“And they taste the bitter, that they may know to prize the good” (Moses 6:55).
I feel a sense of anticipation as the deacon approaches our pew. My son passes the tray to me, and I slowly bring a piece of bread to my lips. The Savior knows what it’s like to have a broken body, I reflect. He understands what it’s like for me to feel broken.
I chew on that truth as I swallow the bread.
He felt fatigue. He somehow bore the pain of the dizziness, headaches, insomnia, and other random, disconnected symptoms that plague my body. He knows that physical pain can bring with it emotional, mental, and spiritual anguish. He comprehends fear and frustration, discouragement and despair. He understands feeling alone. In every way, He has tasted of the brokenness that mortality can bring.
I realize how much chronic illness has helped me appreciate the Atonement. These emblems of His sacrifice have gained greater depth and meaning for me.
As I wait for the cup, I reflect with gratitude on how I have repeatedly seen and felt God’s love and awareness during these past six years. Fresh on my mind are the miracles of the previous week, when a sacrament meeting became sacred space for me.
* * *
My eyes scanned the pastel-clad congregation as I walked toward the choir seats. So many people I don’t know; so many people who don’t know me. The new building, the new faces—everything felt so foreign. I knew in my heart that I would come to love these people. But today I craved the familiar, familial comfort of worshipping with those who could look into my eyes and just know. It was one of those days.
I took a seat behind the organ. Attempting to distract myself from the discouragement and hopelessness I felt, I focused my attention on my husband, Matt, while he played the prelude music. This was his first day as ward organist and, surprisingly, I’d never had the opportunity before now to watch him play.
Matt’s footwork fascinated me. He used both heel and toe, in carefully organized combination, to bring the rich bass notes to life. His lips had that familiar curl I had seen so often when he played the piano with passion. My feelings were tender as I watched his face, pinched with concentration; the music, and his role in the meeting, clearly mattered to him.
As close as I was, I could sense his tension; my own stomach clenched in nervous knots. When Elder Dallin H. Oaks took his seat on the stand, those knots intensified. So did the prayers in my heart. Please help Matt play well, to bring the Spirit to the meeting as he desires to do.
I wasn’t prepared for the flood of feelings that came as we began the opening hymn.
Christ the Lord is ris’n today, Alleluia!
Music has always had a significant role in my spiritual life, but I had never experienced it quite like this before. Watching Matt had left me invested in the music, connected to it through sight, thoughts, emotion, and prayer. Now, sandwiched between organ and congregation, I felt the hymn’s power. From behind, each note’s vibrations resonated through my body. Coming at me, to me, was the full force and volume of the unified voices of the congregation. These physical sensations of sound amplified the music’s impact on my spirit.
Choked with emotion, I attempted to continue the hymn. My heart filled in where my vocal chords failed.
Love’s redeeming work is done . . . Fought the fight, the vict’ry won . . . Jesus’ agony is o’er . . . Darkness veils the earth no more . . . Where, O death is now thy sting? . . . Where thy victory, O grave?
Even as I felt the power of the Spirit as we sang, the chasm between what I should have been feeling on this Easter Sunday (Joy! Celebration! Triumph!) and what I was feeling (discouragement, weariness, hopelessness) left me with a deep ache, a mixture of sorrow and shame. All-too-familiar questions trickled into my mind. Why? How long? What more is there to learn? When will it be enough? Am I passing my test? Will this cup ever pass?
Like Martha of old, I knew someday the resurrection would come. My body would be raised, healed of all its ailments. It would be filled with lasting life. But just as Martha had yearned to have her pain prevented in the present, recognition of the resurrection was not enough at this moment to assuage the current sting of my struggles.
I thought I might be able to sing the sacrament hymn with more success. I was wrong. As we prepared for the ordinance through song, I was sobered by the reminder that the Savior didn’t murmur in His moments of agony as I often do. But then I was tenderly taught.
Father, from me, remove this cup. Yet, if thou wilt, I’ll drink it up.
No, He didn’t murmur. But He did ask if His cup could pass. I felt the Spirit start to penetrate the darkness in my soul, to lighten my burden. Feelings of guilt and self-reproach began to dissipate. It is not sinful to desire my cup to pass. Hope and strength started to replace the almost-paralyzing despair and weariness I had felt.
Still unable to sing, I focused on trying to drink in the Spirit’s peace as we concluded the sacrament hymn. As I partook of the symbols of the Savior’s sacrifice, I pondered on the heaven-sent impressions that had come. I resolved to accept the Savior’s empathy and follow His example of willing submission more fully.
But the Lord was not done sending strength to my spirit. A woman I didn’t know poignantly spoke of the recent loss of her sweetheart, and of other trials that had tested her faith. She quoted a talk by Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin that sent the Spirit’s power rippling through my soul.
“Each of us will have our own Fridays—those days when the universe itself seems shattered and the shards of our world lie littered about us in pieces. We all will experience those broken times when it seems we can never be put together again. We will all have our Fridays.
“But I testify to you in the name of the One who conquered death—Sunday will come. In the darkness of our sorrow, Sunday will come.
“No matter our desperation, no matter our grief, in this life or the next, Sunday will come.”1
By this point, I was chiding myself for forgetting, yet again, to tuck tissues into my scripture case. My efforts to sniffle subtly were embarrassingly inadequate. The only option I had was to bow my head and take comfort in the fact that the organ hid me from the sea of strangers sitting in front of me.
I did look up long enough to catch the glance of my dear friend, Lisa—one of the few people I could see, and one of the people I did know. Her love-filled smile and gentle nod communicated that she understood what I was feeling. Through her, I sensed God’s love and awareness of me. He knows.
By the time I stood to sing with the choir, the tears that streamed down my face were not tears of sorrow, weariness, and shame, but of gratitude, and of faith rekindled.
Even Elder Oaks’s presence was a gift, reminding me of important truth he had taught, one that has been an anchor for me as I have ached to have this cup removed. Healing doesn’t always come from having our burdens taken away. Sometimes it comes by being given what we need to carry our burdens.
* * *
As the tray of water comes toward me, many thoughts course through my mind. I remember the Savior’s blood and life, freely shed. I reflect on the bitterness of Gethsemane, and on the reality that shrinking is not sin if couple with submissiveness.
I consider another Easter impression, one that came as I pondered the many miracles of the day. The little cup of the sacrament can represent my small portion of mortal pain and experience—my own bitter cups—of which I need to willingly partake.
My son passes me the tray. I drink the water with deliberateness. For, above all, this cup represents the Savior’s living water. I am filled with gratitude for the sweet gifts of love, peace, strength, and healing available to me through His spirit.
Michelle Linford lives in Utah with her brilliant husband and three amazing children. When she’s not busy taking care of her family, you can find her writing, reading, or connecting with friends. She also loves playing tennis and eating Italian food.
Notes 1. Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Sunday Will Come,” Ensign, Nov. 2006, 28–30.