Nine-year-old Carrie hurried around the corner of the grocery store aisle, trying to keep the cart out of the reach of her six-year-old brother, Andy.
“No fair!” he cried. “You’ve pushed it the whole time we’ve been here.” He tried to grab the cart, but Carrie twisted it away, accidentally hitting a row of ketchup bottles lined up neatly on a shelf. Two of the bottles crashed to the floor and shattered, spraying their bright red contents everywhere. The two children stared in horror at the broken glass and scarlet ketchup.
Mom came around the corner just then, saying, “I want you two to stay with me …” Her words trailed off as she saw the mess on the floor and the misery on Carrie’s and Andy’s faces.
“It looks like there’s been an accident,” she said. “It’s all right. Sometimes things break and have to be cleaned up.”
Mom found a clerk, who cleaned up the ketchup and glass without getting mad at Carrie or Andy. Carrie still felt terrible. She knew it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t been swinging the cart to keep it away from Andy. Before they left the store, she quietly told Mom how the bottles had been broken. Mom listened solemnly while Andy stood with a scared expression on his face.
“Are we in trouble?” Andy asked, struggling to keep from crying.
Mom hugged Andy. “No, I think you feel bad enough about what happened that you’ll be more careful in the grocery store from now on. But, Carrie, what do you think you need to do to make up for the store losing those two bottles of ketchup?”
“I think I need to pay for them. I didn’t mean to break them, but it was still my fault,” Carrie replied.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Mom said. “I can lend you the money for now, and you can pay me back at home.”
At the cash register, Mom explained that Carrie had been playing with the cart when the bottles broke, so she wanted to pay for the ketchup. The clerk thanked Carrie for being honest, and Carrie felt much better.
At home, Carrie didn’t feel quite as good when she gave Mom part of the money she had been saving for a tape player, but she was glad she didn’t have that sick feeling she had experienced after the bottles exploded on the floor. She remembered how red everything looked. She had been afraid the ketchup would stain the floor, forever reminding her of her mistake. But it had come clean with a wet mop.
A few months later, Carrie finished Sunday dinner and flopped down on the couch with a big sigh.
“What’s the matter?” Mom asked. “That’s a pretty heavy sigh for a Sunday afternoon.”
“Mom, I have to give a talk in Primary next Sunday on Jesus’ Atonement. I’m not even sure I know what the Atonement is.”
“This sounds like a good Sunday activity,” Mom said, sitting on the couch next to Carrie. “Tell me what you do know.”
Carrie was quiet for a moment. Then she replied, “I think it’s when Jesus suffered for our sins. If we repent, we don’t have to suffer any more for them because He already did. Then we can be forgiven.”
“Good!” Mom said, squeezing Carrie’s arm warmly. “You understand a lot. Tell me about being forgiven. What does that mean?”
“Well, I guess it means that we’re not in trouble anymore.” Carrie thought some more. “I mean, Heavenly Father forgives us, and we can forget about what happened.”
“Do we forget completely?” Mom asked quickly.
“Well, no—we have to remember never to do that wrong thing again. And we have to try to make up for what we did, like me apologizing to Andy if I yell at him or something. But once we’re forgiven, we don’t have to keep feeling bad. But, Mom,” Carrie asked, “how do I explain this to the kids in Primary? The three-year-olds are going to be totally lost!”
Mom was excited, her eyes twinkling. “Do you think they’d like a flannel-board story?”
“Sure. But how can I do that for the Atonement?”
“Think ketchup,” Mom said mysteriously.
Carrie looked at her in confusion, then cried, “Perfect!” as she bounced off the couch and hurried into the kitchen for paper, pencils, and construction paper. Carrie worked on her talk all afternoon, cutting out figures and thinking about her story.
The next week even the Sunbeams forgot to wiggle in their chairs as Carrie gave her talk. She put up a cut-out shape of a ketchup bottle, then the broken container with a big pool of red below it. The children were shocked by the thought of breaking two whole bottles of bright red ketchup.
Carrie explained, “We can make mistakes that seem too horrible to be forgiven. But if we repent, we can become clean from sin, just as ketchup can be mopped up off a floor.” She took down the picture of the broken bottle and replaced it with a picture of a sparkling clean floor.
“Jesus helps us ‘clean up’ when we commit a sin if we feel truly sorry and try to repair the damage we’ve done. He has suffered for our sins, so we don’t have to feel guilty forever. He helps us feel good again after we repent.”
As Carrie sat down, she looked at Mom sitting on the back row of the Primary room. Mom winked, and Carrie smiled back. This was the best talk she’d ever given. Maybe the rest of the family would like a repeat for family home evening!