Sensitivity and Resilience
Mosiah 3:5 -- Second Half
"[He] shall come down from heaven among the children of men, and shall dwell in a tabernacle of clay, and shall go forth amongst men, working mighty miracles, such as healing the sick, raising the dead, causing the lame to walk, the blind to receive their sight, and the deaf to hear, and curing all manner of diseases."
Jesus' coming down from heaven to dwell in a tabernacle of clay was necessary -- not just for us, but also for Him. He needed to obtain a body, just like we did. But then, he did not need to dwell in it. Joseph Smith taught, “The Lord takes many away, even in infancy, that they may escape the envy of man, and the sorrows and evils of this present world; they were too pure, too lovely, to live on earth; therefore, if rightly considered, instead of mourning we have reason to rejoice as they are delivered from evil, and we shall soon have them again” (Joseph Smith Jr., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, sel. Joseph Fielding Smith (1976), 196–97).
Certainly, Jesus was that pure and lovely, and so it makes sense to me that the evils on earth would be particularly burdensome to Him. I think there's evidence for that in John 11:33-35, when Jesus was so affected by Mary's and Martha's grief at the loss of the brother he knew he would soon restore, that he wept. Similarly, in 3 Nephi 17:14, the resurrected Jesus is surrounded by an adoring multitude but groans within himself, saying "Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel."
I feel like sensitivity is under-appreciated. We tend to associate it with weakness and fragility. People (especially boys) who are abnormally affected by the sorrow around them, by contention and ugliness are thought to need to harden themselves up, to get tough.
But if the Father has chosen to take home certain "pure and lovely" souls rather than to have them endure the sorrows and evils of this world, perhaps hardening oneself or becoming desensitized is not helpful toward one's eternal progression. In fact, I can think of a lot of scriptures that characterize hardness of heart as a negative thing. And I can't think of a single scripture that finds fault with tenderness or sensitivity.
Yet Jesus, the purest and loveliest of souls, remained in a tabernacle of clay to endure the impurities, sorrows and even horrors that swirled around him because the Father's entire plan rested on his life and death, serving as our exemplar and ultimately working out the Atonement.
How did he do it without hardening himself?
There are a couple ideas that come to mind.
First is what the angel goes on to recount: He went about healing. Rather than recoiling from the suffering around him, he leaned into it and then banished it with the power of his perfect love. No-one's grief was trivial to him. He was touched by it all, even by a sparrow's fall. And redressing all that anguish around him filled him with joy.
Second, he managed to cultivate resilience that allowed him to feel without being overwhelmed. There's a kind of detachment that mothers learn in order to deal with childbirth, dirty diapers and a multitude of other distressing events that are part and parcel of raising little ones. When a child is vomiting on you, you focus on the child, not the vomit, and the situation becomes bearable. I think the Lord did something similar, that he maintained constant communion with the Father and focused on his purpose and his love for his brethren. I think that doing so enveloped him in a protective layer of hope and love that kept the pain from crushing him.
And what does this mean to me? It means that I want to have the courage to serve with an open heart, to cultivate a sensitivity to others' hurts while also gaining resilience to be able to cope with it, joyously. I can do that by heading the promptings of the Spirit every time they warn me that I'm hardening my heart, and then, focusing my mind and heart on Jesus Christ -- his love and the hope that fills the universe because of him. This makes me think of Moroni 9:25: "My son, be faithful in Christ; and may not the things which I have written grieve thee, to weigh thee down unto death; but may Christ lift thee up, and may his sufferings and death, and the showing his body unto our fathers, and his mercy and long-suffering, and the hope of his glory and of eternal life, rest in your mind forever."
The love of Jesus Christ is the key to coping compassionately with the ugliness and anguish of our fallen world.
Wave on wave of pain comes crashing o'er me,
I'm swept away and frightened to the core.
Then, brief relief, the pain recedes a moment
But I'm scrambling still because I know there's more.
Every cell within me knows to flee from danger;
I tense and try to flee the rising tide.
It catches me again, again, forever;
I weep because there's nowhere I can hide.
There's no escape, no rescue, no denial;
The only way past this ordeal is through,
So I gather strength to greet the growing onslaught
Differently than instinct bids me do.
As the waves approach, I reach out and embrace them,
Pull them in and hold them like a friend,
Breathe and breathe, remember pain won't kill me,
See the life it yields in the end.
And I can cope. And I am safe now.
Hurting, yes! But this is blessed pain.
For the priceless fruit of overwhelming labour
I'll visit this extremity again.
Wave on wave of anguish crashes o'er me,
I'm swept away, defeated, long for death,
But with shattered hopes, I have to keep on going,
Care for my little ones and take another breath.
I rage inside against the one that wrongs me,
Rehearse offences, steel my heart for war;
But bitterness spills out upon my children
And conscience smites me, bids me brood no more.
Honestly, I know my love was guided.
I know I made my choice long, long ago
But now I'm battered daily by rejection
And aching grief that only seems to grow.
So shall I steel myself ‘gainst love that hurts me?
Entomb my heart ‘til only ice and rock remain?
No. I will choose to love, for there lies safety.
It’s fear that kills. I will embrace the pain.