A talk by Pete Codella for high council speaking Sunday in April 2017 (learn more here).
My mom was raised in Richfield, Utah. One of the stories in her family’s history is an incident in which her older brother was getting picked on in school. There was a mean boy who was frequently stealing my uncle’s lunch.
My grandma figured out what was going on when her son would come home from school hungry and eat anything he could find. So, she told her son one morning that she had made a special sandwich for the mean boy and to make sure he got to eat it, not my uncle.
Sure enough, the mean boy stole his lunch and was shocked to bite into a spicy hot sandwich which my grandma had sprinkled with cayenne pepper. After that, my uncle didn’t have any problems with kids stealing his lunch.
We all encounter meanness, either intended or not. It’s part of our earthly experience. The challenge isn’t to see if we run into trouble, it’s to see what we do — and what we learn — when we run into trouble.
I don’t know if any of you have been offended by a co-worker, taken advantage of by a neighbor or an employer, or have been a victim of physical or emotional abuse. Chances are we can all personally relate to situations like those, or we have family members who we know can relate.
Like the scriptures teach, opposition is necessary to help us learn, develop and grow to become like our Heavenly Father. It’s in the trials and opposition that we find and reinforce faith, develop perseverance and ultimately, strength, as we learn in Ether in the Book of Mormon.
President Brigham Young offered this insight: “Every calamity that can come upon mortal beings will be suffered to come upon the few, to prepare them to enjoy the presence of the Lord. … Every trial and experience you have passed through is necessary for your salvation.”
My purpose today is to discuss how repenting and forgiving, and all that entails, helps us heal, draw closer to the Spirit and become more like the Savior.
In Elder Duncan’s general conference talk on forgiveness last April, he noted:
We will all be hurt in this world. All that is of God encompasses love, light and truth. Yet as human beings we live in a fallen world, sometimes full of darkness and confusion. It comes as no surprise that mistakes will be made, injustices will occur and sins will be committed. As a result, there is not a soul alive who will not, at one time or another, be the victim to someone else’s careless actions, hurtful conduct or even sinful behavior. That is one thing we all have in common.
I hope, when we encounter injustice, we don’t whine, “Why me?” Instead, let’s trust in a wise, loving Heavenly Father, recognize that all these things will give us experience and be for our good, and humbly ask, “What can I learn?”
Like Elder Holland has said: “Yes, life has its problems, and yes, there are negative things to face, but please accept one of Elder Holland’s maxims for living — no misfortune is so bad that whining about it won’t make it worse.”
Elder Duncan compared forgiving others to encountering an iceberg. We usually only see the very tip of an iceberg and not beneath the surface. We don’t know that person’s past, their struggles or what pains they carry. We don’t understand what conditions or choices caused them to behave in the way they did.
Let’s remember that our forgiveness of others has nothing to do with condoning hurtful or sinful behavior. “We do not rationalize bad behavior or allow others to mistreat us because of their struggles, pains or weaknesses,” Elder Duncan said. “But we can gain greater understanding and peace when we see with a broader perspective.”
In other words, if we could view them as our Heavenly Father does, we’d feel His perfect love for them and have a complete understanding.
Imagine what a parent’s perfect love must feel like. Those of us with children or in families — and that’s most likely all of us — probably have some sort of understanding of love. But our Heavenly Father’s love is complete, it’s perfect.
As Elder Duncan said, we don’t idly stand by and let others take advantage.
In my 20s, a wise bishop counseled me that part of the forgiveness process is taking steps to remove yourself from unwanted situations. I struggled with ending friendships and felt conflicted with the ideal of being kind like the Savior while being asked to stay away from certain individuals. How was turning my back on friends and moving on a kind thing to do?
I found solace in the thought that I could still be kind to everyone, as the Savior would be, but that I wasn’t required to be a friend to everyone. After all, were those people really my friends? Did they have the same objective as me, to return to Heavenly Father with honor?
This can include some gray area, but if you think of it like this: “Would the Savior be a friend to Lucifer,” we all know that’s ludicrous.
Forgiving others is not about them. It’s about us. We are no longer a victim when we forgive. Elder Duncan said: “Gratefully, God, in His love and mercy for His children, has prepared a way to help us navigate these sometimes turbulent experiences of life. He has provided an escape for all who fall victim to the misdeeds of others. He has taught us that we can forgive! Even though we may be a victim once, we need not be a victim twice by carrying the burden of hate, bitterness, pain, resentment or even revenge. We can forgive and we can be free!”
“But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). Of all the things the Savior could have said in the Lord’s Prayer, which is remarkably short, it’s interesting that He chose to include: “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12; 3 Nephi 13:11).
Along those lines, President Faust shared this in the April 2007 general conference: “Let us remember that we need to forgive to be forgiven. In the words of one of my favorite hymns, ‘Oh, forgive as thou wouldst be e’en forgiven now by me.’ With all my heart and soul,” Elder Faust said, “I believe in the healing power that can come to us as we follow the counsel of the Savior to forgive all men.”
Elder Scott, back in the spring conference of 1995, taught that: “For your peace now and for everlasting happiness, please repent. Open your heart to the Lord and ask Him to help you. You will earn the blessing of forgiveness, peace, and the knowledge you have been purified and made whole. Find the courage to ask the Lord for strength to repent, now. I solemnly witness that Jesus Christ is the Redeemer. I know that He lives. I testify that He loves you personally and will help you.”
Forgiveness really is the gospel version of growth, progress and change. Without it, we’re disgruntled, bitter, condemned natural men and women.
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him” (Mosiah 3:19).
Elder Duncan also taught about harboring resentment: “In our shortsightedness, we may sometimes find it easy to develop resentments toward others who do not act or think the way we do. We may form intolerant attitudes based on such things as rooting for opposing sports teams, holding different political views, or having different religious beliefs. President Russell M. Nelson gave wise counsel when he said, ‘Opportunities to listen to those of diverse religious or political persuasion can promote tolerance and learning.’”
There’s another important principle we need to consider. One of Satan’s great lies is that changing or repenting now is pointless. We’re too set in our ways, or the incident happened too long ago, and repentance is just not worth it.
President Packer addressed this: “Perhaps the offense was long ago, or the injured refused your penance. Perhaps the damage was so severe that you cannot fix it no matter how desperately you want to. ‘There is never a time,’ the Prophet Joseph Smith taught, ‘when the spirit is too old to approach God. All are within the reach of pardoning mercy, who have not committed the unpardonable sin.’”
Do you recall the story President Monson shared in October 2009 about the young father who lost his temper many years ago as he, his wife and 18-month old son drove together on a trip?
President Monson said: “If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry.” And this is part of the story he shared:
…during the trip, the husband and wife had a disagreement. After all these years, I cannot recall what caused it. But I do remember that their argument escalated and became so heated that they were eventually yelling at one another. Understandably, this caused their young son to begin crying, which the husband said only added to his anger. Losing total control of his temper, he picked up a toy the child had dropped on the seat and flung it in the direction of his wife.
He missed hitting his wife. Instead, the toy struck their son, with the result that he was brain damaged and would be handicapped for the rest of his life.
This was one of the most tragic situations I had ever encountered. I counseled and encouraged them. We talked of commitment and responsibility, of acceptance and forgiveness. We spoke of the affection and respect which needed to return to their family. We read words of comfort from the scriptures. We prayed together. Though I have not heard from them since that day so long ago, they were smiling through their tears as they left my office. All these years I’ve hoped they made the decision to remain together, comforted and blessed by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
I think of them whenever I read the words: “Anger doesn’t solve anything. It builds nothing, but it can destroy everything.””
President Faust said: “Most of us need time to work through pain and loss. 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. The folly of rehashing long-past hurts does not bring happiness. Some hold grudges for a lifetime, unaware that courageously forgiving those who have wronged us is wholesome and therapeutic.”
I have a dear friend whose marriage ended, in part, because his spouse kept rehashing and reliving perceived wrongs from years past — things they had already dealt with and struggled through together.
The scriptures teach: “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow,” (Isaiah 1:18) and “…he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more” (D&C 58:42).
The Lord forgives and forgets. We can too. We may not completely forget the circumstances, or escape the outcomes, but we can move on and be free of resentment.
Sometimes, injustice creates great personal and even societal loss. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught: “The Lord compensates the faithful for every loss…. Every tear today will eventually be returned a hundredfold with tears of rejoicing and gratitude.”
God will mete out a punishment that is fair, for mercy cannot rob justice (see Alma 42:25). God lovingly assures you and me: “Leave judgment alone with me, for it is mine and I will repay. [But let] peace be with you” (D&C 82:23). The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob also promised that God “will console you in your afflictions, and he will plead your cause, and send down justice upon those who seek your destruction” (Jacob 3:1).
No one is perfect, so let’s not get caught-up in wishing our situation was different or thinking the grass is greener on the other side. We’re not here to compete against our brothers and sisters. There are an unlimited number of places in the celestial kingdom. Because God loves His children — all His children — there’s room enough for everyone who wants to be there.
The only competition we face is in our choosing. We compete with ourselves against moral right and wrong in our thoughts, words and actions.
Back to Elder Duncan’s remarks:
The scriptures teach us that God’s love for His children is perfect. He knows their potential for good, regardless of their past. By all accounts, there could not have been a more aggressive or harsh enemy of the followers of Jesus Christ than Saul of Tarsus. Yet once God showed Saul light and truth, there was never a more devoted, enthusiastic or fearless disciple of the Savior. Saul became the Apostle Paul. His life offers a wonderful example of how God sees people not only as they currently are but also as they may become. We all have, in our own lives, Saul-like individuals with Paul-like potential. Can you imagine how our families, our communities and the world at large might change if we all tried to see each other as God sees us?
Certainly those who are less spiritually mature may indeed make serious mistakes — yet none of us should be defined only by the worst thing we have ever done. God is the perfect judge. He sees beneath the surface. He knows all and sees all (see 2 Nephi 2:24). He has said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10).
The most difficult people to forgive are those who wrong you. But two wrongs don’t make a right.
Christ Himself, when He was unjustly accused, then savagely assaulted, beaten, and left suffering upon the cross, in that very moment said, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
What better example can we have of forgiveness than from the Savior himself?
Elder Bednar, in 2006, taught this:
When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not a condition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.
In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.
The Savior is the greatest example of how we should respond to potentially offensive events or situations.
“And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Nephi 19:9).
Through the strengthening power of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, you and I can be blessed to avoid and triumph over offense. “Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).
The capacity to conquer offense may seem beyond our reach, but it’s not.
Understanding that the Church is a learning laboratory helps us to prepare for an inevitable reality. In some way and at some time, someone in this Church will do or say something that could be considered offensive. Such an event will surely happen to each and every one of us—and it certainly will occur more than once. Though people may not intend to injure or offend us, they nonetheless can be inconsiderate and tactless.
You and I cannot control the intentions or behavior of other people. However, we do determine how we will act. Please remember that you and I are agents endowed with moral agency, and we can choose not to be offended.”
Repentance is not a bad word. As one of the first principles of the gospel, it’s one of life’s most important, frequent endeavors. We all fall short. Not one of us can claim an exemption from the call to repentance.
That’s why we work to change and become better. We’re introspective and considerate of how our words and actions impact others. We strive to be supportive and loving. In all we do, we strive for the Spirit to attend us, to counsel us, to teach us, to help us.
During each sacrament meeting we devote sacred time to remembering the life, ministry and atonement of Jesus Christ. We meditate on the remarkable gift of resurrection that we celebrated with Easter earlier this month, and we give thanks to our Heavenly Father for the plan of salvation and our personal path to exaltation.
Elder Scott said: “The fruit of true repentance is forgiveness, which opens the door to receive all of the covenants and ordinances provided on this earth and to enjoy the resulting blessings. When a repentant soul is baptized, all former sins are forgiven and need not be remembered. When repentance is full and one has been cleansed, there comes a new vision of life and its glorious possibilities.”
Repentance heals and prepares the way for us to make and keep sacred covenants, covenants that allow us to return to Heavenly Father. If you’re in a funk or feel a lack of joy and happiness in your life, perhaps some heartfelt, humble repentance is in order.
I know that through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance to bring our lives in line with the Father’s will, we will find the greatest joy in life and peace in the future.
I know that by forgiving, I too, can be forgiven of my shortcomings, mistakes and follies. I pray we may be humble enough to recognize our faults, strong enough to change, brave enough to make amends, and faithful enough to allow the miracle of forgiveness to be amazing in our lives.
Resources on LDS.org
“The Healing Ointment of Forgiveness,” Elder Kevin Duncan, April 2016
“And Nothing Shall Offend Them,” Elder David Bednar, October 2006
Image credit – Jesus forgives woman taken in adultery