There was a time in the last few years when I had read enough about people abusing and torturing children (all over the world) that I got really sad about that. How could it possibly be that a God who loves us would send us to a world where people could choose to hurt each other so deeply, and in ways that destroy entire generations of people.
Perplexed and sad, I turned to prayer and complained to God that He let all the babies suffer so much, when it destroyed their entire lives.
The answer I got was, "That's what Jesus is for."
We focus on Jesus being for when we personally sin. And that's important.
But Jesus is also for all the suffering. Not just the little suffering of someone hurt my feelings by accident--even for the big suffering of rape and murder and torture. I had never thought of the atonement that way. Jesus is big enough even for the big hurts. Even for the pain and destruction we do to each other that lasts generations.
God doesn't interfere with our agency and stop us from destroying other people. But He also doesn't leave us alone to be destroyed.
And, granted, He often doesn't "fix" the bad effects, the life-long challenges that come from abuse. But He doesn't leave us to suffer them without comfort.
The atonement is big enough and strong enough even for those horrible, worst-of-the-worst pains.
That's what Jesus is for.
That said, there have been times when I was really suffering from unhappy circumstances beyond my control, and I really wanted to access to atonement for help, but I had no idea how to go about that.
We're always taught that we should use the atonement, but nobody talks about HOW to do that. We get told how to repent, but what if we've nothing to repent of, are hurting and pleading for help and patience and faith and we just need help?
I don't know the right answer to that question. It's not like you can just log in with a free account and put in your password and magically have relief.
But I do know a woman who is new to the gospel who told me that one day she was suffering from numerous mental illnesses and also an injury that wasn't healing, and her therapist suggested she turn to Jesus. So she just talked right to Jesus, as if he were there in the room, and her injury was healed and her mental illnesses helped (not eliminated--that's one of her burdens in life--but better than they had been). She didn't even "say a prayer" the "right" way; she just talked to Jesus and it worked.
I marveled at her simple and pure faith and floundered in my "advanced" knowledge that didn't help me get what she got--relief.
I got a blessing sometime in there that said I needed to lay my burdens at Jesus's feet. I was perplexed--I wanted to. But how do we do that? They were burdens that I couldn't see getting better without going away. And certainly I hadn't picked them up, so how could I set them down? And besides, wasn't the only way to get relief to have God take the burdens away--meaning, in my mind, that God fix the circumstances that have caused the burdens?
A few weeks later, I was in as much anguish emotionally and spiritually as I ever have been, and I saw a little video the church put out of Jesus reaching out to someone and healing them, and as I watched, my own heart cried out "Jesus, that's what I need, too!"
And immediately I felt calmer, happier, lighter. My burden was not gone, but I felt better about things. It wasn't a permanent lovely never-feel-pain again feeling, but it certainly was a burden lifted, and a new ability to see and wait and learn.
Of course, life never stays the same, and it seems to me that Jesus and the atonement are things we have to access over and over, not just once. Recently I had a really, really bad day where it felt like my whole life was falling apart and things I thought I understood weren't really the way I thought, and I opened the Book of Mormon and it fell open to my favorite chapter. I found myself reading Mosiah 14:4-5, Abinadi quoting from Isaiah: "Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed."
I had grief. Deep grief. Intense sorrows. But through Jesus's suffering, we can be healed, and he bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. So I prayed to Heavenly Father and told him that I needed Jesus to bear this grief for me and carry my sorrows.
And that worked, too.
I still don't know if either of those is the right way to access the atonement, but I do know that it works. And not just for sin. Jesus isn't just for sin. He's for all the sorrows and burdens and griefs and hurt us. And it does work. We really can set our burdens at His feet. I still don't know how exactly that works, but talk to Jesus. He makes it work somehow.