This week we covered the topic. I won’t claim it’s the most important topic there is, considering that the atonement, faith in Christ, and covenants are awfully important topics (to say the least). But. This topic strikes at the very core of how we see our Father in Heaven, how we see the Savior, how we see others, and how we see ourselves. We cannot live after the manner of happiness if we do not live this principle. We certainly do live after the manner of misery when we don’t live it.
The topic? Forgiveness.
Gordon B. Hinckley said, “A spirit of forgiveness and an attitude of love and compassion toward those who may have wronged us is of the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The very essence!
Five forgiveness-related principles clearly taught in the scriptures seem important:
- I must forgive others if I am to be forgiven. This is taught in the Lord’s prayer—and in the next two verses following the Lord’s prayer in the Sermon on the Mount: “For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” The Savior teaches a wonderful and critical parable in Matthew 18 about the servant who, though readily forgiven by a compassionate king, failed to pay it forward and so was “delivered to the tormentors” by that same compassionate—and just—king. How quickly he went from bondage to freedom and back to bondage again! I cannot hope for much needed forgiveness from the Savior as long as I withhold forgiveness from another.
- I must forgive repeatedly—even the same person, even the same offense. (Note: Forgiving someone does not mean becoming their doormat or tolerating being their victim.) Peter asked plainly, “How oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him?” The Lord’s answer was less plain, but its point is nevertheless clear. Surely “until seventy times seven” means each and every time and does not suggest that we stop after 490. How dangerous of us to forget, when we become frustrated or worse by the repeated failures and offenses of a loved one, that the Savior passed 490 times with us a very, very long time ago. When losing patience with another, we might ask, “How oft shall I sin and need God’s forgiveness in order to live with Him again?”
- I will be judged as harshly—or as mercifully—as I judge. “With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged,” the Savior said. And, paraphrasing Him, “The measuring stick you use for others shall be used to measure you.” On the other hand—and how beautiful this is!—“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Peter, after objecting to the Savior washing his feet and then understanding that it was necessary if Peter were to live again with the Savior, cried, “Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.” Similarly, when we come to realize that the merciful obtain mercy and that we need mercy, we should become enthusiastic about extending mercy and the most generous judgment possible to others. Before Moroni exhorts us to pray about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, he instructs us to remember and ponder on the mercy of God. Interesting how the pondering of God’s mercy brings the Spirit into our hearts.
- I commit the bigger sin when I fail to forgive. Really? My spouse cheats on me and I fail to forgive and I have the bigger sin? Somebody abuses my small child and I withhold forgiveness and I have the bigger sin? Do any of us actually believe this principle?! Perhaps it’s easy for me to say I do when I’ve never been offended to those degrees, but what’s the logic behind it? Isn’t failing to forgive someone a rejection of the atonement? Isn’t it a rejection of the idea that the offender can and may very well be forgiven by God? And isn’t it a rejection of the idea that I need forgiveness, myself—that I am the very beggar and unprofitable servant King Benjamin talks about? Am I not even, in a sense, placing myself above God? What could be worse than that?
- I must respond to offense with charity. The “eye for an eye” days are over—and not just for everybody else! Instead… “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.” Do good to them! Not snarky good. Genuine good. We have heard, even in General Conference, about the exemplary ability of the Amish to forgive. Anabaptists have a long history of loving their enemies and blessing them that curse them. We should all remember the example of Dirk Willems.
Forgiveness benefits the forgiver. President Kimball said, “The essence … of forgiveness is that it brings peace to the previously anxious, restless, frustrated, perhaps tormented soul.” Interesting that words like frustrated and tormented are used here to describe not the offender, but the offended. Such words probably describe both parties. Relief comes through forgiveness, which comes from seeing the offender, myself, and God all accurately: the offender as someone trying and sometimes (perhaps often) failing just like me, myself as someone in infinite need of forgiveness, and God as generous and benevolent toward all his children.
We should remember just how willing the Savior is to forgive. “There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both.” The phrase “when they had nothing to pay” is notable. I think of it as meaning that their hearts were broken and their spirits contrite. At that point, he forgave them “frankly.” Frankly means (at least according to Webster in 1828) “without reserve or constraint; liberally; freely.” When our hearts are broken, forgiveness comes freely. Yet! “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men,” whether their hearts are broken or not—for “the Lord looketh on the heart”—and sees what I cannot.
Our willingness or unwillingness to forgive says so much about us!
Do I see myself, in spite of my awareness of other people’s shortcomings, as being desperately in need of the grace of God, myself? Do I recognize myself as the servant who truly owes “ten thousand talents”? Do I see those who offend me as owing me much less than that? Do I avoid even taking offense because I see my own shortcomings reflected in those of the person who wrongs me? Or do I respond to others with indignation because of my failure to see both my shortcomings and their pain and disadvantages? Am I adequately generous with other people when I try to explain their behavior to myself? Do I see God as the kind, generous, compassionate father He is? Do I forget in my moments of self-absorption that his kindness, compassion, generosity, and willingness to forgive extend to those I am not forgiving? Or do I sincerely celebrate the fact that they do and let Him deal with whatever justice must be dealt with?
Do I appreciate the fact that other people are trying; that they, too, yearn for happiness; that they, too, regret their repeated shortcomings; and that they have spiritual and emotional scars with which I may lack both awareness and understanding?
The scriptures have some beautiful, touching examples of forgiveness. One of the best is the story of Joseph. After debating killing him, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery where he suffered temptation, ended up in prison, but rose to great power. (You know the story.) Yet when Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers, his thoughts and feelings are for them. They are not about how he was wronged. Rather, they reveal his anxiousness to provide comfort to them!
“Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life. For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God… Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him… thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children’s children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty. And he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them…”
May we be like Joseph. May we reflect the character of Christ, and, at all times, even during the hard moments, turn our thoughts to the other person and have our hearts and minds, inviting compassion.
What do we see when we encounter or interact with other people? Whether it’s your best friend, a teacher at school, a clerk at the 7-Eleven, your mother, the person in your rear-view mirror tailgating you, an old rival from high school, a co-worker, someone standing near a road holding a sign asking for money… When you see these people, what do you see? Which “them” do you see?
Numerous scriptures refer to seeing incorrectly or not seeing at all in spite of having the ability. We read things like:
- “they seeing see not” (Matthew 13:13)
- “having eyes, see ye not?” (Mark 8:18)
- “wo unto the blind that will not see” (2 Nephi 9:32)
- “we see through a glass, darkly” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
- “seeing many things but thou observest not” (Isaiah 42:20)
The promise is that the Savior, who “seeth not as man seeth,” will help make it so “that they which see not might see.” (1 Samuel 16:7 and John 9:39) To illustrate his ability to do so, he gave sight to many physically blind people during his ministry—one of whom emphatically declared, “One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)
What is it, exactly, that we should see so much differently—so much more clearly—than we normally do? Some things high on our list might be: God, the nature of his love for us, and his role in our lives; ourselves and who we really are; also, our correct relationship to God. Thursday we discussed seeing other people more clearly.
The 13th Article of Faith says that we believe in being benevolent. Benevolent means having an inclination to be good and generous toward others, wishing others well, and having goodwill toward others. It is the opposite of having malice or ill will toward others.
The Savior showed us myriad examples of benevolence. He seemed to see people in a way that looked right past typical interpretations from outward appearances and status, and focused on their goodness, potential, and efforts. How did he react to the woman taken in adultery? To the publicans Matthew and Zacchaeus? To children (who were apparently annoying to some)? To the paralyzed man lowered through a roof to him? To the man at the pool of Bethesda? To the woman who touched the hem of his garment? To dozens or hundreds or thousands of others he healed? To thousands who came to hear him teach—and didn’t have enough to eat? To Nephites and Lamanites who longed to be with him? And so on.
Who did you encounter yesterday and how did you see them? Did you see someone who annoys or angers or offends you? Did you see someone who is less than you or better than you? Did you see someone you’re competing with or someone you need to appear a certain way to? Or did you see someone deserving of compassion, patience, and respect because, just like you, they have worries and struggles and pains and shortcomings (which probably trouble them more than they trouble you)? Was your first inclination to appreciate them for their humanity?
The good people at the Arbinger Institute have a lot to say about these topics. The principles they teach in The Anatomy of Peace and The Peacegiver are worth studying because they teach a practical approach to seeing others properly and exercising benevolence from our inside out, the way the Savior does. Among the principles they teach are the ideas of a “heart at peace” (which sees and reacts to people as humans like me) and a “heart at war” (which sees and reacts to people negatively). Perhaps my favorite principle is the concept that people actually perceive the state of our hearts toward them and reciprocate. However, they do it, people we encounter have a sixth sense which tells them whether we are viewing them with empathy and respect or not. If I am, they tend to react to me the same way and good things happen between us. If I am not, they tend to reciprocate my coldness and wrong thinking and we generally take nothing of any good meaning away from our encounter.
The point is that people are people. And people live and love and struggle and endure and laugh and cry and regret themselves and a million things—just like you and I. Mostly, they are good and trying and even though they frequently come up short, they continue to struggle and try and look for peace and happiness just like the rest of us. We owe them benevolence. We believe in benevolence. The Savior’s heart was (is) always at peace. He sees people with concern for them more than concern for himself. To the extent that I do the same, my life is richer and fuller and more rewarding—and the people I spend either brief encounters or a lifetime of companionship with also enjoy greater happiness. Seeing others the way Jesus sees them is one important way to live after the manner of happiness.
Just a quick note here to celebrate a little epiphany I had through the simple wonders of the dictionary!
In our lesson on faith a couple of weeks ago, we included “hope” as one of five things inextricably linked with faith. But, as I admitted to the class, I didn’t really understand that very well because I frequently associate “hope” with things whose outcomes I question and fear. I hope, for example, that I won’t get sick following a couple of nights of inadequate sleep—but I fear that I will. Or I hope that my Mariners won’t give up the tying run in the 8th inning while I type this—but I fear that they will.
How can hope, with all its inherent risks and worries of failure be a component of faith, when faith includes confidence? Well. Turns out I don’t even know what the word hope means.
I Googled “definition: hope.” Up came three definitions (in maybe seven nanoseconds—eight max):
1. A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
2. A feeling of trust.
3. Want something to happen or be the case.
There’s nothing in there about doubt and fear of failure! Then I thought, “I wonder what the word ‘hope’ meant during Joseph Smith’s time.” Of course, Google puts Webster’s 1828 dictionary at our fingertips at the speed of thought. Webster gives two definitions, the first of which includes this helpful explanation as if it were written just for me:
“Hope differs from wish and desire in this, that it implies some expectation of obtaining the good desired, or the possibility of possessing it. Hope therefore always gives pleasure or joy; whereas wish and desire may produce or be accompanied with pain and anxiety.”
His second definition says hope is, “confidence in a future event; the highest degree of well-founded expectation of good; as a hope founded on God’s gracious promises; a scriptural sense.”
So there you go. Or at least, there I go. Hope involves expectation, confidence, wanting something to happen and joy. It is not accompanied by pain and anxiety, two constant conditions of Mariners fans—and two conditions which should not be constants for believing, faithful members of the Church.
Hope and faith are perfectly compatible.
Let’s start with a multiple-choice quiz question. “How many R’s are there in repentance?” I’ll give you six options to choose from:
- Five: recognize, remorse, relate, resolve, and restore.
- Myriad dozens. To the five above, we could add: realize, regret, recite, report, renounce, restitution, repair, repay, recommit, restart, rely, reform, receive, reconcile, renewal, and on and on and ON… (If you don’t believe me, just try Google. There are at least a bazillion R’s.)
- One. There is literally one “R” in the word repentance. Ha ha
- Zero. There are no R’s in “change.”
- One. There is one “R” in “Christ.”
- Four. There are four R’s in “a broken heart and a contrite spirit.”
I’m really not a fan of the traditional lists of R’s associated with repentance. They certainly have value in helping us identify and discuss important concepts and some of those concepts are extremely important. But they’re often presented as “steps” in the repentance “process,” but the idea of “steps” invites thinking of repentance as a checklist, which seems like a mistake; and the idea of a process, while not incorrect reminds me of a flowchart and moving from one stage to another… which brings us right back to steps and checklists. No good.
I do like simplicity, though. Here are a few simple repentance-related concepts we discussed this last Thursday which seem important.
Christ. Just as Christ must be at the center of our faith if we want our faith to do anything for us salvation-wise, so much Christ be at the center of our repentance. For those who insist on lists of R’s, they key is to relate every R to the Savior. Checklist repentance often omits the most important things: the Savior, his atonement, our relationship to him, godly sorrow that relates to him… If he isn’t at the center of our repentance, our repentance will not work salvation.
Change. If we reduce the definition of repentance to a single word (I like to think that “faith” = “action,” for example), my choice would be “change.” We repent because we sin. Sin moves us away from God. To remedy that, we must change. Three things must change: our hearts (to replace pride with humility and rebellion with submission), our minds (to eliminate the erroneous thinking and rationalization that led us to accept sin as a desirable path), and our behavior (sins of commission must be stopped, sins of omission but be replaced with action; even sins involving thinking require behavioral changes).
Confession. No, I’m not trying to replace the R-words with C-words, but I would like to say three things about confession. First, we need to regularly discuss our sins and shortcoming with Heavenly Father in prayer; we need to ask for forgiveness frequently. Second, when confession to a priesthood key holder is necessary, it is almost always a source of profound and immediate relief—if taken! (Bishops, by the way, are far more inclined to respect and appreciate, rather than be critical of or disappointed in, those who confess sins.) The alternative of shouldering our burden alone is a tragic one—completely unnecessary. Third, confession is best when it is complete. Sort of kind of confessing or mostly confessing is a lost opportunity which lengthens the bearing of the burden and retards healing.
Receiving. This is an R-word I really love. I am often reminded of D&C 88:33: “For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.” Faith and repentance work together and faith, by definition, includes confidence. Faith in Christ, includes confidence in Christ. When I combine faith and repentance, I know that sincere efforts to change and correct my ways are received by our Father in Heaven; and I know that because my efforts alone are insufficient, the Savior does indeed make up the difference. I may receive the gift of forgiveness with humble confidence—and humility and confidence in the Savior may very harmoniously coexist.
I mentioned in class on Thursday that I had 13 repentance-related questions to pose for consideration and discussion. Having already commented on some of them above, I present them here as 10 questions. I won’t necessarily claim to know the answers, but if you have ideas, please drop a comment below!
- Which sins must I specifically repent of? Just the big ones? Are some (“smaller”) sins repented of in some kind of batch or general fashion? Do I need to repent for just being human and carnal by nature of my fallen state?
- Is it possible to just repent of one sin at a time? I can’t truly repent of one sin while holding on to another, can I? Is repentance an experience that involves all our sins?
- Sincere repentance includes godly sorrow and some level of pain, does it not? If so, how much work is the Savior doing and how much of it am I doing?
- Should active, worthy members of the Church who are careful covenant keepers also be engaged in daily, active, conscious repentance? If so, how?
- Is repenting of the same thing over and over again really repentance? The Savior commands us to forgive all people, even when they seek forgiveness for the same thing repeatedly. He also said, “As often as my people repent, I will forgive them (Mosiah 26:30).” How does the Lord feel about repeated attempts interrupted by repeated failures? How do we feel about those things we see in loved ones?
- Was the woman taken in adultery repentant? If so, she was definitely forgiven, right? Was she forgiven?
- Was the prodigal son repentant? If so, he was definitely forgiven, right? Was he forgiven?
- How do you convince someone who thinks they’re too far gone for the blessings of the atonement that they are wrong?
- Is it really true that an omniscient God literally forgets our sins when we repent or is that just a figurative expression to indicate that there will be no negative consequences from Him?
- When we repent, what is the actual mechanism that converts our repentance into God’s forgiveness? Is it a decision He makes according to His agency—His grace? Or is it automatic because He is bound?
I know of few things that bring joy and build testimony like repentance. Whether for sins relatively small or large, repentance is a sweet opportunity for each of us right now. Repentance is, in fact, a necessary ingredient for living after the manner of happiness.
Lastly, appreciation to Rod Terry for reminding us Thursday that the Sacrament ordinance each Sunday combines with our faith and repentance and the workings of the Holy Ghost to renew our baptism and its effects each Sunday. Sacrament meeting is sacred. We can indeed walk out of it each week reconciled to God and qualified for salvation, even for exaltation.
Among the many things I eagerly look forward to in life (like family vacations, children returning from missions, Mariners games, every “next meal,” the opening night of really good movies…) is General Conference. I sometimes find myself between conferences counting the number of weeks to the next one. I love hearing the talks. I love feeling what I feel. And I particularly enjoy the messages from each of the twelve apostles.
As this weekend approached, the thought occurred to me to do a bunch of live tweeting to my army of Twitter followers during conference. That seemed a little weird, though. Instead, I decided to take a cue from Tim’s lesson to the YSAs last Thursday on preparing for conference and blog about it instead.
So here, in bullet format, are the things that resonated with me the most from conference. (This is not intended to be a play-by-play recap, but rather a few points that were especially meaningful to me.) Your list will, no doubt, be different than mine. That’s one of the beautiful things about hearing messages from dozens of inspired church leaders: we can all hear what we need to hear and we can each receive private and personal inspiration. I’d love to hear what words or messages resonated with you.
- I was particularly struck by two concepts raised by Elder Holland. First, he quoted the Savior saying that if our eye offends us we should pluck it out and if our hand offends us we should cut it off. I am reminded that the JST teaches that our eyes and hands are our friends and family. And I am reminded that we must be very careful regarding the level of influence that we grant to others. (Elder Hales also taught that we must be careful who we follow.) Second, he said that the Savior taught vigorously both the concept that we must be generous in our forgiveness of others and that we ought never condone sin. We must be careful about the sinner and the sin.
- I thought it was interesting for a member of the General Relief Society presidency to address pornography. I assume that is because of its horrible impact on wives and families, though there are many good reasons we should all be concerned about it, to be sure.
- Elder Anderson spoke of whirlwinds as challenges that help us grow. Elder Bednar spoke of “loads” that help us get spiritual traction. Muscles grow through resistance; spirits through opposition.
- There is divine purpose in the delayed positive consequences of good decisions and the delayed negative consequences of bad decisions to help us exercise faith (President Eyring).
- Elder Nelson: 50 million people can be wrong and we need to get used to being more starkly in the minority. Our response needs to be to let our faith more starkly show.
- Interesting that both Elder Hales and Elder Perry focused on obedience.
- Quentin L. Cook: we need to emphasize family history and ordinance work with young single adults.
- It’s probably not right to have favorites, but I always love Elder Oaks’ messages and speaking style. Notable ideas (to me) from his talk included: the presiding councils of the Church are not authorized to change the pattern of priesthood offices being held exclusively by men; women acting in their callings act with priesthood authority; the topic of responsibilities should get more play and the topic of rights should get less; quoting J. Reuben Clark: the role of women is as important as the priesthood, itself; and both men and women are endowed with the same priesthood power in the temple.
- I enjoyed Elder Hallstrom’s comments about claims of “that’s just the way I am” being an unnecessary, unproductive, and premature admission of defeat.
- Both Elder Hallstrom and President Uchtdorf spoke in the priesthood session of manhood and addressed selfishness, service/priorities, worthiness/addiction, and Christlike attributes. President Eyring also addressed aspects of manhood, including service and a profound commitment to honesty.
- I enjoyed hearing President Uchtdorf talk about the restoration being an ongoing event and emphasizing that we believe that many great and important things are yet to be revealed.
- President Uchtdorf’s talk about gratitude this morning was a game-changer. Replacing gratitude for things with gratitude as a disposition, a way of life, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves… This feels right! While it is OK to identify and be grateful for blessings, perhaps catching myself thinking of gratitude for things is a chance to check that my gratitude is, additionally, also independent of those things. If Nephi “praised him all the day long” (and Paul and Silas also sang praises while in chains in prison), I can do much better in this area!
- Saturday evening I said to myself, “We haven’t yet heard a talk on missionary work!” And then I immediately thought, “We haven’t yet heard from Elder Ballard!” Well, sure enough, Elder Ballard, who God sent to ensure I am never comfortable (among other, better reasons), spoke on that topic which pierces my soul every six months more than any other. I’ve got to do better with missionary work!!
- President Monson reminds me (as I’ve been reminded numerous times to too-little avail) that I need to see everyone properly—as a child of God and brother or sister—and that I need to see them with empathy and compassion and be kind. If I could just be more kind to everyone for heaven’s sake!!
- I could not help but get excited to hear that Elder Corbridge would be speaking, since he gave a few years ago what has become my all-time favorite conference talk. It makes sense that he would follow up his powerful testimony of the Savior with a powerful testimony of Joseph Smith, careful to place Joseph and the Savior in their proper relationship. Again, I enjoyed his style very much. And I enjoyed his list of eleven (by my count) key teachings that uniquely came to light through the Prophet.
Now, to try to become a better person and not let these ten hours fail to change me…