Smoke and Mirrors

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” Zora Neale Hurston

When I was younger, and thought I understood things, I yearned for Answer years. Of course, I was up to my collarbones in Asking years- immersed in the joy and luxury of contemplating life’s Big questions. In my naiveté, I often wondered what was more difficult- asking or getting my answers. Occasionally I would catch glimpses of an Answer- a fleeing shadow, the dry shaded rustle of the unknown on the edge of my vision. But like a child playing with matches who hasn’t yet seen fire, there was no framework to comprehend those Answers.

These days, I find myself in the middle of those Answer years. The tender shoots and soft green pliability has been given over to the refiner’s fire, and I find myself transformed, like the alchemist making base metal into gold. The Answers are hot, they hurt, and in some cases, the Answers themselves can burn away the parts being cast- and yet, somehow, I am left with something finer.

When I was investigating the Church, doctrinal discourse and gospel based thinking were all new, and I asked an Elder why the Atonement was necessary. Why would God require His son to suffer? Why, if he were omnipotent, was it necessary for our Savior to be crucified? It’s a child’s question, really. But the answer is not for a child.

It wasn’t about the Savior. It was about us.

The atonement is why sitting in front of a mirror and offering ourselves absolution is new-age folly. The atonement is why the Savior knows our aching and feels our cries. The atonement is why, when we hand our yoke over, Christ shouldering our burden is not just a comforting theory. The atonement is not a goodnight tale to make children have happy dreams. The atonement is the rock this whole world was built upon.

Before I joined the church, I would sit in front of that mirror, and wrack myself over the coals because of choices I had made. I would read the books on forgiveness, dance around the fire, carve circles in the soil of my backyard and weep alone at night. There were lots of voices telling me to forgive, love, accept, release, protect and free myself. There was no solace. There was smoke and mirrors.

Absolution was not mine to give.

With that realization, the atonement was engraved upon my heart. There is only one who can grant me absolution- there is only one who can carry my burden- there is only one who could free my heart, mind, might, body and soul.

Being forgiven is a tangible thing- at least it is if you’ve been carrying around your pains and sins in a leaky basket for decades. I had. There were things I had done that were terrible- in my eyes, and in the eyes of God. And yet, like Alma the Younger, after the penance was done, I was able to rise from my knees, truly new.

One of the most surprising things, even to this doubting Thomas, is the after effects of this refining fire. It was necessary to be harrowed up, it was necessary for the fire to burn away the chaff. Holding onto my basket of sins, wailing about how wretched I am, no matter how familiar the refrain, is rejecting the supernal gift of the Savior.

While I know, beyond any shade of any doubt, that I am forgiven and loved of the Lord, I have been allowed to keep the memory of the basket- but only the memory. I cannot count my sins, or torture myself with them like some macabre cilice, but neither do I walk away a blank slate.

I remember. I remember the harrowing. I remember what I did. And I remember who took my load from me, when no other could, and said:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your soul. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Matthew 11:28-30


  1. Tracy,

    I have long wondered about the connection between suffering and forgiveness. Your post gives me new insight.

  2. That is beautiful. Thank you.

  3. As always, my favorite writer in the Bloggernacle has brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart.

    This is absolutely beautiful, Tracy – for more reasons than just the words. May God bless you – in ways you recognize as answers and others that you recognize only in hindsight.

  4. Thank you all kindly.

    Ray, this week I’ve left you speechless and made you cry! I doff my writers cap to you, and shall take the rest of the week off.

  5. well done, Tracy.

  6. cj douglass says:

    Just what I needed to hear today. Thanks.

  7. Bookmarking this for a Niblet nomination. :)

  8. Beautiful, Tracy. Thank you.

  9. Norbert says:

    This is fantastic.

  10. As always, Tracy, you write with feeling and have a way of helping us to feel what it must be like to walk in your shoes.

    If there were a Eugene England Personal Essay Memorial Award (and there may be, I’m not involved in AML), I would nominate you as a growing master of personal essay.

    Simply beautiful.

  11. Thank you kevinf. Sometimes I wish I could write more objectively, more analytical- yet it always comes back to being intensely personal. Maybe I’m a one-note wonder…

    Thank you all for your kind words.

  12. Tracy, one-note-wonders are still wonderful.

  13. Tracy, you bring me out of my lurking status to comment. This was beautiful! I love your writing. I will be pondering the personal application of the role of ‘years of questions and answers’ and the resulting impact of the Savior’s atonement with your perspective in mind. I have had recent years of questions without many obvious answers. I am slowly beginning to realize that the answers were there, I just didn’t always recognize them. Thank you for sharing your insight.