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And the Soul Felt Its Worth

By Angela Hallstrom

I sat in my car, my hands gripping the steering wheel, glaring at the front end loader inching its way across the road. Perhaps the sheer force of my gaze could speed the thing up? But no. It lurched forward, then back, then forward, then back, performing what appeared to be a 39-point turn to nowhere. I glanced at the dashboard clock and groaned.

I was going to be late. Again.

Why did I take this route when I knew it was torn apart, under construction? Why didn’t I think? And why, oh why, was I always the only member of the Relief Society presidency who showed up to our meetings scrambling and breathless instead of composed and prepared?

When would I ever get my act together?

I’d been feeling off-balance all week. I’d missed a deadline with a publisher. A student had emailed to tell me she was “disappointed” with the way I handled a situation in class. A reader of the magazine I edit, Irreantum, had also emailed me, also “disappointed,” letting me know that he found the journal depressing. My child had brought home a progress report from school with a startlingly low math grade, which I immediately internalized as my own fault (why hadn’t I been helping more?). I’d let November go by without visiting teaching the one sister on my route who I knew needed it most. I’d been too busy to go to the gym much over the past few weeks and had been eating those stupid chocolate covered cherries (why had my husband bought them? and why was I eating them when they weren’t even that good?) and now my pants felt uncomfortably tight. And when I’d gone over to a friend’s house earlier that day, I’d noticed her blinds. They were so clean. Not a speck of dust. Why were my blinds so dirty?

Why was I always late?

Why couldn’t I get my act together?

I closed my eyes and started listening to the CD playing in my car. A Christmas mix. I’m a big fan of Christmas—usually—and on days when I felt more merry and bright I’d crank up the holiday tunes. I even indulged in singers I don’t normally listen to much: your Josh Grobans, your Celine Dions. The song playing that moment was, in fact, Celine. O Holy Night. I quieted my spinning mind for just a moment and let myself listen to the words:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining /
till he appeared, and the soul felt its worth

It was as if I’d never heard the lyrics before. The meaning of that phrase—the soul felt its worth—rang in my ears. The litany of personal faults that had been marching through my head was mundane, to be sure. I knew intellectually that dusty blinds and tight pants, missed appointments and accusatory emails, were mere trifles when I looked at my life with an eternal perspective. So why did I let these trifles consume my thoughts and chase away my peace? Didn’t I realize that Christ’s atonement covered me? It covered my sins, yes, but it covered my imperfections, too. Didn’t it? Did it cover my dusty blinds?

I looked out the window at the female construction worker holding the stop sign, huddled against the biting cold, and my mind turned to the psalm (also sung at Christmastime):

What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour.

This weary woman, out in the cold. The man in the Humvee just ahead of me. The mother and her van full of children I could see in my rear view mirror. Each of us: a child of God. Each of us: of inestimable worth.

As I sat in my car in that traffic, I realized that, yes, Christmas was about giving. But it was also about receiving. And isn’t receiving sometimes harder than giving? As much as Christmas should be about service and reaching out, shouldn’t it also be about acceptance and reaching in? The question was this: was I humble enough to stand before God just as I was in that moment, stripped of pretense and pride, in all my glorious human imperfection, and receive the gift of his son and let it cover me?

I listened to Celine sing out that final note and the traffic started moving again. Yes, I was going to be late. And no, I would never get my act together. Not in this life, at least. None of us would. Which is why I needed a Savior. Which is why I celebrated his birth.

My heart rate had slowed, my hands had released their grip on the steering wheel, and I realized that for the first time in many days I was feeling what all the Christmas cards told me I ought to be feeling: Peace.

I am grateful for God’s unconditional love. I am grateful for my Savior. He is the Good News. This is the gift of Christmas.

(You can listen Celine’s version of O Holy Night here. Even if you don’t normally listen to Celine. It’s good.)

About Angela Hallstrom

(Advisory Board) grew up in Utah, then moved to Minnesota, then came back to Utah, then packed up her husband and four kids and moved to Minnesota--again!-- in the summer of 2010. Although she loves the Land of 10,000 Lakes, she dearly misses Slurpees, Sunday dinners at her Mom's house, and eating a whole entire Cafe Rio pork salad while lunching with her Utah-based Segullah sisters. And yes, she finds it telling that everything she misses about her hometown is somehow related to food. She has an BA in English from BYU, an MFA in creative writing from Hamline University, and has taught writing to high school and college students.

29 thoughts on “And the Soul Felt Its Worth”

  1. That line has always brought incredible peace to me as well. Thanks for the reminder, Angela. And although YOU may not think you have your act together, I think you're wonderful, and I'm lucky to be your friend.

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  2. Perspective! This is my year of "the big picture"…which is so hard to remember. Good thoughts. You shared Peace with me today…thanks, and Merry Christmas!

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  3. My problem is this: so I'm not going to get my act together in this world. I'm OK with that. But all the people around me are not quite as accepting of my faults as I am or as the Savior is.

    Maybe I just need to play "O Holy Night" wherever I go so that everyone else will feel geneious and kind when I'm around.

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  4. Perfect start to my very "untogether" day! I also have been touched by O Holy Night, and this year the words "A weary world rejoices" have been resonating with me. Beautiful post.

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  5. I feel your pain. I also feel Jennie's pain. It can be painful that just as I begin to accept my imperfections and rely more on Christ there is someone more than happy to let me know that my messy life is effecting them.

    I understand the atonement, I believe in the atonement. What pains me is that it isn't an instant band-aid. My children suffer when I don't keep my tongue. My sisters are lonely when I don't visit teach them. I have to find a way to believe in the atonement for them too – that they can find peace and healing from what I've done (even if not intentionally). Is that grace?

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  6. Absolutely, jendoop. Those are the two sides to the coin of grace: healing from what we've done, and from what others have done to us. Not instantly, though–and yes, that's the hard part.

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  7. And Ang, this is beautiful! Uncanny, even. Just the other day I was trying to describe this very dynamic to someone–the moment where you let go and let yourself be a deeply flawed human being. Not that you give up trying, but that you accept yourself as you are, where you are, and suddenly realize that saving sorry losers like yourself is the whole point of the atonement. I struggled to find the right words, but you said it perfectly here.

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  8. I usually feel this way once a month, so I half expected that your story would also end with "and then my period came." PMS explains a lot, but maybe not everything, huh?

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  9. Thank you so much for this Angela. I feel SO MUCH PRESSURE at this time of year, even more than usual, just to plunge on through and get EVERYTHING done. Today I finally felt on top of things, and I let the day turn into a marathon of running out to get long underwear (for our ski trip on Monday) and hanging pictures in my bedroom. I just need to read a book or help someone or do something besides doggedly plowing through the dang list, because I'm never going to conquer it.

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  10. Jennie, I hear you. Dealing with other people's judgment or misconceptions makes it particularly difficult for me to feel God's love. Maybe that's why I had this epiphany while I was alone in my car??

    And Jendoop, you are exactly right: it's one thing if other people are judging me unfairly, but it's another if their judgment is right on the money. I *have* let them down. I *did* make a mistake. But when I acknowledge myself as a flawed human being, I'm surprisingly much more able to apologize for my mistakes and repent of my sins because I'm not as invested in the appearance of never doing or saying anything wrong. I don't have this overwhelming need to justify myself. (I hope this makes sense.)

    If I'm supposed to be perfect, I have to make sure that the story I tell myself–the "why" behind my bad behavoir–absolves me from responsibility. (My visiting teachee is ridiculously hard to connect with! That "disappointed" reader who emailed me has no interest in real art!) While both of these examples contain an element of truth, if I feel like God will only love me (or I can only love myself) if I'm doing everything right all the time, then I'm waaaay more likely to see those stories as the WHOLE truth. I'm much less likely to acknowledge my own culpability in the situation and resolve to do better.

    And Kathy's right about another paradox: When I acknowledge that I AM a sorry loser in need of saving, that's when I feel God's love most acutely and start to get my head around the meaning of the atonement. When I allow myself–and others–to be imperfect, I understand better the worth of my own soul. It's a difficult thing to articulate, especially because it can come off sounding like it's okay to sit back and do nothing. But isn't it true that when we're not desperately trying to prove ourselves, we then have the requisite energy and love to do what God wants us to do with our lives in the first place?

    And yes, I realize this comment is almost as long as the post. Long-windedness is yet another of my many faults. 🙂

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  11. Angela,
    Thank you so much for this little snippet of peace. I needed to hear that others are as imperfect as I am, but that I am still worthy to be saved by the atonement. Beautifl.and Wonderful. thank you.

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  12. Kathryn and Angela thanks.

    I do need to be more willing to admit mistakes and sins. It would be nice if we could realize that we're all doing what we can. Sometimes it would be nice to be recognized just for doing what I can – not that I'm perfect but that I gave it my all – which falls short and looks like a jumbled mess.

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  13. jendoop,
    Ether 12:23-26 has brought me a lot of comfort as I have struggled with the realization that my weakness is there and can cause others pain and frustration. We often quote v 27, but the other verses remind us that weakness is not just for our own development of humility, but for others' development of meekness and charity (and, of course, our own meekness and charity when dealing w/ others' weakness). The way I read those verses, in the end, mortal weakness (our own and others' that affects us) is part of the plan of coming to Christ, of becoming charitable through grace (v 36-37).
    Another key, imo, is to discern between weakness and sin. Wendy Ulrich's book on that topic is now at the top of my list of books that have helped me the most.

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  14. Angela, thank you for expressing in such a profound and beautiful way exactly what I needed to hear today.

    And for the record, I'm always late to my presidency meetings, too, and I'm always thinking, "Why can't I get my act together?"

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  15. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU – what a beautiful post and just as beautiful comments. i needed this today – just like the rest of us.

    i always think – i'll be ok, when…… – ok, now i can say it – IN GLORY! there may be a few minutes before then, but they are fleeting. in fact now i can do more efficiently because pressure is off and the atonement is on!

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  16. Lovely Angela. Thank you.

    This has been a favorite of mine since I was a child plunking away at it for the Christmas piano recital year after year. But I don't know that I ever paid that much attention to the words. One of the phrases I note over and over is that "all oppression shall cease" only I keep hearing it in my head as "all depression shall cease." Won't that be something to rejoice about as well?!

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  17. I know I'm coming to this a couple of days late, but I wanted to let you know how much I needed and appreciated this. I'm continually going through this process: the understanding that Christ's atonement covers my weaknesses and that he knows I'm imperfect and loves me and can use me anyway vs. the beating myself up about the pain I cause others and myself because of my weaknesses. I wish I could learn the lesson once and for all, but it seems to be something that doesn't sink in! Thanks for another beautiful reminder: yet one more reason I love Segullah.

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