charity so we could write about our experience and send it to them beforehand so they would know they had supporters, even here in prison. He presented the idea and immediately there were a few of us interested in participating.

Now, I know some people have a stereotype that everyone in prison works out. While there are some that do, most don’t. While I do some exercise, I am NOT a runner. That’s just not what I do, and interestingly, that seemed to be the case for most of those wanting to participate in this run. We had only one official training run before the day of the event.

On our track here, it takes 22 laps to run 7 kilometers. There were fifteen of us at the start and we all had different goals. Some people had goals of how fast they wanted to go and some just wanted to finish. My personal goal was to finish the run without stopping to walk, even if it meant going really slow. That morning, we had a brief word by our organizer about the purpose of our run. It was interesting to me to notice that there were inmates of all ages, ethnicity, religions, and reasons for being in prison. There was a nervous energy because this was out of our comfort zone to run like this, but we wanted to do it for the cause.

There are usually not more than a couple of solitary runners using the track at any one time so it created a little bit of a stir when one of the inmates yelled, “Go!” and fifteen of us started running. It surprised the guards and it took a few seconds for them to realize that we had no ill intentions! Inmates around the yard noticed what we were doing and started asking questions. Soon, it seemed like the whole yard knew that we were all running 22 laps as part of a charity run. Some inmates acted like fans and started asking us how many laps we had left and encouraged us to keep going.

We all ran at different paces. When I was at about the 15 lap mark, I felt like I was going to stop and walk a lap or so. There were others walking, and I knew I would still finish, but I would not accomplish my goal. Just as I was about to walk, one of the other runners passed me and said, “You’re doing great, don’t stop now!” It was just the motivation I needed and I never did stop to walk.

Some of the faster runners had started to finish their run, and when I got toward my last lap, I didn’t know if my legs could keep going. Then, just when my body was about to give out, one of the people who had already completed his run asked me how long I had to go. When I told him I was starting my last lap, he said that even though was finished, he’d join me. He stayed by my side, talking me through the last lap, encouraging me, and helping me to get it done. As I finished the race, I felt so good that I had finished and accomplished my goal. I knew that a big reason for my success was the help of others.

Soon after I finished, one racer who had two laps left decided to quit, saying he just couldn’t do it and he was done. The rest of us encouraged him, and after just a few seconds, he decided to finish. As he got to his last lap, I remembered what had helped me, and I and another participant who had finished jumped back in to run the last lap with our final finisher. It was as if having us by his side gave him new life. He ran with energy and was able to finish the race. Even though he had considered quitting, he was immediately grateful that he finished and that he had help to do it. All fifteen of us had completed the race.

I felt so good afterwards, and I know that part of that is because it was such a different experience than often happens here. This place is often negative and some bad things happen here. So to go through something like this was a huge lift. I thought about the fact that so many people on the outside think of prisoners negatively, and as a scourge on society. Then I realized that even though I am an inmate as well, I often fall into the easy habit of judging people in here, based on something I have heard about them or have seen them do.

This race was a big reminder to me of the divine potential of all of God’s children. No matter what we have done, who we are, or where we are, we all have the potential to change. We all have the potential to help others. It is inside each of us. What I saw during that race was goodness. It is so important to remember that even when I am down on myself for past mistakes, that goodness, that divine potential is there. And when I see others who are making mistakes, I need to remember that the same potential for change is there, and I need to treat them as such.

I guess I could say that this race is a little bit like life. In life, we have to do difficult things. We need to set positive goals and work towards them. We can receive help from the Holy Spirit and from those around us. When we feel like giving up, we must rely on the help available to us. And just as importantly, we can be the one to help others, and step in when they are about to give up. We can be the reason they make it.

Lie #10 – Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are Too Busy to be Involved in Most Aspects of My Life

I have felt divine intervention in many major aspects of my life.  I felt guided in decisions regarding family and career choices. I feel I have served in callings, including my mission location, that were truly inspired.  However, when it comes to the smaller details of my life, I felt that those were in my own hands. Not only did this lead to the pride described before which doesn’t acknowledge divine help, but it allowed me to justify events in my life as not mattering.  It also prevented me from seeing the importance of seeking the Lord’s will in many decisions.

Elder Ronald Rasband has taught the truth regarding this topic: “Our lives are like a chessboard, and the Lord moves us from one place to another—if we are responsive to spiritual promptings.  Looking back, we can see His hand in our lives.” Believing this lie made me not notice these spiritual promptings. Elder Rasband continues and teaches us that Christ is in the small details of our lives as well as the major milestones.  Even our trials are guided by Him and are for our good as taught in Doctrine and Covenants 122:7: ” . . . if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” 

Once I started becoming aware of this truth, I was able to identify the daily, if not hourly, interventions in my life.  Seeing that He cares for me that much and is that aware of my life, gives me new faith in the ability to seek His will and accept it, even if it goes against what I want or feel is best.  Realizing this truth helps me move toward being able to say and honestly feel the expression in Hymn #134 which says, “I believe in Christ, so come what may.” Their divine involvement in my life is just another evidence of the love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for us.

What are some ways you notice divine guidance in even the smaller aspects of day to day life?

Lie #9 – Having the Gospel Brings Peace

This may seem like a true statement, but once again, partial truths can be deceiving.  I often heard people going through trials which seemed huge to me talk about how they were able to receive peace from the gospel.  I never really felt that peace the way I thought I should. I even taught on my mission that if people heard the gospel, they would have a new peace come into their lives, even though I had not personally felt it.  Since being compelled to humility, I have changed the way that I live. Still far from perfect, but earnestly trying, I have felt the peace others have spoken of, even in the midst of a period of my life with many unknowns in the future.  I realized that the word that causes this to be a lie is “having”. For having the gospel can bring a certain level of peace, but living the gospel is what leads us to the comfort offered by the Holy Ghost.  Hymn #14 starts, “Sweet is the peace the gospel brings”, but it doesn’t stop there.  It completes that sentence with “to seeking minds and true.” I need to do my part and not just have the gospel in order to experience this peace.

Several months after I was incarcerated, fires raged through our area and demolished entire neighborhoods.  Over 5,000 homes were destroyed. Due to my limited contact with the outside world, I did not know if my house had been burned.  I knew my family had been evacuated and was given information both that my neighborhood had been burned and that it had not been burned.  For nearly two days, I didn’t know. Yet I felt an incredible peace. I didn’t worry at all about our things and knew that as long as my family was ok, we would be fine.  I didn’t even feel stress about not knowing. This experience showed me the peace I had heard others describe and made me realize that living the gospel truly does bring sweet peace.

What differences have you noticed in your life between simply having the gospel and living the gospel? I look forward to reading your experiences.

Lie #7 – Expressing My Reliance on God is Just Something I Am Supposed to Say

I heard it all the time.  Everyone from the prophet in General Conference to the basketball player who makes the winning shot thanks God and expresses that they owe everything to Him.  So, I said it too. And in some ways, I believed it. I know I owe my life to God. He gave me my family, for which I am extremely grateful. But if I gave credit to God for everything, it meant that my accomplishments were not of my own doing.  And that was difficult for my pride to accept. When people complimented me on a talk I gave or a piano solo I played, it felt good, and I didn’t want to give the credit away. When I got a promotion at work, it was because of my skills and my abilities.  I could acknowledge God’s assistance, but most of the work was my own. Or so I thought. In my current situation, I am completely reliant on others, including God. I can do nothing of myself. Every temporal and spiritual need is provided by others and support from the other side of the veil.  As I was being compelled to humility, I couldn’t deny that in this difficult situation I was totally reliant on the Lord. However, the truth I have learned is that this has always been the case. My successes in life were due to attributes provided to me by God. My opportunities were due to the family I was born into.  Nothing came from me anymore then than it does now. Believing this lie led me to rely on sources other than God. It taught me to rely more on worldly sources for my support rather than spiritual. Coming to see the truth has allowed me to receive even more gifts and spiritual experiences from God. For once we acknowledge and give gratitude for the gifts we have already received, we are much more likely to be given further light.

What experiences have you had to help you realize just how much you need to rely on God? I would really love to hear from you.

Lie #6 – Confession is Always Sufficient Between Only The Lord and Me

From the time I was a teenager, I believed that it is just not necessary to confess to man. I doubted Bishops’ abilities to hold confidentiality, and I subscribed to the theory that only God can judge me.  But in reality, this was just a fear and rationalization. A fear of man and a fear of consequences. I rationalized that I didn’t actually need to tell anyone about my sins. That led to me never really addressing those sins and continuing to do them.  Holding to this belief also symbolized that I did not want to change my behavior. Now, of course, there are many times in our lives, daily actually, where repentance can and should be done with prayer and that alone is sufficient. But I know now that if any guilt or resentment remains, further repentance is necessary.  Due to my current situation, I have not yet been able to act on this new knowledge and confess to a church leader, so my testimony of this principle is far from complete.  Yet I recognize believing this lie allowed me to continue to justify my behavior.  It also allowed me to not be sincere in any repentance attempts. Colleen Harrison wrote, “As long as it is only to God that we do our confessing, we are still prey to the lie that if someone else, someone mortal, knew all about us, they would hate us or shun us in revulsion.”  We cannot allow our fear of man to exceed our desire to be clean again.

What thoughts do you have on the idea of confessing to man?

Lie #5 – The Atonement is Important, But it is Not Something I Feel in my Life

I have given lessons and talks on the atonement, yet I had never recognized feeling it in my life.  I knew it was a necessary principle that made it so even as a sinner I could live in heaven someday.  And I believe that, and it is true. However, I did not recognize the impact it was having on my life, and I certainly didn’t realize the incredible greater impact it could have on my life if I allowed it to.  One excuse I gave to myself for not repenting was that if I acknowledged a sin, it meant more suffering for Christ, and repenting added to that suffering. However, in forming a more personal relationship with Christ, I have come to know an important truth.  Christ did not suffer because of me, He suffered for me.  

If I don’t acknowledge my sins and repent, I am not honoring His sacrifice, and I am making it so His suffering was in vain.  By opening my soul to those ideas, I have been flooded with the comfort that has been promised. As I have gone through my recent trials, I can’t imagine where I would be without the comfort that comes from His atoning sacrifice.  I have also learned that part of the reason that the atonement is so important is that its purpose is much more than just providing a way to repent of sins. The atonement’s power and reach truly are infinite.

Have you ever struggled to make the atonement more than just an abstract idea in your life? Please comment and share your ideas to make the Atonement of Jesus Christ powerful in your daily life.

Lie #4 – Christ Cannot Really Know How I Feel

Once again, despite many teachings to the contrary, I had long believed that Jesus can’t feel what I am feeling.  It did not make sense that someone so perfect could feel tempted in the way that I am or feel some of the negative emotions that I feel.  But in coming to the realization that the scriptures do apply to me, I have learned that this is a lie. By believing this, it led me to feel that Christ didn’t understand me, so I was more hesitant to take my problems to Him.  As mortals, we are able to help comfort each other in a variety of situations. But none more so than when we have experienced the same trial and have true empathy and understanding.  

This is one more way support groups are successful, as people along the same difficult roads help support each other.  Christ is our ultimate source of comfort. He uses the Holy Ghost to give us support and comfort through every trial and temptation we will have.  Alma 7:12 teaches that Christ takes upon Him our 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.’’  He could not do this without, as verse 11 teaches, “suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind.” Knowing that Jesus Christ does know how I feel, and that He does understand the trials and temptations I am facing helps me to seek and then accept His help.

Has it ever been a challenge for you to accept that Christ can truly know how you feel? How have you been able to overcome this challenge? Please share with me your experiences.

Lie #3 – The Idea of Having a Truly Personal Relationship With Christ is Not Realistic

I have always believed in Christ.  I have never doubted His existence, His goodness, or His desire for me to be a good person.  Yet, when I heard people talk about their personal relationship with Christ, I felt they were exaggerating. I did not feel it was possible for me as a mortal to have a personal relationship with Him.  I suppose in some ways I viewed Christ as an object to worship rather than as a person.

I was once asked in an interview with my Stake President to tell him about my relationship with Christ.  I was confused about how to answer the question. I told my Stake President that Christ was my brother and Savior because I knew those were the right answers, but I said nothing of an actual relationship.

Perhaps the most significant change in my life the last couple of years has been realizing this lie and coming to form a relationship with Jesus Christ.  President James E. Faust has described this lie saying, “We may not feel a closeness with Him because we think of Him as being far away, or we do not think of Him as a real person.”  He then explains that the greatest need in all of the world is “for every person to have a personal, ongoing, daily, continuing relationship with Deity. Nothing can make a greater difference in our lives.”

Nephi exemplifies this relationship in 2 Nephi 33:6 in saying, “I glory in my Jesus.”  I have come to know that He is also my Jesus and He wants a relationship with me.  I have felt Him closer to me as I have followed the examples of prophets in communicating directly with Christ.  While formal prayer is always directly to Heavenly Father, Nephi, Enos, Alma, Joseph Smith and many others shared times when they cried out to Christ and communicated with Him.  For me, this has turned Christ from an object into a loving friend, supporter, advocate, and brother. I can feel of His love for me on a daily basis. I feel comfortable expressing my deepest feelings, fears, and desires to Him.  As I do that, our relationship continues to be strengthened.  

I recently visited with that Stake President, and I reminded him of the question he had once asked me.  I shared with him the difficulty I had answering at the time. He asked me the question again, and I could barely get the words out through the tears, as I felt this new personal, loving relationship with my Jesus.

What experiences have led you to realize you can have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? How does that relationship influence your life? Leave a reply to share how you feel.