Lifting the Burden


Sick with guilt, I thought I could never forgive myself for causing a traffic accident.

Some years ago, I had an experience that profoundly changed how I understood the Atonement. My afternoon of shopping had passed quickly, and I was driving to my mother-in-law’s home to pick up my 17-month-old son and two-and-a-half-year-old daughter.

I waited patiently in the left turn lane, watching for a break in traffic as several cars sped by. Not until I started turning my car into the intersection did I see a motorcycle coming toward me at full speed. In an instant, my tranquil life turned into a slow-motion nightmare. My mind frozen with horror, I felt myself automatically pumping the brakes and turning the wheel before the motorcycle slammed into the right rear end of my car. Somehow I pulled off to the side of the road and got out to face the horrific scene.

Through disbelieving tears, I saw the mangled motorcycle and a motionless body lying in the middle of the road. Police and fire-engine sirens wailed closer, and someone on the nearby curb yelled at me, but my numb mind just turned over and over in self-accusation. I had caused this nightmare. My negligence might have killed someone. “Heavenly Father,” I prayed silently, “please fix everything. Please let everything be all right.”

A sensitive bystander invited me into her home to call my mother-in-law and husband, and a police officer explained comfortingly that people often didn’t see motorcycles coming. But their kindness couldn’t silence one terrible question: had I killed the motorcyclist?

The wracking suspense lasted until my husband called the hospital and reported with relief that the 18-year-old driver had walked out with only a broken wrist. Somehow, my braking and steering had maneuvered the car such that he had crashed into the gas tank area—the softest part of my car. I realized in humility that my prayer had been answered even before I uttered it. But despite the young man’s miraculous escape, all was not well.

For two days I couldn’t eat or sleep. I replayed every ugly, frightening detail of the accident over and over in my mind. “It was my fault,” I kept thinking. “The children could have been in the car; I’m a bad driver; I should have been more careful.” And worst of all, “I could have killed someone.” The burden of guilt weighed so heavily on my shoulders that at last I asked my husband to give me a priesthood blessing.

Placing his hands on my head, he said lovingly, “I bless you that you may forget the trauma of this accident. I bless you that you may find peace of mind again.” As he spoke, the endless chant of blame and guilt faded away, replaced by thoughts of the Savior. Through His Atonement, He had already paid for the sins and mistakes of everyone who would turn to Him. Marveling, I reflected on my own suffering of the past two days. The pain had seemed unbearable. Yet the Savior bore the burden and pain for every sin repented of, every mistake, every sickness that would ever afflict humankind. And He had done this for me! As the blessing concluded, I knew that the Savior loved me. And more strongly than ever before, I knew that I loved Him too.

The more I learn of the Savior, the more I realize I need Him and my Heavenly Father. Every morning I pray that I may be protected from the mistakes of others and that my thoughts, words, and actions will harm no one. While the horror of that day no longer plagues me, my heart still softens in sympathy for anyone involved in an accident—including the one at fault. Now, more than ever, I want to comfort those in pain with my testimony of the Atonement. The Savior has paid the price; we can find peace. The Savior’s words proclaim this truth: “Yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isa. 49:15–16).

[illustration] Illustration by Keith Larson

NaDene Cope Simmons is a member of the Ray Ward, Gilbert Arizona Greenfield Stake.