I will never forget. She knocked on my door at the university. “Do you have a few minutes?”
“Come in.” The young woman was a student at the university and a lapsed latter-day saint. I was her branch president even though she didn’t come to church.
She sat in front of me. “I have just come from my therapist and I’m feeling confused. My dad has been dead for years, but I have never stopped hurting about his absence during his long sickness. Today my therapist asked me to mentally sit my dad in a chair in front of me and to blast him with my years of pain, loss, and frustration. Let him know how furious I am that he got sick and didn’t take part in my life. Tell him how I resent him for failing to protect me from an angry mother.”
I waited for her to say more.
“What do you think of that?” she finally asked.
I am not a therapist. And I didn’t know her therapist’s objectives. But I have learned a little about God’s processes for peace.
“I don’t know your therapist’s objectives. I leave you to judge whether that activity brings you the peace you seek. I do have a suggestion. Someday you will be ready to have another conversation with your deceased Dad. Invite him to sit comfortably in a chair in front of you. Then kneel at his feet and ask him, ‘Dad, your life was cut short by chronic illness and death. Would you tell me what we would have done together if you hadn’t gotten sick? Tell me about ball games we would have attended, lectures you would have given me, love and encouragement you would have offered. Help me create the life we might have had together if you had not gotten sick.’”
“Then listen. Imagine his voice in your mind. I’m guessing he would say something like: ‘Sweetheart! I am so sorry! How I yearned to be a part of your life! How I wanted to be a dad to you! Thank you for inviting me to create a new history for us!’”
Dad will rejoice in the invitation.
Resentment is very energizing. And it provides a ready justification for our own stuckness in our pained lives. In contrast, forgiveness is very liberating.
God offers surprising counsel:
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.
What??? If we don’t forgive others, we are guilty of a greater sin than they—even when their sins are grievous? He explains why:
I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.
When we withhold forgiveness from those who offend us, we are presuming to limit or regulate God’s grace. We are claiming a prerogative that is His alone!
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)
We are to leave every person in God’s hands. And I’m pretty sure that He does not want us to entertain fantasies of heavenly revenge on the heads of our enemies. Rather He wants us to let Him do His work of refinement and redemption for every one of His children. He wants us to wish Him and them success.
“Behold what the scripture says—man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord, and vengeance is mine also, and I will repay” (Mormon 8:20).
Of us, it is required to forgive all people. Corrie ten Boom forgave a prison guard. Heber J. Grant forgave a sinful brother. Jesus forgave the Roman soldiers. We must forgive offences small and large.
The need for forgiveness is vast. We regularly hurt each other. We trample others unthinkingly.
“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept-
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say-
Who knows how grandly it had rung?”
(Edward Sill, Fool’s Prayer)
Our only hope as families, as a church, as a society is to become glad forgivers.
I am everlastingly grateful to kind, forgiving souls who have granted me forgiveness I did not deserve. My sweet wife is an amazing forgiver! I am overwhelming grateful to the One who continues to offer forgiveness: “His relentless redemptiveness exceeds my recurring wrongs” (Neal A. Maxwell).
I think of the hungry boy in Leo Tolstoy’s story—the boy who stole an apple to assuage his hunger. When caught by the angry woman who owned the apple, she threatened to beat him within an inch of his life. But a cobbler intervened: “If he should be whipped for an apple, what should be done with us?”
Yes. We all offend heaven and fellow travelers regularly. If we want to receive mercy, we must be willing to extend mercy. The essential lubricant for journeying toward Zion is forgiveness.
As my kind and gospel-loving father used to suggest, people carry terrible burdens and painful injuries. We should help every person we meet in their journey. We should offer them compassion and encouragement.
If we want to enjoy peace in a fallen world filled with flawed people, we must be good forgivers. If we want to learn to be partakers of the divine nature, we have no choice but to be glad forgivers.
I am grateful that God offers His mercy so fully and so gladly. May we pray with all the energy of heart to be filled with that forgiving love. May we bring peace to the world through forgivingness.
Invitation: Notice when you feel resentment or judgment welling up inside you. Call on God to help you see the person as God sees him or her.
Recommendation: Everett L. Worthington has been a leading scholar on forgiveness. See, for example, Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope.
Thanks to Barbara Keil for her helpful edits.