C.S Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you”. However, sometimes whilst our heads know this is correct, our hearts cannot forgive. The transgression may be too painful, too raw, or we are angry and want retribution for this perceived injustice. This inability to forgive can cause heavy burdens and interfere with our everyday lives. It may lead to an eventual point where it can consume us, occupy our thoughts, and lead us into a cycle of misery and despondency. As Latter-day Saints, we know that the purpose of this life is happiness now and in the life to come.
As Dieter F Uchtdorf says:
“We shouldn’t wait to be happy until we reach some future point, only to discover that happiness was already available, all the time! Life is not meant to be appreciated only in retrospect. This is the day which the Lord hath made, the Psalmist wrote. Rejoice and be glad in it”.
So how can we do this? How can we break free from this cycle and rejoice in the day? Here are some things to keep in mind.
1. Forgiveness should be positive
“You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm.” -Anonymous
Yes, that is right, you are not required to help others at your own expense. As Christians how many times do we think we are not being a good Christian if we fail to turn the other cheek? Yet this is not what forgiveness is about.
Forgiveness is not:
- Minimizing abuse
- Completely forgetting the offense
- Accepting the blame
- Excusing behavior
One of the prevalent themes regarding forgiveness is the need for the person to not sin again. Christ makes this point very clear in John 8:11-12:
“Go, and sin no more, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life”.
As this scripture indicates, by minimizing the abuse, accepting the blame, or excusing the behavior, you are not allowing the transgressor the opportunity to repent. You are not affording them the ability to put their lives in order. It is important to be able to realize what they have done and to change their behavior. You are absolving them from blame.
2. Your Happiness is YOURS
Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Nelson Mandela
Your own happiness should not be dependent on the actions of others. Once you have acknowledged what happened and validated your feelings, you must move on regardless of what the other person does. You are not in charge of another person’s agency. In his talk, The Healing Power of Forgiveness James E. Faust says:
“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. The folly of rehashing long-past hurts does not bring happiness”.
Part of forgiving is allowing the atonement to work in our lives. We cannot do this if we are holding ourselves back by waiting on the actions of others.
Forgiveness also does not mean that we have to restore the relationship. If being with someone puts you in a dangerous or abusive situation, mentally, spiritually or physically, it is alright to forgive them but protect yourself and remove yourself from that influence. If you are in a situation like this here are two excellent resources from the church: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2008/09/hope-and-healing-in-recovering-from-abuse?lang=eng&_r=1 and http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/how-mormons-approach-abuse
3. Cultivate a Forgiving Attitude
Forgiveness is a divine attribute and as such one cannot forgive without love. Forgiveness is a charitable act.
1 Corinthians 13 goes into to great detail about what charity is and the importance of it. One part that really sticks out us “Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things”. By forgiving others we are expressing that love of God and believeth and hopeth for better things to come out of that act. Forgiveness must be sincere in order for it to work. If you are not at the place where you feel like you can forgive another, ask God in prayer for that desire and change of your heart. As we forgive others and let go of resentments and grudges we are able to see the atonement working in our lives and the lives of those around us.
Real forgiveness comes through loving the person. We want to forgive them, we want to see them progress and repent and become better. This should not be at the expense of ourselves but because we acknowledge them as children of God regardless of their transgressions. We realize that there is nothing which will bring us closer to our Heavenly Father then emulating the Savior by being kind, meek, and long suffering. Holding onto bitterness and anger will only harden our hearts and bring us further away from the comfort that we seek. It can be very difficult to forgive someone, but by doing so we are giving ourselves back the gift of our own agency. We are freeing ourselves from bondage and seeing ourselves as God sees us, Forgiveness does not make a person weak, it makes someone strong and that is something we should all be reminded of.