22 July 2007

Forgiveness Lesson

My mom has been really sick the last few days. I thought she should have gone to a doctor days ago, so when I awoke from my Sunday nap and heard that she was at the hospital, I was quite glad. At least an IV can get her hydrated. So here's hoping that she'll be feeling better soon.

I taught her Relief Society lesson today. In case anyone is slightly interested in it (I'm not saying I'm an expert), here it is, written fresh this morning before I had to play at the rest home. I was a bit late because of the earlier meeting, and when I peeked between the two doors, no one was in there. I thought maybe they had combined with the priesthood, thinking no one was going to be teaching. When I couldn't find them, I went back and discovered that no one was sitting in any of the chairs in the center of the room, so the room looked empty through the crack.


Write on board: “Keep a place in your heart for forgiveness, and when it comes, welcome it in. –A loving bishop”

So I had to decide whether I should forgive my mom for something she couldn’t control—getting sick, or just to learn from this lesson. I apologize for the disorganization. I started thinking about it last night and had a meeting to attend this morning.

Before we even start talking about forgiveness, let’s review Elder Bednar’s advice: “If a person says or does something that we consider offensive, our first obligation is to refuse to take offense and then communicate privately, honestly, and directly with that individual. Such an approach invites inspiration from the Holy Ghost and permits misperceptions to be clarified and true intent to be understood.” In Matthew 18:15, it reads, “Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” I love this scripture, because I have had so many times where I didn’t even know I had done something to offend someone, and it came back to me through different people, which hurt me in return. How much better could a relationship have been if the person had come to talk to me first?

When we have faith in God and trust in His word, we can forgive as disciples of Christ who follow His example. Let’s read Matthew 18:21-35.

“We can find all manner of reasons for postponing forgiveness. One of these reasons is waiting for the wrongdoers to repent before we forgive them. Yet such a delay causes us to forfeit the peace and happiness that could be ours.” (President Faust’s talk)

I would also like to add, “Don’t forget to forgive yourself.” I find that this kind of lack of forgiveness is really good at eating away at your soul.

In C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, he writes, “When you start mathematics, you do not begin with the calculus; you begin with simple addition. In the same way, if we really want to learn how to forgive, perhaps we had better start with something easier than the Gestapo. One might start with forgiving one’s husband or wife, or parents or children . . . .for something they have done or said in the last week. That will probably keep us busy for the moment. And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbour as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself . . . Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently ‘Love your neighbour’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive.’ I ought to have seen that before, because, of course, you cannot feel fond of a person by trying . . . a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.”

We can love our enemies, as Christ did, even if we dislike their actions. One of my favorite books is The Hiding Place. In it, Corrie ten Boom tells of how she was not allowed to marry the man she loved because his family was richer than hers. She was so hurt, but her dad told her, “God loves Karel even more than you do and if you ask Him, He will give you his love for this man, a love nothing can prevent, nothing destroy. Whenever we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.” Later, because she learned this lesson from her dad, she was able to forgive a Nazi guard from when she was in a concentration camp. I have used Corrie’s experience to find love for someone I had a hard time loving. It works.

We need to recognize and acknowledge angry feelings, have humility, and get on our knees if we want Heavenly Father to help us forgive. President Faust said, “It is not easy to let go and empty our hearts of festering resentment. The Savior has offered to all of us a precious peace through His Atonement, but this can come only as we are willing to cast out negative feelings of anger, spite, or revenge.”

The Church’s Addiction Recovery Manual has a section on forgiveness. I liked this quotation: “As we prayed for help to forgive others—even if it felt insincere at first—we were eventually blessed with a miraculous sense of compassion. Even in extreme situations, people who have taken this approach have received the ability to forgive far beyond themselves. One sister spent several weeks writing about her childhood and praying for her abusive father. She testifies with joy that the Savior has relieved her of her negative, painful feelings toward her father. In making a similar effort, we have learned that by making a thorough inventory of our resentments and acknowledging them to the Savior, we finally ceased to be victims of those who hurt us.”

In seminary during high school, I heard a friend say, “You know you’ve forgiven someone when you can look at them without thinking of what they did to offend you.” I knew at that time that I needed to let a grudge go. I had been wrongfully blamed for something and had lost multiple friends over it. I even hated to see good things happen to the person I blamed. When I finally let it go, it was such a relief not to have bitter thoughts every time I saw that person!

Cindy Shehan—she’s let her grudge take over her life! She could be so much happier.

Write on board: Forgiving brings: “a higher level of self-esteem and [physical] well-being,” less anger, more hope, peace, happiness, less anxiety, and less stress.

An authority on values realization, Dr. Sidney Simon, wrote: “Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harboring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.”

We are required to forgive. I laugh at the saying by Oscar Wilde in the Relief Society quotation calendar that says, “Always forgive your enemies—nothing annoys them more.” More importantly, we need to forgive to be forgiven. I remember when I read The Peacegiver that I was surprised at the concept of forgiving for our own welfare, even though I knew the Lord’s prayer says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” The Peacegiver discusses Nabal, Abigail, and David in 1 Samuel 25. Who knows the story? Nabal refuses to feed David and his servants. David gets mad and orders everyone to go up to fight Nabal. Abigail, who seems to have nothing to do with it in my opinion, brings food to David and asks for forgiveness. Read 1 Samuel 25: 28. Why would Abigail ask for forgiveness? She knows that if David doesn’t forgive, the Lord cannot bless him with “a sure house.” Also, he would have had other things to repent for and more trouble for himself if he had gone to fight Nabal.

My dad loves a book called The Progress Paradox. In chapter 8, it tells of a girl who received a scholarship to work in South Africa for the anti-apartheid movement. After a mob killed her, her parents moved to South Africa to finish her work. They met and befriended two of the men who helped kill her daughter, and even got to the point where the two men addressed the girl’s mother as “Mom.” They “reported that they felt happier and more at peace after forgiving two of their daughter’s killers . . . That being forgiving is good for you, in addition to the person you forgive, is among the most compelling findings of positive psychology. Research now suggests that those who take a forgiving attitude toward other not only make better friends, neighbors, and coworkers—anyone would guess that—but are themselves happier, healthier people who live longer than others and know more success in life. Are they forgiving because happiness makes them magnanimous, or does forgiving improve their well-being, bringing about the happiness? Studies suggest the latter.” (229).

A similar example exists in the case of my Aunt Diane. After a gymnastics accident, she was carefully moved to a hospital for x-rays. There, the technician sat her up rather roughly, even as she protested that he shouldn’t be doing that. At that moment, all feeling left, from her chest down. She has been paralyzed ever since. She could think about it all the time. She could bitterly sit in her wheelchair and hate that man and blame her misery on him. Instead, she forgave him and loves life.

The two best examples of forgiveness come from our brother and father. Remember that Christ forgave those who crucified him, and Heavenly Father will forgive weakling humans who turn to Christ, even though we killed His Son!

I testify that forgiving will make us happy and exaltable, and that it is possible.

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