Christ’s Atonement–Solving the Puzzle

Christ’s Atonement–Solving the Puzzle

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These past few weeks with the COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” orders in effect have been challenging.
Who knew it would be so difficult just to STAY HOME??!

This week, one of Mom’s neighbors dropped by with a great diversion…a master-level jigsaw puzzle (can you say “1000 pieces of complete chaos?!”). The process took all week, each person in the house occasionally stopping by the table for minutes or hours at a time to place a few pieces. It occurred to me that applying Christ’s Atonement in our life is much like working on a jigsaw puzzle. We have all the pieces in front of us but don’t have a good handle on what the full picture will look like in the end. Now and then, we manage to fit a few of the pieces together (very satisfying) and then realize just how far we still have to go (a little discouraging). And… never underestimate the power of “getting there faster” when the whole family works together!

Wouldn’t it be great if we had a little expert help and guidance to assist us in putting all the pieces of the Atonement together? As it turns out, help IS available!

Read on and we’ll talk about what it is and where to find it!


Last year on my birthday…June 2nd, 2019, I opened my very first article here at Change of Heart (“The Labels That We Wear“) with this quote:

“I’ll never do it again”, we say
…and then we do it.

“Now I really mean it! I’ll NEVER do it again”
…and then we do it.

“This has got to stop…REALLY…I’ll never do it again”
…and then we do it.
Brad Wilcox
“The Continuous Atonement”

And my next line was:

“This has been the story of my life.

ChangeOfHeart.LIFE was conceived by me, Kyle Palmer… a Mormon alcoholic. It has been a stunning experience, opening up and talking about my addiction issues, especially among my brothers and sisters within the Church.

I quickly realized that within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are many people just like me…addicts. For literally decades I sincerely believed I was the only one with a problem. The current stigmas surrounding addiction are strong and difficult to overcome, and trust me, they were way worse 30 years ago. So, back in the ’90s, nobody–including me–talked about it, unless it was in whispered, judgmental tones.

About a year ago, I finally started talking candidly about my lived experiences as a Mormon alcoholic. I was shocked to discover just how prevalent addiction is among the Latter-day Saints…drugs, alcohol, tobacco, pornography, sex, food, gambling, codependent relationships, and more. We’re taught that improper indulgence in these things is wrong, even sinful. We profess faith in God and a desire to obey his commandments. So why do so many church members fall short?

And more importantly, why are so few of us talking about it??

Here’s the bad news…

Picture of an addict reaching for drugs and paraphenelia.

The statistics are shocking: One in every ten Americans suffers from drug/alcohol addiction. Even more surprising: of the 2.35 million drug and alcohol addicts in the U.S., only 11 percent of them (about 2.5 million people) will receive treatment. Worst of all, only about 10 percent of those receiving treatment will attain life-long sobriety — that means that less than a quarter-million of 23.5 million substance abusers will fully recover. To put it another way, only 1% of all drug and alcohol addicts will ever attain full life-long sobriety!

And these numbers don’t even include other prominent forms of addiction (sex/pornography, eating disorders, gambling, and codependency)

If these statistics held among Latter-day Saints, it would lead us to believe that approximately 700,000 Latter-day Saints in the U.S. alone suffer from substance abuse and that 623,000 remain untreated.

I’ve been unable to find any statistics (official or otherwise) on addiction rates among Church members, so I can’t say for sure. However, I’m confident we’re considerably below the national average, but way above what public opinion might suggest. It’s plausible to me that hundreds of thousands of Church members suffer from various addiction issues.

Another disturbing fact:

Picture of a bottle full of prescription drugs

This much I DO know… Statistics show that Utah (the state with the highest LDS membership per capita anywhere in the world) has a serious
“little brown bottle” addiction problem.

80% of heroin users in Utah started with misuse of a prescription drug.

And from 2013-2015, Utah ranked fifth-highest in the nation for prescription drug overdose deaths.

Most Church members would not even dream of smoking pot or shooting up meth or heroin, but few of us give a second thought when taking a couple of extra Ultram or Percocet for an injury or post-surgical pain. Your body can not tell the difference between a prescription opioid and heroin, and once your prescription runs out, heroin is readily available and much cheaper to get than black-market prescription opiates. My parents used to worry about me smoking marijuana because they considered it a “gateway” drug to something stronger. The truth is that prescription pain-killers are far more of a gateway to heroin addiction than smoking pot.

…But there’s good news!

Consider the story of Adam and Eve…we learn in the scriptures and through temple worship that before God placed our first human parents in the Garden of Eden, he planned to provide for them a Savior “…if they yield to temptation…”

From the very beginning, the Atonement of Christ
has been an integral part of God’s plan.

God’s plan of redemption benefits all of His children. His “work and glory” is to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of all of us. Since we are all subject to temptation and sin, Christ’s atonement is essential to us.

God has provided instructions for us on how to partake in the gift of the Atonement. However, it’s presented to us like a jigsaw puzzle, one little piece at a time: “…Line upon line, precept by precept, here a little and there a little.”(2 Nephi 28:30–The Book of Mormon) All the pieces are scattered throughout the scriptures and it requires lots of searching and pondering to put it all together.

Under the inspiration and guidance of the First Presidency, the eternal concepts that lead us to partake of Christ’s atonement in our personal lives have been published in one simple volume:

Title Graphic: "LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program"
A Guide to Addiction Recovery and Healing:
----------------
Written with support from Church leaders and counseling professionals by those who have suffered from addiction and who have experienced the miracle of recovery through the Atonement of Jesus Christ

A Guide to Recovery and Healing

Recovery | [ ri-kuhvuh-ree ]: Return to a former and better state or condition.

— dictionary.com

I’ve mentioned this definition when talking about ADDICTION recovery. But there are ramifications to every single one of us. Consider this:

We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.

— Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

None of us get through this life unscathed. Some of us are recovering addicts. Some of us are recovering from mental issues or physical challenges. And some of us just have a really “bad hair day” occasionally. No matter your station in life, Life is hard. Often the best we can do is to HOPE for mental, physical, or spiritual recovery.

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are literal spirit children of our Heavenly Father. We lived with Him before we came to this earth. And we long for the day when our spirits can “…return to a former and better state or condition.

In other words… we are ALL humans in recovery.


Sit Down…You’re Rocking the Boat!

Back in the early ’90s when I was struggling with full-blown alcoholism, there was no LDS Addiction Recovery Program (ARP). Overcoming addiction truly was an individual effort to overcome what was a very personal problem. There was Alcoholics Anonymous (“AA”) meetings or you could search the community for private detox/rehab programs… I had no interest in that. What if somebody found out I was going to AA or in rehab? How embarrassing would that be?! Surely I could beat the problem by myself.

In 2008 I (quietly) confessed my addiction. I told my bishop (and nobody else) about my problems and asked for help. He gave me the manual for the LDS Family Services Addiction Recovery Program. I looked through the manual, realized it was a 12-step program (suspiciously similar to AA’s 12 steps), and said “12-steps…no thanks”.

I had a major misconception…the closest I’d ever been to a 12-step meeting was when I was in a high-school production of the musical “Guys and Dolls”. Based on that, my idea of a 12-step meeting looked something like this:

(Click “PLAY”)

I was convinced that I’d get up, get carried away in the spirit of the moment, say something foolish, and sit down just like Nicely-Nicely Johnson did at the end of this video clip…humiliated, embarrassed, and humbled. Then everybody would stare at me in shock and pity.

12-steps for me??
NOooo, THANK YOU!!

Fast-forward 12 years…

Starting in September 2019, I’ve attended a meeting every Tuesday night with a small group of friends and strangers. As we take turns teaching each other gospel concepts and bearing testimony of Christ’s love for us, we share stories of our personal life experiences. We discuss how each of us is a son or daughter of God with immense divine potential. And we speak of the blessings that have come into our lives because of God’s grace and Christ’s Atonement. The feeling of peace in the room is as strong and serene as the feeling in the Celestial Room in the Temple…

…and every week as my turn to share arrives, I start by saying: “Hi, My name is Kyle…and I’m an alcoholic…”. Nobody stares in shock or pity. This is a “no-judgment” zone. Just like Las Vegas, what happens here, stays here. We’ve all agreed that “What you see here, What you hear here, When you leave here, Let it stay here.” Our shared confidentiality fosters trust. This is a safe place to share our deepest and darkest secrets.

And, as I’ve discovered, there is immense power in sharing my deepest, darkest secrets with my Heavenly Father
“…and with another person”. (LDS ARP, Step 5)

Learning to walk before we run

Of course, the “…first principles…of the gospel are: First–Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and Second, Repentance.” (Article of Faith #4, The Pearl of Great Price) Sounds simple, right? Two easy steps. But is it really that simple?

Have you ever asked yourself: “How exactly do I foster Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?” Or… “What do I REALLY need to do to gain the Lord’s forgiveness?” In this program, we teach each other very specific answers to these questions.

Instead of two “easy” steps, we go in-depth; talking, pondering, praying, studying, and most importantly, DOING on a daily and weekly basis.

Not just two steps but twelve steps.

“These steps from the Addiction Recovery Program guide are intended to be a workbook and reference for those attending addiction recovery support groups sponsored by LDS Family Services. However, the doctrines and principles that are taught could also be of great benefit to… people seeking to change their lives and especially by those willing to work one-on-one with a bishop or a professional counselor.”
LDS Addiction Recovery Program Manual
–Intro, page “v”

Partaking of the Atonement of Jesus Christ is like building a house.

Laying the Foundation:

The most important part of a structure is a firm foundation. We begin, as Paul taught the Ephesians, being “…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Eph. 2:20, emphasis added) Here is our foundation:

  1. Honesty–we admit to ourselves that we, by ourselves, are powerless to overcome our addictions (or problems) and that our lives have become unmanageable.
  2. Hope–we come to believe that the power of God can restore us to complete spiritual health, and…
  3. Trust in God–we turn our lives and care over to Heavenly Father and his Son, Jesus Christ.

Taking Action–Arranging the Walls:

A well-designed house makes living life easier. The walls can compartmentalize and organize different aspects of our lives, and make it easier to successfully enjoy the activities of daily living. They also screen out the distractions of things that are going on in the other rooms. The “action” steps (steps four through nine) of the LDS Addiction Recovery Program give us the tools to properly repent and arrange the walls of our house in an organized and pleasing way. We learn:

  1. Truth–we make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of ourselves.
  2. Confession–we admit our shortcomings and wrongdoings to ourselves, Heavenly Father, to proper priesthood authority (if necessary), and to another person.
  3. Change of Heart–we become entirely ready to have God remove all our character weaknesses.
  4. Humility–we ask Heavenly Father to remove our shortcomings.
  5. Seek Forgiveness–we make a written list of all persons we have harmed and become willing to make restitution to them, and…
  6. Make Restitution and Reconciliation–wherever possible we make direct restitution to those we have harmed.

Shelter from the Storm–Placing the Roof:

Imagine having a home with no roof. Although we would have an organized living space, we would still be exposed to the storms and elemental chaos of the world. Steps ten through twelve of the LDS Addiction Recovery Program are often called the “Maintenance” steps. They protect us from the storms of life and enable us to patch any leaks that happen over time. We learn:

  1. Personal Accountability–we continue to take personal inventory and promptly admit it when we are wrong.
  2. Personal Revelation–we seek through daily prayer and meditation to know the Lord’s will and to have the power to carry it out, and…
  3. Service–we practice the principles we have learned and share this message with others.

Inviting Christ In: Open the door and put the steps to work for YOU…

Now we have a beautiful house…but how do we actually invite Christ to come in?

Latter-day Saints can benefit from “working the steps” every day!

On many occasions, non-addicts (family members, full-time missionaries, ward and stake leadership) attend and participate in our weekly LDS ARP 12-step meetings.

During the “sharing” portion of the meeting (think “testimony meeting”), these participants often say apologetically “I’m not an addict and I’m not sure what to say here”. To that, I would reply: “This meeting is about learning and testifying of the Atonement of Christ in our personal lives. Just follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost, and share your testimony of Christ.”

Take a look at your life. I’ll bet you’ve got problems and challenges… probably some BIG ones… that the Savior’s Atonement will help you solve. And the guidelines of the LDS ARP will help you to apply the blood of the Lamb of God to the doorposts of your life.

In the Old Testament, the children of Israel were commanded to apply the blood of the lamb to their doorposts. The promise was that if the blood was applied, they would be spared from physical death from the impending plague.

From this, we learn that applying the atoning blood of Christ (who Paul referred to as the “…high priest of good things to come… Hebrews 9:11)” in our lives will save us from spiritual death.

Solve YOUR puzzles by “Working the Steps” of the LDS Addiction Recovery Program

Let’s say that you are struggling with a relationship problem with a spouse, child, co-worker, etc. You only have to change ONE WORD in the entire program to make it apply to your situation. Take a look at Step 1, and do THIS:

Step 1: Honesty–Admit that you, of yourself, are powerless to overcome your addiction relationship problem, and that your life has become unmanageable.

Now, all you have to do is WORK THE STEPS. Get the guidebook (available through Church distribution, or get the PDF version of the ARP manual HERE). Then read through it with your personal problems in mind. Search. Ponder. Pray. And I can give you this promise: You will feel Christ’s Atonement at work in your life!


I close this post as I have with so many… with the wisdom and encouragement of Elder Jeffery R. Holland:

“If you are lonely, please know you can find comfort. If you are discouraged, please know you can find hope. If you are poor in spirit, please know you can be strengthened. If you feel you are broken, please know you can be mended.”
Jeffrey R. Holland,
― Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ

The LDS Addiction Recovery Program has changed my life…dramatically.

Since I started studying, pondering, praying, and ACTING on the concepts taught in this inspired program, I have come to know my Savior Jesus Christ, and for the first time in my life, I have felt the power of His Atonement in my life.

I know that my Heavenly Father loves me and that Jesus Christ suffered not only for my sins but that He also experienced my weaknesses, shortcomings, pains, illnesses, and fears. I know that because he has experienced these things, he will be a merciful judge, and if I try my best to keep the covenants I have made throughout my life, His Atonement will not just make up the difference between his expectations and my actions…His Atonement will make ALL THE DIFFERENCE in this life and in the world to come.

He has done it for me,
and he will do it for you!


To learn more about the LDS Addiction Recovery Program or to read other Change Of Heart articles in the “12 Steps to Atonement” series, click the button below.

Please take a couple of minutes and listen to Elder Holland’s testimony of Christ’s Atonement. It ties today’s message together better than I ever could.

I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings on today’s Change of Heart message. I am inspired by your stories of failure and success in this journey we call life. Please feel free to leave me a message in the comments section below or PM me at Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE.


To access the official LDS Addiction Recovery Program website (which includes online versions of the ADR manual and a listing of weekly world-wide Addiction Recovery meetings, click the banner below.

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Kyle@ChangeOfHeart.LIFE

Husband. Father. Grandfather. Uncle. Son. Pro Musician. Artist. Pro Driver. Mormon. And...recovering alcoholic. Now as a professional Addiction Peer Support Specialist, I share my story at ChangeOfHeart.LIFE, facilitate 12-step meetings for the LDS Addiction Recovery Program, and work for Davis Behavioral Health at their Addiction Treatment Receiving Center.


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