Forgiveness is the culmination of all foregoing, forbearing, and forgetting, It does not mean giving up one's protection, but one's coldness. One deep form of forgiveness is to cease excluding the other... --Clarissa Estes
Forgiveness, like many sacred principles, has gotten a bad rap in today’s world. As a member of the counseling profession, I have often spoken out to colleagues on the necessity of forgiveness in a therapeutic situation, and been met with great scorn. Even amongst LDS therapists, this marvelous principle of healing is often given less than its due. A dear sister who was my visiting teacher related some problems that she had in her past, with family discord, and some genuinely hurtful but not extreme offenses that were committed against her. This sister, normally such a sweet and mild lady, suddenly took on a whole different spirit, as she related in a very angry and proud way, that she was told by another sister in the ward, who was a therapist, that she did not have to forgive such gross offenses, at least "not right away" (mind you, we are talking about something that was many years in the past). Now, I was shocked to see such a quick change in her spirit, and to see the anger and pain rise up so suddenly in my good friend’s countenance. I recognized that the therapist sister had leaned more upon the teachings of the worldly counselors, and not upon that of the Great Counsellor, the Prince of Peace.
I said to my friend, “Forgiveness is not about what happened between us and the ones who have hurt us, but is between us and the Lord. The question is, do we trust Him enough to allow Him to be the judge and sort it all out?” Her jaw dropped, and we both felt the Spirit of the Lord bear witness to the truth of what I had just said, and the anger and pride both suddenly melted away, and her face resumed its usual gentle sweetness. She said, “Wow, you are so wise.” I said, “No, I am not really so wise, but I have had to learn this lesson the hard way. Peace can only come through forgiveness.” By giving us the miracle of forgiveness, the Lord allows us to place these heavy burdens of pain, anger, confusion, and more at His feet, while we can “bear a song a way” in our own hearts.
Steve F. Gilliland, in a talk entitled “Forgiveness: Our Challenge and Our Blessing” (Ensign, Aug 2004) addressed this issue. He said, “In Doctrine and Covenants 64:9 the Savior said, ‘Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.’ The greater sin? How can that be? Sin is anything we permit into our lives that will destroy us spiritually. When we poison ourselves with vengeful feelings, with hate, we distance ourselves from the influence of the Spirit of the Lord. Not only that, but we attempt to assume one of God’s roles—that of determining who is worthy of forgiveness.”
Failing to forgive not only leaves us in a place where we are trapped with our pain and anger, in essence allowing the offender to hurt us again and again each time we remember it; it also begins to determine our choices, and hinders our agency. Lisa Ward, a Christian minister, spoke of this problem: “Without forgiveness, the past would ever determine the future. The baggage we all carry would remain intact and grow daily, until there would be no room for change or anything new. Without forgiveness, we would eventually cease to exist. We'd cease to learn, we'd cease to grow, and we'd cease to see outside our own wounds, our own rage, fears, walls and assumptions. Without forgiveness we would be defined by those who hurt us, giving them power over us: defined by what ‘they’ did to us. Without forgiveness we become professional victims, letting blame shape our identity and imprison us in reactive behavior. ‘I am this way because of that thing or those people. I can't change my behavior because I was too hurt.’ If we do not have forgiveness, we release responsibility for our lives and let someone else's actions, whether recent or in our childhood, determine how we make our choices. Without forgiveness we simply are not free ...none of us...because we all make mistakes and we have all been offended in some measure or another. If we lock ourselves into the hurt or into the blame, then we will inevitably experience a crisis of courage to go on.” (Lisa Ward “Name the Harm, Find the Heart: Forgiveness”)
President Gordon B. Hinckley, in a talk entitled “Of You It Is Required to Forgive” (Ensign, June 1991), said “The Lord has declared in words of revelation: ‘My disciples, in days of old, sought occasion against one another and forgave not one another in their hearts; and for this evil they were afflicted and sorely chastened. Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds’ (D&C 64:8-11). If there be any who nurture in their hearts the poisonous brew of enmity toward another, I plead with you to ask the Lord for strength to forgive. This expression of desire will be of the very substance of your repentance. It may not be easy, and it may not come quickly. But if you will seek it with sincerity and cultivate it, it will come. And even though he whom you have forgiven continues to pursue and threaten you, you will know you have done what you could to effect a reconciliation. There will come into your heart a peace otherwise unattainable. That peace will be the peace of Him who said: ‘For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.’ (Matt. 6:14–15.)”
President Hinckley continued, “His Beloved Son, our Redeemer, reaches out to us in forgiveness and mercy, but in so doing he commands repentance. A true and magnanimous spirit of forgiveness will become an expression of that required repentance. Said the Lord—and I quote from a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph: ‘Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not. For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I; Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit . … Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me.’ (D&C 19:15–18, 23.)”
I can only speak for myself, but my sins in this life are quite considerable, and to know that if I do not forgive even the least of others’ trespasses against me; if I harbor an unforgiving spirit, that my old sins return to me, and I will stand not in the mercy of the Atonement, but in the place where my “sufferings be sore…” That thought sends me to my knees pretty quickly when I realize that I cannot be forgiven if I do not forgive.
Gerald E. Melchin, in a talk entitled “Thy Sins Are Forgiven” (Ensign, Jan. 1995), said this: ”The story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with oil in the home of Simon the Pharisee opens to us a most interesting subject and one that touches the lives of all of us. Simon, believing the woman was a sinner, thought it improper she should touch the Savior and that ‘if he were a prophet,’ Jesus should have been aware of her unworthiness and forbidden her. Jesus responded with the story of two debtors, the one owing five hundred pence and the other fifty. When the debtors had nothing to pay, the creditor forgave them both. The Savior then asked, ‘Which of them will love him [the creditor] most? Simon answered and said, I suppose he, to whom he forgave the most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.’ At the end of the discussion, Jesus said to the woman, ‘Thy sins are forgiven’ (see Luke 7:37–48).”
Like the woman with the most debt, I have been forgiven of much, and so my love of the Savior and my gratitude for His Atonement are great. I know that I can only feel peace in my heart when I am one with Him. I can tell that I have need to repent of my unforgiving nature when I feel the coldness in my heart toward others of which Clarissa Estes spoke. That coldness, as she mentions, alienates us from those around us; which is what the adversary wants, to wrap us up in an isolating blanket of misery. But the Savior wants us to be united in our warmth and love for each other and Him, because this is the source of joy.
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