At the bottom of all
hurt, despair, unhappiness, anger, and anxiety
—if you look at it closely—
you will see that it is a lack of
Charity and forgiveness may be the most important challenges we experience every day. Our challenges will stretch us enough to feel the need to seek help from others, especially the Lord. It is important to learn from each of our trials, allowing them to pass through us, and not accumulate and decay within us.
Every person plays an important role in this world created as a proving ground and a preparatory school, to prepare us for the great and final test (the final Judgment) and God’s greatest gift to us—eternal life with our heavenly Father and the Savior. The tests of life cannot be stopped, and each person living is in the midst of a series of tests and trials—tests designed specifically for each individual to prove whether we will remain faithful to God.
“…that I may prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no… for God is come to prove you…for the Lord your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Exodus 16:4; 20:20)
“…and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him.” (Deut. 13:3-4)
The world’s greatest teacher has provided eternal truths and laws in the scriptures and words of his prophets, to teach everyone His gospel so they will know the way back to Him.
“To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that I should bear witness unto the truth…” (John 18:37)
The truths and laws have been given, and each individual will be held accountable for what he has been taught. Each person must endure his own trials which are unique in their timing, duration and severity. Those around us contribute to our education by providing the actors, props, and countless situations to test our responses. Others are placed in our path to either teach us, or for us to teach them valuable lessons. If each offender were to disappear, another would soon take their place. Those who offend us are allowed onto our path to test our commitment to Christ and his teachings.
The desire to forgive must be complete, not a half-hearted attempt. Pull all of the weeds of hate and resentment from your garden. Do not preserve and cultivate a few of those noxious weeds to enjoy them as a daily reminder of your suffering, pointing them out to your friends as they pass by. The more we concentrate on our own inability to forgive, the harder it is to forgive. Forgiveness is forthcoming only after one desires it with no restrictions attached.
Forgiveness is not always instantaneous. For most people, it will take much practice and many years to master. Many people have been severely assaulted with unspeakable crimes. When innocent children have been molested or killed, most of us do not think first about forgiving. Our natural response is anger. We may even feel justified in wanting to “get even” with anyone who inflicts injury on us or our family. Most of us need time to work through extreme pain and loss.
Allow yourself to walk through the valley of grief, but don’t camp in it. Do not spend time pondering the past and what if. Grieve for your loss, and then try hard to move on and find joy in today.
Forgive One Day at a Time
It is not easy to let go and empty our hearts of anger and resentment. Practice forgiving small offenses by a spouse or a child. Decide to think good of the offender for one day, thinking of his good qualities, and forgiving him for just one day. Then, add another day, and another, observing your increase of happiness and peace, and your decrease in a desire for vengeance. When we intentionally act with love and kindness toward another, we will come to see them in a new light and feel greater tenderness and love for them—including those we may have disliked before.
Forgiveness is a choice we make daily. Forgiveness should become a way of life, rather than an occasional event. There is a space between the offensive issue or situation, and our response. Recognize your power to act, and not react. Become master of your mind, and choose to be in control of your response to offenses. Before speaking, ask yourself, “Is it kind, helpful, or necessary?” We can consciously suppress the inclination to sin toward those who have sinned against us, by choosing to forgive—a choice we can make daily.
Tolerance for Others
The best people often have the finest intentions, but give offense and injury without meaning to do so. The offender is often unaware that he has said or done something which was misunderstood or offensive to another. That may be one reason the Lord requires the offended one to make the overtures toward peace, instead of waiting for the offender to learn of the offense and seek forgiveness.
Try to give more attention to kindness and less attention to judgment. Always look for the best in people, and make a conscious effort to be tolerant, understanding, and forgiving. When you put forth the effort to better understand your differences and commonalities, you will find good qualities and things to admire in the person who once offended you. For example, adult children who feel pain and resentment toward their parents can often begin to forgive them by trying to understand their parents’ upbringing and circumstances in their families of origin. Someone once said,
“There are only two kinds of people in this world—
those I love, and those I don’t know.”
True charity manifests itself when we are tolerant of others and lenient toward their actions. It includes being forgiving, patient with someone who has let you down, sympathetic, compassionate, and merciful. Charity means wishing an offender well, and hoping that someday he will learn from this and other offending experiences. Our desire should be to develop tolerance and true charity in all aspects of our lives, guiding us in all we think and do.
“People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered—forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives— be kind anyway. If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies—succeed anyway. If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you—be honest and sincere anyway. What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight—create anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous—be happy anyway. Give the best you have, and it will never be enough—give your best anyway. In the final analysis, it is between you and God—it was never between you and them anyway.” (credited to Mother Teresa)
Apology and Reconciliation
Call or visit with a person who has deeply offended you, or whom you have offended, and seek reconciliation. (If a personal confrontation is too difficult, or is not an option, then write a letter.) Privately discuss offenses with those whom you feel have mistreated you, and ask them to forgive you for your hard feelings toward them. Also, be willing to accept apologies from others and extend forgiveness to them, allowing both you and others to change and live more peacefully.
“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.” (Matthew 18:15)
“If thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath aught against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
The Savior is teaching us to try to resolve an offense, whether we hold a resentment, or we know we have offended another person who has “aught against us.”
It is harder to forgive when one person is not ready to apologize or forgive; however, the other person can still experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness. Make an effort to apologize and take responsibility for your part in an offense, regardless of the other person’s actions or willingness to repent, ask forgiveness, or grant forgiveness to you.
Choose to pass the tests of life as a survivor and conqueror of opposition, not a victim. Some allow an unfortunate event or situation in childhood to begin a lifetime of related destructive behavior. When we carry unhappy feelings about past hurts too long, we waste a great deal of time and energy dwelling on things that cannot be changed. We struggle to close the door, and let go of the hurt. Both adults and children can learn to forgive others, so they can live free of the burden of offenses. Decide if you want the blessings of peace and happiness by courageously forgiving now, more than you want to remain a victim and hold on to the pain of resentment until the wrongdoer repents—which may take many years, or may never happen at all.
There are several acceptable reasons to share an offense with others. First, the nature of the offense may make it essential to share the details of the offense with numerous people, such as a legal authority, counselor, or religious leader. In addition, sharing your pain with a few trusted friends allows them to acknowledge your hurt and support you with their love. Sharing an offense may also help others avoid your painful experience. Finally, sharing an example of love and forgiveness of an offense may motivate others to forgive.
However, the offender’s reputation is damaged when the offense is shared by unforgiving, judgmental people who needlessly provide painful reminders of the offense to others. This can make it difficult for the offender to leave the past behind and make any desired changes, even if particular weaknesses are no longer a part of his life. In addition, the one offended is damaged by needlessly sharing the offense with many others, making it more difficult for the offended person and all others informed of the offense to forgive and forget.
Refuse to allow past memories to keep hurting. By needlessly and repeatedly recalling the details and pain of past offenses, we re-feel the pain and suffer hundreds of times for a single offense.
Learn to control what you think about, because our thoughts shape our feelings, emotions, attitudes, actions and lives. Use the Law of Substitution, and choose something positive to replace negative thoughts—an uplifting song, poem, scripture, picture, or a pleasant memory. Then, when memories of past hurts and offenses enter your mind, quickly replace those undesirable thoughts with pleasant, peaceful thoughts, until it becomes a habit.
By refusing to think and dwell on past mistakes, both our own and those of others, we are forcing out the offensive memories by thinking of something else. Then, the painful memories will begin to fade, along with the emotional pain. When we are able to remember past mistakes simply as learning experiences, and to avoid repeating them, we can live in the present with a softer, forgiving heart.
Remember the Teachings of Christ
The Savior is our example in everything—see yourself as a disciple of Christ with a desire to follow and become more like him. Having faith in God and trusting in his counsel enables people to withstand the worst of humanity. It also enables people to look beyond themselves; and more importantly, it enables them to forgive.
We have already been taught by Christ’s example which path to follow—how to live, love, forgive, and serve.
“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them.” (Psalms 119:165)
“And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever…There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” (Isaiah 32:17; 57:21)
Obedience. Christ taught us how to be obedient to the laws of God, when in Gethsemane he said,
“Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42)
Love. Christ never stopped teaching us to love others. Love can endure despite great hardship and difficulty. Christ taught us the ultimate form of love while he hung on the cross. When suffering more pain than we can imagine, he still had love for those around him, including the very people who were nailing his body to the cross. With his pure love with no boundaries or limitations, he forgave, and asked his Father to forgive, those who persecuted and crucified him, by saying:
“Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Forgiveness. Christ taught mercy and forgiveness with his plea on the cross, and the story of the prodigal son. (Luke 15)
Service. Christ’s entire ministry was one of service.
He taught us how to serve when he
“began to wash the disciples’ feet…For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:5, 14-17) Jesus expects those who take upon them his name
to notice the needs of others, and then reach out with love to help one another in the same manner he would if he were here. He is depending upon each of us to serve and lift others. Serving those who have offended us, including our enemies, will diminish our suffering and sorrow, break down barriers, and increase love and understanding. Look for ways to show a gentle heart. Take time to pause, help, and lift another; and you will gain greater understanding, empathy, and insight into the lives and suffering of others.
Our True Relationship with One Another
As we interact with individuals, remember our true relationship with one another. The scriptures teach us that all mortals existed in heaven as spirit children of God before we were born on earth into physical bodies. Although we have forgotten this pre-earth life experience, the scriptures remind us of what we once knew and that we knew Christ and our Heavenly Father very well before we were born.
“Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee.” (Jeremiah 1:5) God created men and women in his own image, not the image of an animal.
“O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh…the Lord, the God of the spirits of all flesh.” (Numbers 16:22; 27:16)
“…the Father that sent me beareth witness of me.” (John 8:18)
“Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?” (Hebrews 12:9)
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them…And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil…” (Genesis 1:26-27; 3:22)
Our Heavenly Father is in a very real sense the actual Father of our spirits, which gives literal significance to the phrase “Our Heavenly Father.” It follows that we are all brothers and sisters regardless of race, creed, or nationality.
“Have we not all one father? Hath not one God created us? Why do we deal treacherously every man against his brother.” (Malachi 2:10)
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:9)
“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
“Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17)
If our Heavenly Father is truly our father, and Christ is his son, then Christ is also our literal brother, and all men are brothers and sisters.
“And low, a voice from heaven , saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
“…for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:27)
“…and behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him.” (Matthew 17:5)
“…wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” (John 3:16-17)
“Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.” (John 20:17)
“Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56)
We are all sons and daughters of the same Heavenly Father who loves us. We are literal brothers and sisters to one another and to Jesus Christ—all in one very large, common, eternal family. If every individual would embrace this truth, we would create greater understanding, happiness, compassion, and love for one another—and the present wars, crime, and all forms of cruelty would cease.
“Ye are the children of the Lord your God.” (Deut. 14:1)
“If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him.” (John 14:7)
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16)
“Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:2)
Our heavenly Father loves each of us so much “that he gave his only begotten Son,” to give every one of his children the opportunity to become like Him. As children of God we are invited to develop his attributes of love, learning, kindness, patience, meekness, courage, good will, forgiveness…and the list goes on. We can become like Him by following Christ’s example and choosing righteousness over sin, so we may be worthy to return to live with both Christ and our Heavenly Father.
There is a spark of divinity in each of us, and we should do all we can to return to God’s presence. He is involved in the very details of our lives, and is working harder than we are to bring us back to him. The day is not too far distant when we will see the face of God and embrace him. Nothing is going to startle us more than when we pass into the spirit world and realize how well we know our Heavenly Father, and how familiar his face is to us. We know Him!
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48)
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
“For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:15)
“If ye love me, keep my commandments…follow thou me.” (John 14:15; 21:22)
“…leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps.” (1 Peter 2:21)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
Ponder the trials of others in our eternal family, their divine nature, and their individual worth in the sight of a loving Heavenly Father. Visualize the miracle of forgiveness in the life of the offender, as he repents and becomes reformed, cleansed and healed through the atoning sacrifice of Christ. Commit to interact with greater love and forgiveness for the sons and daughters of God, each of whom He loves and wants to return to live with him.
Teach your children of your experiences with forgiveness. Teach them how hard life is for everyone—that their hearts will be broken many times, that they will have to resist temptation everyday, and daily forgive those who hurt and offend them. Teach them that the purpose of life is to refine us and teach us what is important. Teach them how to turn to God for comfort and support in the midst of their trials. Teach them how to think and act like Christ, so that when they see him, they will be like him.
Teach your children from the scriptures and take them to Church. The more we know of Jesus—the more we will love Him, trust Him, want to be like Him, and want to be with Him by becoming the manner of men and women that He wishes us to be.
Long after his death, Christ is still remembered for his goodness and charity, inspiring others to follow his example of being useful, honorable, and compassionate. As our lives reflect the life of Christ, those around us and those who will live after us will also remember our good works and desire to love, forgive, and serve others. Then, we will know that our life mattered—that we made a difference for good in the lives of others.