This opinion piece talks about forgiving others. I’ll leave forgiveness of self either to someone else or to another day. Most of us have difficulty forgiving others, but it doesn’t have to stay that way.

The symptoms

If I were to take a survey, I’ll bet almost every one of us would be able to honestly report that someone, at some time has offended us, or at least has hurt us greatly in some way. Even thinking about a hurtful incident can fill our mind and our heart with sorrow, pain, and even anger. Our interactions with one another have so many ways of getting derailed. Sometimes these social train wrecks of offense are deliberate, but often they are not. And sometimes the other person isn’t even aware they have caused it to happen, or are not aware of how much hurt they have caused.

Some of our altercations that end up in estrangement one from another are over a difference of opinion, a difference of perception, a difference of belief, or a perspective that doesn’t allow for anyone else to be right. There are so many ways to grow and harvest hurt. Forgiveness is the only way to get rid of all the unpleasantness that comes with offense. We all know that setting aside rotting food doesn’t make it go away, it only continues to attract more unpleasantness, and to stink up the house. Offense must be removed from our life if we are to get rid of its effects on us.

In week 25 of the Come, Follow Me lessons for Doctrine and Covenants 64-66 in 2021, the first day’s lesson references a talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland from the October, 2018 General Conference. The title of his talk is, “The Ministry of Reconciliation.” In this talk he relates a story of a good man, Bro. Bowen, who had a disagreement with his Bishop over whether Bro. Bowen was a full tithe payer. This disagreement resulted in an absence of Bro. Bowen from church for 15 years.

Regardless of who was right about the tithing, evidently both Morrell and the bishop forgot the Savior’s injunction to “agree with thine adversary quickly” and Paul’s counsel to “let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” The fact is they didn’t agree and the sun did go down on Brother Bowen’s wrath for days, then weeks, then years, proving the point made by one of the wisest of the ancient Romans, who said, “Anger, if not restrained, is frequently more [destructive] than the injury that provokes it.” [emphasis added]

In a much better world, either one of these well-meaning men would have set up another meeting to try to come to an understanding, so that the unkind and harsh feelings from the first meeting didn’t linger. But neither of them attempted to resolve their impasse, and Bro. Bowen fell out of activity for many years. His anger is what kept him away from the church. He was angry with the Bishop, but he allowed his anger with another person to cause injury to himself and his family for one and a half decades.

The focus

We can all tell stories about when someone hurt us in one way or another. Let’s look at at few aspects of this particular encounter to see if we can pull anything out of it that will ring true to something in our own lives.

Bro. Bowen was a good man. He loved his family, the church, had a testimony of the gospel of Christ, and his family loved him. Yet what did Bro. Bowen do when he was hurt by the Bishop (and it doesn’t really matter who was right, we are looking here about the relationship between the two men)? Bro. Bowen allowed his anger, hurt, the insult he had been offered, to hurt his family for 15 years. Who knows how many other relationships were damaged by the hurt harboring in Bro. Bowen’s heart all those years?

Have you ever been hurt by someone or an event that you carried for years? Do you recognize that hurt over one thing causes damage to others around us and to our relationships to others? That damage remains and continues until we have forgiven whatever or whomever caused it in the first place. This means that when we are hurt by others we spread that hurt as long as we nurse it with an unforgiving heart. That damage we received becomes in us a contact point to cause damage to others for as long as we carry it with us. Only forgiving that hurt can make it go away and bring healing to our soul and our relationships with others.

Why forgiveness?

Short answer – we forgive because we have been commanded to forgive. Doctrine and Covenants 64:10-11 are pretty clear on the Lord’s standing and position on forgiveness.

10 I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.

11 And ye ought to say in your hearts—let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds.

And if I may, I believe that last part about “let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds,” shouldn’t be said with the implication in our own heart that ‘there is no way God will let them get away with what they have done and will surely punish them for it.’ When we make a comment as this one in verse eleven, we should have the attitude that we honestly hope the Lord is able to look into their heart and find the good there that will save them from punishment. This attitude at least offers the possibility that the hurt given was either unintentional or was at least not done with evil or malicious intent.

Have you noticed that when a member of our family hurts us we are far more likely to forgive them than if our neighbor insults or hurts us? Why do you think that is? Sometimes, because we are so close to our own family members, their hurts to us cut even deeper than things any stranger might be able to inflict on us. Might our love for our family member affect our willingness to let things go? Might our assumption that the need to forgive family affects our readiness to forgive them? At what point does our willingness to forgive get rescinded? Do we stop forgiving others if they live outside our four walls? What about if they are extended family or someone we know well? Why are we willing to forgive some, but not others?

The difference

Who we are thinking about may influence who we forgive. When our family member hurts us, don’t we forgive them more readily because we are thinking about them and their welfare? Honestly, if a stranger hurts you, do you give that stranger the same space for repentance and change? Don’t we tend to be more harsh with a stranger than we are with a member of our own family? Because we love the member of our family, we make excuses for them, and make allowances for them. We don’t tend to be so generous with strangers or those in our work place.

With family we are more likely to think of them and their situation, their welfare. With strangers, i.e. those not in our family, we tend to think of our own convenience, our own comfort. We take hurt from a stranger more personal, and tend to carry more resentment towards those who are not intimately related to us.

The commandment

We have two great commandments, upon which all other commandments rest. The first is to love the Lord with all our hearts. The second is like unto it (I’m paraphrasing here), we are to love our neighbor as our self. I’m still personally working on that second commandment. But may I suggest that we will move much closer to that commandment if we can place the neighbors in our life into the same category as our family members.

Perhaps treating those we meet in traffic, on the subway, in the store, at the gas station, over the phone, with greater civility, like we would treat a member of our family, we would feel better about them. I wonder if by assuming the best of others, as we hope and wish they will assume about us, we will think less harshly of them and their behavior.

We may need to start thinking of those who don’t live within the walls of our apartment or home as family members we just haven’t gotten to know very well yet. We may need to do with them what we do with our own family members, and cut them some slack by making excuses for their behavior when they behave badly. I’m not saying embrace poor behavior. I’m suggesting that we consider approaching others in the same way that we approach those we actually, currently love.

I believe that sometimes we take offense and are hurt by others because we assume they act on the worst possible motives. Do we do that with our own family members? What if we were able to approach those in our work place or in the public space with the same tolerance and air of forgiveness that we offer to those we already love? Might that make a difference in how much easier it is to deal with others and might it become easier to let their indiscretions go without judgment?

Our judgment

The Lord is very clear that those who don’t forgive have the greater sin. Here is Doctrine and Covenants 64:9.

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.

Why do you think we who don’t forgive others have the greater sin? The Lord doesn’t even care what the offense is, the greater sin still lies with the one who is not willing to forgive.

Here are a couple of possibilities. Perhaps the person who refuses to forgive is still so focused on themself that no matter what the other person has done, the self absorbed person is the one who is doing the greatest damage to others. If you have already gone and looked up the talk I referenced earlier, Bro. Bowen damaged himself and his family for 15 years over a few minute conversation with someone who hurt his feelings. Who did the greater wrong?

Another possibility is that those of us who are unwilling to forgive are actually usurping Christ’s God-given role as judge. We are not qualified to judge others. We do not have the right to judge others, yet refusing to forgive is in itself an act of judgment of someone’s worthiness before God. Only God can forgive our personal sins. To declare someone unworthy or forgiveness is a declaration that we have the right to deny someone forgiveness for their personal sins. Has that person broken our laws? They may have broken God’s laws, but we are all subject to God’s laws, so none of us has the right to declare who is worthy of forgiveness and who is not. That is God’s territory, and His commandment to all of us is that we always and forever forgive others of their sins.

It’s hard, but better than the alternative

Forgiving someone who has hurt us is hard. I am sure there are those who are gifted with the ability to forgive easily. I am not one of them, and I think I am not alone in my feelings. It can be hard to forgive. But when I am not forgiving others, I have to admit that I am still only thinking of myself, and not of their welfare. When I am unforgiving I am still not humble. I find that it is only when I go to the Lord and confess that I am the greater sinner for wanting to harbor resentment and anger for their offense to me that I am able to begin to let that offense and hurt go.

Letting go of the hurt others cause may be difficult, but it frees our souls to feel peace. Letting go brings a sense of comfort from God, and a satisfaction that the Lord is in control. I don’t have to worry about whether or not that person will be punished. All I need to worry about is whether or not I am forgiven of my sins. When we turn the behavior of others over to the Lord, where answering for behavior belongs, we free ourselves of the burden of everyone else’s sins. Isn’t focusing and taking care of our own sins enough work?

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The Trouble With and the Promise of Forgiveness