Repentance can be tough. Forgiveness can be tougher.
This was not what I was originally going to write. I drafted a complete article on leadership based on a talk I had given several years ago. It was a great talk, one that ward members would bring up frequently in passing conversation. It had it all: religion, science, jokes, testimony, visual aides…how could I not post it online for the world to see? Easy: I forgot to save it and Eight-Year-Old Autistic Firstborn wanted to play the SNES emulator, so she closed it without saving while I was away for a few minutes.
The Lord works in mysterious ways.
My first response was shock. I stared in disbelief at the screen, no longer emblazoned with the beautiful pages I spent writing over the last week. Only Princess Luna could be seen on my desktop: her long, beautiful, flowing mane shimmering like the eternal expanse, her deep, gentle eyes gazing into my soul…
Wait. Sorry. Moving on.
My second response was panic. I clicked frantically to see if I had simply forgotten that I had saved it (I hadn’t) or if there was an autosave available (it’s Linux, so no). Then anger set in. I knew who had done it – only Firstborn has the habit of closing everything down before firing up her video games. I even knew instinctively what game she was trying to play (Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past). She was behind me, playing dolls with her sister at the table, and I turned and released my anger upon her.
“Firstborn! Why did you delete my talk?! Why did you click the ‘X’?!” Firstborn stared at me with her big brown eyes. She knew she was in trouble, but she didn’t know exactly why and she didn’t know how to respond properly. But respond she did by using scripting she picked up from some awful place (probably YouTube):
This made Daddy more upset, and I told her to go to her room where I would join her after I was done grieving. This grieving took a while (it had been my second attempt at writing a column for this site, with the first attempt likewise having been lost to a tragic lack of saving), but I eventually made it to her room where I found her playing again, seemingly uncaring of my loss. By this point my anger had morphed into the usual self-loathing, but the sadness was keeping it somewhat at bay. I sat on the ground and addressed her.
“Firstborn? Do you know why I put you in time out?”
“Daddy! I ruined your talk! I’m so sorry! Firstborn is dead!”
She then made the same sound Link does when he dies in Link to the Past, and she spun around and flopped onto the floor. It’s hard to tell what is legitimate sentiment and what is auto-speak with Firstborn. Sometimes I wonder if there’s a separation at all – if all of her scriptings are her way of communicating in the only way she understands. In this case, I’m sure it was legitimate regardless of how she was outwardly acting. I felt terrible: I had made my precious daughter feel badly over what amounted to a few measly (read: a lot) of hours of typing. I hugged her and told her that I loved her, that I was sorry I yelled at her, and together we left the room.
It’s a simple story. No bells, no whistles. Person A does a bad thing, Person B gets upset, Person A apologizes, Person B forgives and apologizes, Person A forgives.
Forgiveness and love have been on my mind a lot the last few years. On my Twitter account, I have bored many a dozen with long-winded tirades on love and forgiveness in an ever hateful and unforgiving world. On social media especially, it has become all too easy to hurt and attack others without ever having to see their faces or hear their voices. We simply toss bombs back and forth and act as if such verbal violence were as common as breathing, never giving thought (or at least a kind one) to those we have just hurt. Person A does a bad thing, Person B gets mad, Person A gets mad, Person B gets mad, etc. Such behavior corrodes the soul. It breeds enmity.
Repentance, forgiveness, and letting go…these are hard things. They can be painful. They can make you feel worse than at any other time in your life – but only for a short while. In Ether 4:15 we read:
Behold, when ye shall rend that veil of unbelief which doth cause you to remain in wickedness and hardness of heart, and blindness of mind, then shall the great and marvelous things which have been hid up from the foundation of the world from you – yea, when ye shall call upon the Father in [Jesus’] name, with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, then shall ye know that the Father hath remembered the covenant which he made unto your fathers, O house of Israel.
Pain and sorrow are part of repentance. They push us towards a course correction to cease their effect. My daughter was heartbroken, and she apologized to me. I felt horrible, I apologized to her, and almost immediately we both felt better. Funny how that works.
Forgive Them in Your Heart
Forgiving those who have harmed us is possibly even more difficult than repenting of our own misdeeds. The Lord commands it, however, and there are no exceptions. In Doctrine & Covenants 64:8 the Lord teaches:
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.
It is important to note here the forgiveness of which the Lord speaks is not of the tongue, but of the heart. It is not enough for us to simply go through the motions of forgiveness – we must internalize it. Failing to do so, to fight and argue while letting our anger and hatred fester, results in suffering. Verses 9 and 10 continue:
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.
I have pondered this concept for some time now. Why would my failure to forgive another be worse than the sins of that other? They did the deed, right? I didn’t, right? Why is it worse for me? Allow me to indulge in inelegant speculation.
A Catholic chum (more of a well-wisher) and I were discussing the commandment to forgive all men a while back, and the question arose as to why. With the assumption that God gives no commandments save they are for the building up of His kingdom and the salvation of His children, the answer of “just cuz” was thrown out. We believe a portion of the reasoning is explained in Matthew 18:23-35. To paraphrase, a man with a massive, practically unpayable debt convinces his debtor to have mercy on him, to which he agrees. This same man then turns around and offers no such leniency to one who owes him a relatively tiny amount. The debtor who forgave him sees this behavior, gets royally cheesed, and reinstates the debt in a terrible manner.
Jesus Christ is the Redeemer and Savior of of our family. He facilitated our ability to ascend back to Heavenly Father in glory through the atonement, by which He reconciled our sins, sufferings, and all manner of imperfections. Each one of us owes Him a great debt – a literally unpayable debt – and He readily forgives us of that debt should we repent. To each other, however, the various trespasses are very low in number and gravity compared to a lifetime of personal sin. Indeed, in most cases of social interaction there may be only one trespass, misdeed, or offense. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can forgive us all our countless sins. We are commanded to be even as He is. If we cannot forgive each other of few errors, then we are unlike Him, and if we are unlike Him then we can in no wise inherit the Kingdom of God.
Imagine, if you will, that you have died and now find yourself in paradise awaiting the final judgment. There you see your beloved family members who died before you, old friends, storied ancestors, personal heroes, and so on. You are filled with immeasurable joy to see all those you loved and cherished…but then you see someone else. Someone who at some point betrayed you, or hurt you, or hurt others. Someone who, based on your opinion of them prior to your death, should have been cast into outer darkness. Someone you hated and would never forgive. Yet here they are in paradise. What would you do? Would you be able to accept the Lord has forgiven them? Would you be able to, as the Lord said, forgive them in your heart? Or would you hold on to your hatred even as it dragged you into prison?
Do Not Needlessly Suffer
I find it is easiest to repent and forgive at the earliest possible moments. Doing so cuts off any attempts for hatred to creep into my heart. President Henry B. Eyring taught us about this concept:
Because none of us is perfect and feelings are easily hurt, families can become sacred sanctuaries only as we repent early and sincerely. Parents can set an example. Harsh words or unkind thoughts can be repented of quickly and sincerely. A simple “I am sorry” can heal wounds and invite both forgiveness and love.
The Prophet Joseph Smith was a model for us as he dealt with vicious attacks, with traitors, and even with disagreements in his family. He forgave quickly, even though he knew the attacker might attack again. He asked for forgiveness, and he gave it freely.
My wife told me about an article she read years ago about not getting involved with your kids’ fights with others. The author’s children were involved in a very intense and nasty altercation with the neighbor kids. As their mother, she decided to get involved and began to harbor resentment and anger for them and their parents. In a rather short time, the two sets of kids made up and became friends again, but she could not let go of what had now become hatred. Only after many months of suffering did she let it go and forgive. How much pain do we give ourselves due to our unwillingness to forgive? A metric crapload, I would venture, and none of it is worth it.
When I had made my daughter sad, she forgave me almost instantly. Like Joseph, she gives forgiveness freely. My boy is less speedy in this manner, but eventually, his tantrums shut off and he forgives all. President Eyring spoke of rapid repentance and forgiveness in the home, but considering that we are all of the same family these same principles can and should be applied to all corners of our lives: be it at work or school, in public, and just as critically, on social media. Offenses will come our way, and we will be the source of many. Let us obey Heavenly Father’s commandment to follow the Savior’s example and be childlike with our forgiveness; do not hold back, do not hesitate, do not delay, do not discriminate, and do it with love.
“Forgiveness” – President Gordon B. Hinckley, October 2005
“The Healing Power of Forgiveness” – President James E. Faust, April 2007
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