Monday, October 1, 2012

The Blessing of Forgiveness

A counselor in our stake presidency spoke in our sacrament meeting a couple of weeks ago about forgiveness. It’s a talk he had prepared for our last stake conference, but was unable to give because of a family emergency. What a blessing that we got to hear it finally.

He spoke about the Savior’s injunction:

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men (D&C 64:10).

He wondered why we seem to have a harder task than the Savior. We must forgive everyone, and He can choose.

Of course, he allowed that the Savior has greater insight and judgment, and that the Savior made the great and atoning sacrifice, so He is in a position to behave differently than we are.

But, our speaker said, another real reason for the Savior’s direction to us is for us. Our forgiving someone else brings us peace.

Forgiveness is the act of our no longer feeling bitter about wrongs done to us. Forgiveness is not the granting of absolution or the excusing of someone from consequences. It is our letting go of the offense and moving on.

Failure to forgive breeds resentment, and resentment distorts our worldview, tainting so much of what we see. You have heard that old saw, that resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. (That quotation is attributed to the Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Carrie Fisher, AA, and others – someone else can sort out its origin.) Holding on to anger is decidedly unproductive at best, and can be destructive at its worst.

President Monson, when a counselor in the First Presidency, spoke about hidden wedges in a general conference address. (And he credited President Kimball's citation of the same idea as early as 1966.) Those hidden wedges, he said, were resentments or grudges that we carry over time that damage our personal relationships. The way to avoid them is to forgive freely and quickly.

In my own experience, that forgiveness is only possible as I tap into the blessings of the atonement. Alma reminds us (through what he taught the people of Gideon) that the Savior would

go forth, suffering pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind; and this that the word might be fulfilled which saith he will take upon him the pains and the sicknesses of his people. And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities (Alma 7:11-12).

The Savior has already carried the pain of resentment that I might feel because he has taken upon himself the pains of his people. He can bring me comfort because he understands how I feel.

It is easier for me to forgive people I do not know, perhaps because I see my loved ones more, or perhaps it is just my weakness that I am most vulnerable when the stakes are highest.

But by forgiving someone close to me – without expectation of restitution for my perceived loss – I find a sweetness that is difficult to describe. In that moment when my heart melts just a bit and I allow love to replace bitterness, I feel that pure love of Christ working on me and through me, and I capture a glimpse of what the gift of charity feels like in practice.

For me that process can be conscious or not. Subconsciously, sometimes time and distance is all I need – a walk, a few minutes on my own, a chance to count to ten (or a hundred and ten).

Other times, I benefit from a specific choice. I may decide consciously to take the other person’s point of view. I may ask myself the question that Terry Warner taught me in The Bonds That Make Us Free: could I be wrong?

It is amazing to me the power of that question when I feel hurt. It is not, as I thought initially it might be, self-condemning, but rather liberating, as it allows me to break out of a cycle of fruitless pain.

That we are to forgive all men (and women) is a great blessing because it can free us from the bitterness and resentment that is the alternative.

1 comment:

  1. So very true. When I nurse grudges, it only serves to increase my own bitterness and misery. Usually the person I am upset with has no clue how I feel!

    I wish I'd known about this when I taught the Teachings of Our Time lesson last Sunday; it goes well with Pres. Uchtdorf's talk, The Merciful Obtain Mercy.

    Thanks for your thoughts.