Forgiveness is not only an important topic; it is also something that we have all had to do. Meridian readers continue to show support for “Wounded,” who asked how to forgive a transgression that cuts to the heart.
I had to travel that road to forgiveness, and it was a rocky one. I experienced verbal, emotional and physical abuse from my then-husband, and it remained hidden behind the walls of our home. He put on a very loving act in public. It was unrelenting and almost destroyed me. It had a huge impact on my health, from which I have not yet recovered ten years later.
After much prayer and counseling from our bishop and LDS counselors, I chose to end the marriage. It broke my heart.
I left the area and returned to my original home. I spent many months working through my grief and pain and anger. I alternated between feeling anger and sorrow for what might have been.
As time went by, and as I spent many hours in prayer, I slowly, very slowly, started to see that this man had not set out deliberately to hurt me. He was in pain and misery himself and was too afraid to take the steps that would allow him to heal and become whole.
I slowly learned that the abusive situation was not about me, but was a reflection of where he was. That helped me to take a step back and view him with more compassion. It wasn’t easy. It took a long, long time, but one day I woke up and realized that I was no longer angry at him.
After I had done all that I could do, I found that the Lord had helped me to forgive. Truly, it is a “miracle of forgiveness.” Had I tried to forgive on my own, I could not have done it. It takes time. It takes much prayer, but the Lord’s tender mercies will be extended to you as you strive to forgive.
Continuing to Heal on the West Coast
Thanks, Continuing, for pointing out that it really helps to try to determine the motivations of someone who has done us wrong. A friend of mine often says “we are all the heroes of our own autobiographies,” meaning that we don’t think of ourselves as doing horrible things, and we generally have a reason that explains our actions (to our own satisfaction, at least). Trying to see the situation from the aggressor’s perspective goes a long way toward understanding the motives behind unkind actions, although, as you learned from your own experience, the Lord is the one who provides the forgiveness miracle.
Sometimes, speakers who chose forgiveness as their topic present it as if it’s a one-size-fits-all principle that we must apply if we are to be forgiven ourselves by the Master. That approach is rarely helpful because it doesn’t discuss how it can actually be accomplished and seems to shift the responsibility for wrongdoing on to the victim rather than the perpetrator. I discovered a few things that helped me in this kind of situation.
First of all, it is necessary for a victim to address their own mental/emotional/spiritual upheaval and do what he or she can to get his own emotions under control. This doesn’t have anything to do with the perpetrator or the event; it comes from the personal realization that anger and hurt are barriers to our own reception of the influence of the spirit, and before anything else can happen, that conduit must be cleared and open.
It can sometimes help to step back and carefully try to understand what the motives of the perpetrator were or what their situation is. Abusers often were victims of abuse themselves and so don’t know how to act appropriately. And sometimes, things happen out of imperfect knowledge or understanding; the perpetrator may not understand what he is doing that is harmful. But, while forgiveness means coming to grips with what has happened, it doesn’t require that we allow it to continue to happen again.
The adage that, “I don’t get mad; I get even,” doesn’t work in any situation. We can’t control the agency of someone else, and if he deliberately chose to engage in behavior that is hurtful, a judge with greater understanding than we have will have to sort that out, if we can’t negotiate the resolution of a problem. But people who do that are missing an essential ingredient in their life and often act up to compensate.
We can forgive transgressor for his apparent weakness without letting it determine our personal sense of self worth.
People don’t repent until or unless they become aware of their sinful behavior. Sometimes they will figure it out themselves, but if they don’t, it can be helpful to try to resolve the problem privately and personally. But that may not work. If it doesn’t, the remaining solution is to address your own situation and do what you can to recover your personal sense of value by engaging in activities that are reminders of and the means to restore what has been temporarily lost through difficult experiences.
You’re right, Gail, on several fronts. People often hurt others without realizing that they are doing so, and until they become aware of their behavior they can never repent. And even those who understand what they are doing are sometimes hurting people just to be mean. People who think they have to receive an apology from the transgressor may have a lifetime’s wait ahead of them. It’s better to do whatever we can to be able to let go whether or not an apology is forthcoming.
I had a horrible childhood filled with many abuses. I left home when I was 15 and haven’t returned. One thing I’ve learned is that there are evil people in the world, and some of them are relatives. I’ve come realize they will not change, and they don’t think they need too. They’re not sorry or remorseful.
Forgiveness is not an easy road. In my opinion it’s a lifelong journey to perfect forgiveness. However, the gospel does offer peace and healing. We have a Heavenly Father who loves each and every one of us. In fact, he knows us so well that he knows every hair on our heads. That’s some pretty amazing knowing!
Since having kids, I’ve learned that even when my kids misbehave, I still love them — unconditionally. My love for them doesn’t change just because they are stubborn, mean or spiteful. I love them. After a lot of reflection, I know Heavenly Father loves all his children, including the ones who hurt others. My challenge is to remember that Heavenly Father loves my biological parents too. He wants them to come home.
Of course, forgiveness is easier when someone is truly sorry for his actions, but when he is not, forgiveness is still essential, in order to get past the hurt, and not relive it every day. It’s necessary to have a good life despite the offenses. To find happiness and joy, not guilt, fear or shame. I’ve been away for 30 years and have yet to receive any kind of apology.
I was asked a question once, “Was my test to know that I can endure the abuse, or is my test to see how well I can learn to forgive?” That gave me great pause and I had to ask myself if I was passing this mortal test. We know this test is not going to be easy but that it will be worth it.
I offer that you need to read good books about overcoming abuses, pray a lot, and search the scriptures. If necessary, seek counseling.
The crux of your letter, Looking, came in that powerful question you asked yourself — whether your test was to know you could endure, or to see how well you could forgive.
I’ve found that whenever bad things happen to us, there are three questions you can ask to make the best of the situation:
What role, if any, did I have in this misfortune?
How can I make the situation better?
What can I learn from this?
Whether or not we as the victim had a role in the cause of the adversity, there are always ways to make the situation better, and always things we can learn. The question you asked yourself shows that you have learned what adversity is all about.
I have found that praying for the person who has wounded you is really, really helpful in forgiving someone. Pray everything for them that you would want for yourself to start. Tell Heavenly Father the truth, if you don’t want to pray for them — but that you are willing to try this for yourself.
Eventually, you will truly mean it for them, and you may be given the gift of understanding them, which will aid you greatly in forgiving. I have found many times in doing this that I have no need to forgive anymore because I understand. It can and will get better.
Shawn in Iowa
That is so true, Shawn. I once had a supervisor in a church position who was absolutely vile to me. After enduring this for what seemed to be an eternity, I finally decided to pray for her. I prayed long and hard before every contact I had with her that she would have a good evening and that she would find joy in her service.
I can’t say she treated me any differently after I started praying for her and putting her name on the temple prayer rolls, but I eventually learned that the position she was in had changed her. I think the stress of her position, combined with what may have been the beginnings of an age-related dementia, had driven her to become a person she was not. Once I understood that, the situation was easier to endure.
Some time after this woman’s release, she saw me and greeted me like an old friend. I realized then that her abuse of me (and it was abuse, which was witnessed by a whole lot of people) had not been personal. Indeed, she no longer remembered doing it — which was fine with me, because by then I had long since forgiven her.
I was betrayed by my husband when he had an affair about five years into our marriage. I thought my whole world had crashed in. It has taken many prayers, tears, and much fasting to forgive him.
What helped me the most was focusing on my own faults and striving to make myself worthy to enter the Celestial Kingdom. I had to keep telling myself that the Savior loves my husband as much as He loves me and that the Atonement covers all of our sins. I had to remember that the more I held on to the hurt and anger, the less the Atonement worked in my own life. I would picture myself putting the pain, anger, and hurt feelings in a box and laying it at the feet of our Savior and then walking away. I got really tired of carrying it around with me every day, so I let the Savior have it. Sometimes I would have to picture this over and over and over in a single day because I would pick up the hurt and anger again. It got easier with time.
I was also told that if I was worthy to gain exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom and my husband wasn’t, the Savior would give me a man that was worthy to be in the Celestial Kingdom with me. That gave me great hope. It made me realize that I needed to focus on my own faults and not worry so much about my husband’s. I was just to love him the best that I could and let the Savior take care of the rest.
The book The Continuous Atonement (https://www.byubookstore.com/ePOS?store=439&item_number=9781606410370&form=shared3%2fgm%2fdetail%2ehtml&design=439) by Brad Wilcox is terrific! I recommend this book to everyone. The longer I live, the more I see that our biggest challenge is focusing on getting ourselves to heaven and not worrying about others’ faults. We just need to love them and help them the best way that we can.
Another thing that helped me is the saying, “Offense cannot be given. It can only be taken.” If someone says anything about me, I look at the statement and think to myself, “Is it true?” If it is, and I don’t like it, then I strive to change it. If it isn’t true, then I picture having “Teflon” shoulders and let it just slide right off. I don’t have to take it in.
It is such a struggle to ignore Satan and his fiery darts and let the Atonement work in our lives, but if we can do this, we are so much the happier.
My husband and I will celebrate our 20th anniversary this year and we are so very happy. I still have my days where I allow Satan to make me unhappy by focusing on my husband’s faults, but I’m so much happier when I turn my attention back to my faults and weaknesses and just strive to love my family and follow the Savior.
Because of the Savior I can look back at that painful time with thankfulness because of the growth I’ve experienced and the strength of my testimony that the Atonement is real and for everyone.
I hope this helps.
Thanks, Wendy, for letting us know that forgiveness isn’t something you do once, and that often you have to put the box at the feet of the Savior twice or twenty or more times in a single day. I like what you said, too, that, “Offense cannot be given. It can only be taken.” That’s a quote I need to remember, and I need to buy a set of those Teflon shoulders. I wonder if they sell ‘em on eBay.
Just as faith begins with “a desire to believe”, the process of forgiveness begins with a desire to forgive. Forgiveness is a choice with a process attached. It is important to know what forgiveness is and what it isn’t, what it does and what it doesn’t do.
I remember my former husband telling me something very surprising about his belief in forgiveness. He brought up something I had done 20-plus years before (I don’t remember now what it was; it was not a large offense). I replied that I could see that he had not forgiven me that hurt. He then told me he never forgave because if he did then people could do whatever they wanted. That told me he believed that by not forgiving, he could protect himself from hurt.
Perhaps he thought that forgiveness exonerated the person from having caused the hurt. And if he didn’t forgive, then the person was somehow constrained and unable to cause more hurt.
Forgiveness does not protect us from more hurt; it simply releases us from the past hurt. We no longer carry it. We are freed from the bondage it had over us. Forgiveness means we no longer feel emotional pain from the hurt. We don’t necessarily forget but we are liberated from the pain from it. Forgiveness does not make what happened all right. That is between the one who did the harm and the Lord.
We have to be ready to “let go” of the hurt. Some carry it like a badge of honor and derive some kind of payout for being wounded. Victimhood stagnates spiritual progression.
I have often wondered why the Lord said that if we don’t forgive, then the larger sin is ours. How could that be in the case of a child molested? Well, it could be that not forgiving somehow keeps the one who caused the harm tied to us, in a sort of bondage. I received three stories of forgiveness from three different women, each of whom had been terribly wounded as a child. In each case the woman was visited in a dream by the perpetrator (who had since died), who needed forgiveness so he/she could progress on the other side of the veil.
Salt Lake City
That was a wonderful letter, Abbie. I especially appreciate what you said about people choosing victimhood, and how that choice stagnates spiritual progression. I have recently seen that in my own church community, where one family has worn the cloak of victimhood for so long that it colors everything they do. Not only are they unhappy, but the people around them are unhappy. What a miserable way to live!
I, too, have had my whole life wrenched apart; the description of “Wounded” resonates clearly. But I have also had the healing made possible only through the atonement of Christ and the presence in my life of my Heavenly Father. Some agonies were known only to God, and I learned to leave them with Him.
The first thing I would counsel is that it takes time. “Wounded” states that she has cried for help and been answered, and knows that help is real. Knowing that, keep seeking it in every moment that rises up and blindsides you. Keep praying. Prayer becomes not the formal composed lines of thought but the instinctive turning, reaching, crying, even-if-it’s-not-coherent pouring out towards heaven. Sometimes you know that heaven answers but you can’t seem to keep a grasp on it. That is when you should seek help from the priesthood in a blessing.
Those occasions were often my deepest sources of help and healing. It is not a failure to need an extra measure of strength.
In my situation, the profound injury was from someone who was trying to repent, to come to terms, who both had a testimony and deep emotional damage from earlier in his life. It took him several years to regain all that he had lost. He was my husband, and when I stand at the judgment I think maybe the most important thing I will be able to say is that I stayed married. Once he lost his membership in the Church and all that goes with it. Now he is a high priest taking people to the temple, which is a great joy to him, to us.
It took a long series of small, insistent miracles to bring him understanding and healing, and to bring me understanding and healing as well. I had the powerful assurance, repeated along the way, that all would come out right, and it has.
If the situation is such that the offender is not willing to repent or even consider the need, or has harmed our children, it is much harder. Then all you can do is leave judgment in the hands of the Lord and take care of those you love. You won’t ever forget what happened, but you can let go so that you are not in pain, just in recognition and acknowledgment. You can find healing. It will still hurt sometimes for the sake of your loved one(s).
The most profound story I know of forgiveness when you’re not sure you can find it is from the experience of Corrie Ten Boom, who was imprisoned by the Nazis for hiding Jews. Her sister and father died in the camps but she survived. In The Hiding Place she tells her story of smuggling a Bible into the barracks, of keeping faith alive.
After the war ended she traveled around the area, preaching forgiveness and reconciliation between the Dutch and the Germans, preaching the love of Christ and the atonement on our behalf, all of us. After one such meeting, a man approached her who had been a guard at her camp. She remembered him all too well, but he had no memory of her. How could he, of all the hundreds of terrified women he had ushered into hell?
But he stood before her and said that he had become a Christian and he was very sorry for all he had done. Would she forgive him? He extended his hand. She knew that was her message and her charge, but she quailed before this so-personal spiritual challenge.
She just stood there; then she prayed, “Father, I can’t find what is required in my own feelings, but I can raise my arm. If I can choose to act by raising my arm to meet his, please give me the feelings I need. Make it real.” When their hands clasped, she was flooded with the power and joy of the Spirit and cried, “Yes, brother I forgive you. With all my heart!”
Forgiveness is both a choice of effort and intent, and a gift of the Spirit. It is a cleansing process as much as repentance is. Time, faith, prayer, hope, and choice will bring healing no matter what the circumstance.
Been There Too
Thanks for reminding us, Been There, that even the most horrible sins can be forgiven. We can’t do it alone, but God is there and willing to help us if, as Corrie ten Boom did, we can just raise our hands.
Okay, readers, that’s it for this week. I’m sure your letters have helped “Wounded” in her quest for healing.
If you have any new topics you want to cover, please send them to me at [email protected]. Put something in the subject line to let me know your letter isn’t spam. I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time — Kathy
“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
Lewis B. Smedes