"That I May Heal You": What a Broken-Down Car Taught Me about the Atonement

Having your car break down is never a fun experience. But it's especially challenging when it happens at 5:30 AM on a cold December morning along a snowy stretch of highway in Idaho.

I had noticed in the days previous to this incident that something was off with our car, but life was so full of to-do's that I ignored the warning signs and simply drove on -- until, that is, the vehicle became inoperable and I sat stranded on the side of a long and lonely highway.

Complicating the issue further was the fact that my wife and I were poor undergraduate students, trying to support ourselves and our nine-month-old son on the earnings of two (sometimes three) part-time jobs that I worked while carrying a full load of college credits. At the time that our car broke down, I was set to graduate in one week, and in another few weeks, move my family 2,300 miles to the east coast for my first real job. We had $200 left in our bank account, and the cost of the car repairs exceeded that amount. Because neither of our families were in a position to help us financially, it appeared that our only option was to secure a loan from the repair shop -- the kind of loan that charges 20 percent interest compounded on what seems like an hourly basis.

With the burdens of our already precarious financial situation now multiplied by the need for a major car repair, the weight of the world came crashing down on my shoulders. I felt foolish for ignoring the warning signs of my car's declining health. But I also couldn't help thinking "Why did this have to happen to us, and why did it have to happen now?"

The car was not the only thing broken at the moment -- so was I.

Which is why what happened next was nothing short of a life-changing experience.

A sympathetic friend gave me a ride to the repair shop where I had managed to get the car earlier that day. As I entered the shop to begin the loan paperwork, I was told to my complete and total surprise that someone had already paid our bill and asked to remain anonymous. With a look of disbelief followed by a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes, I took the keys and drove the now-functional car back home.

I later discovered that this generous benefactor had been our bishop, who having little money of his own, had nevertheless heard of our plight and paid for the repair out of his own pocket. A year later, I had the chance to visit with this good bishop, and I confronted him about his kind gesture and offered to pay the money back. However, his humble response was, "Please just pay it forward. You will one day come across another family in need, and I just ask that you return the favor to them."

This experience, which happened 10 years ago this December, has had a profound impact on my life. In pondering on it many times, I have come to the conclusion that this experience is about more than just a broken-down car, a poor young family, and a thoughtful and generous bishop. Though far from a perfect analogy, I have come to the conclusion that this account is really about each of us and our need for the Atonement of Jesus Christ. For you and I, in one way or another, are like my car -- broken and in need of repair.

Sometimes, like my car, our brokenness comes from foolishly ignoring the warning signs -- signs of sin, signs of trouble, and signs of heartache. At other times, however, we become broken by things beyond our control -- long-term illness, the loss of a loved one, or the sting of betrayal. But regardless of how and why we feel broken, we, too, feel the weight of the world crashing down on our shoulders when such moments come. And desperately, we look for anything, anyone to help us in our predicament.

While the world offers its own solutions to the brokenhearted, many of these solutions come at a steep price -- like the 20 percent loan I was about to secure. Cynicism, anger, and rebellion are just a few of these high-interest solutions that compound over time and leave their victims in an even greater predicament than before.

Which is why all of us, regardless of the source of our brokenness, need a generous benefactor -- one willing to pay the price for our healing to get us back on the road toward eternal life.

My witness is that we have such a benefactor in the Savior Jesus Christ, who was sent by the Father "to heal the brokenhearted" (Isa. 61:1-3), "wipe away tears from off all faces" (Isa. 25:8), and, through our faith in Him, repair what seems totally broken in our lives and relationships. Indeed, as the resurrected Savior told the broken people of ancient America, "Will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?" (3 Nephi 9:13).

Sometimes healing comes quickly, as was the case with our little car. But most of the time, healing comes over the process of time through faith, patience, and persistence. And for some, healing comes primarily when the limitations of mortality are swallowed up in the limitless expanse of eternity.

Whenever those blessings of His healing power come, the Savior does not demand repayment as a token of our gratitude, just as our bishop did not expect repayment for his monetary sacrifice. Instead, like our bishop who asked that we "pay it forward," the healing and risen Christ desires for us to grow and become like Him by "paying it forward" -- by obeying as he obeyed, serving as he served, rescuing and he rescued, and loving as he loved. In other words, he asks that our gratefulness transform into usefulness for His father's children. For as John the Beloved taught, "If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." (1 John 4:11).

I have a witness of the Lord's ability to heal what is hurt, mend what is torn, and fix what is broken. And it is a witness that I gained in part as a new father with a broken down car on a lonely highway in Idaho.

Stephen Courtright is an assistant professor in the Mays Business School at Texas A&M University, where he teaches and conducts research in the area of organizational behavior. He grew up in DeForest, Wisconsin, and Kuna, Idaho, and served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Concepcion, Chile from 2002-2004. He graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho with a B.S. in Accounting and the University of Iowa with a Ph.D. in Business Administration. He and his wife, Nicole, met when they were six years old and grew up together as close friends. They married in 2004 and are the proud parents of four children.


  1. Words can't convey how proud I am of you, son. Not just for your talents of writing and working hard but for your innate gift of spirituality and your love for the Savior and others.

  2. Hi Brother Courtright, I find your "true story" quite inspiring. I was born and raised in a neighboring country to Chile, Peru. I live in Humble, Texas now. Coming from a country where economic struggles are an everyday thing, I understand very well what you have to go through with a young family to support and a broken car.
    I'm so proud of you, as your sister in Christ, of how far you've gone in your personal development. It's not only about your job or degrees, it's about your inner strength to push forward with great faith and STILL gratitude towards our savior Jesus Christ. You're "paying it forward" by recounting your story to us. Thank you.