I love the phrase “beauty for ashes.” It’s from Isaiah 61:1-3.
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. (Italics added)
To give beauty for ashes means how we respond to someone else’s behavior toward us. We make these decisions everyday in every situation of our lives. When I’m driving on the freeway and someone cuts me off, what do I do? Make gestures at the driver, follow him, honk my horn? To give beauty to the ashes I’ve been served would be to simply remain calm and say a prayer thanking the Lord that I am safe and asking that the driver will also be safe.
Many things that happen to us are not an affront to us personally, but we tend to take others’ actions that way. But what if it is intentional? Then is it okay to throw back at someone what they are giving you? Actually, it’s not. If someone attacks us verbally or otherwise, maybe we should thank them for their opinion and remain calm and simply leave the situation. When we give beauty for ashes it can be disarming to the one throwing ashes at us. It can change the spirit of the situation.
Many of us have been hurt by a comment someone has made to us or about us. If we harbor resentment and that resentment builds up to the point where we stay hurt, avoid the person, become angry with that person and want revenge, we are only hurting ourselves.
Forgiveness is a big part of giving beauty. I love the quote by Richard Paul Evans in his book Noel’s Diary: “Holding onto anger is like swallowing poison and hoping someone else will die.” The Lord makes it clear that we are to forgive all people.
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. (D&C 64:9-10
When we forgive others, our hearts open and the Spirit can once again abide with us. In forgiving we don’t disregard judgment; judgment is up to the Lord. He will make sure that the offender is held accountable for his actions. When someone offends us, we can choose to not be offended. Elder David A Bednar said:
When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected…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.
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. (David A. Bednar, And Nothing Shall Offend Them, General Conference, October 2006)
If we can give beauty for ashes when someone is unkind in their words or actions, we experience the peace He gives us–His greatest gift—the atonement. The atonement was performed, not only for our sins, but our sufferings and weaknesses. If we rely on the Lord in all our struggles and use His great example, we can learn to give beauty for ashes in all the obstacles we are faced with. It is the atonement that makes forgiveness possible and helps us to become like Christ. The atonement plus His grace makes all things possible for us.
Christ is our greatest example of giving beauty for ashes. No matter what was done to Him he never returned ashes for ashes. He doesn’t just give us examples–Christ gives us beauty for ashes. He expects us to love all men. Consider His commandments found in Matthew 5:44:
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
Howard W. Hunter tells a story that demonstrates this love for our enemies.
As a young man, Brother Vern Crowley [learned the lesson taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith about loving others, even our enemies]. After his father became ill, Vern Crowley took responsibility for running the family’s wrecking yard although he was only fifteen years of age. Some customers occasionally took unfair advantage of the young man, and parts were disappearing from the lot overnight. Vern was angry and vowed to catch someone and make an example of him. Vengeance would be his.
Just after his father started to recover from his illness, Vern was making his rounds of the yard one night at closing time. It was nearly dark. In a distant corner of the property, he caught sight of someone carrying a piece of machinery toward the back fence. He caught the young thief stealing a transmission. His first thought was to take out his frustrations with his fists and then drag the boy to the front office and call the police. His heart was full of anger and vengeance. He had caught his thief, and he intended to get his just dues.
Out of nowhere, Vern’s father came along, put his weak and infirm hand on his son’s shoulder, and said, “I see you’re a bit upset, Vern. Can I handle this?” He then walked over to the young would-be thief and put his arm around his shoulder, looked him in the eye for a moment, and said, “Son, tell me, why are you doing this? Why were you trying to steal that transmission?” Then Mr. Crowley started walking toward the office with his arm around the boy, asking questions about the young man’s car problems as they walked. By the time they had arrived at the office, the father said, “Well, I think your clutch is gone and that’s causing your problem.”
In the meantime, Vern was fuming. “Who cares about his clutch?” he thought. “Let’s call the police and get this over with.” But his father just kept talking. “Vern, get him a clutch. Get him a throwout bearing, too. And get him a pressure plate. That should take care of it.” The father handed all of the parts to the young man who had attempted robbery and said, “Take these. And here’s the transmission, too. You don’t have to steal, young man. Just ask for it. There’s a way out of every problem. People are willing to help.”
Brother Vern Crowley said he learned an everlasting lesson in love that day. The young man came back to the lot often. Voluntarily, month by month, he paid for all of the parts Vic Crowley had given him, including the transmission. During those visits he asked Vern why his dad was the way he was and why he did what he did, Vern told him something of their Latter-day Saint beliefs and how much his father loved the Lord and loved people. Eventually the would-be thief was baptized. Vern later said, “It’s hard now to describe the feeling I had and what I went through in the experience. I, too, was young. I had caught my crook. I was going to extract the utmost penalty. But my father taught me a different way. (Howard W. Hunter, A More Excellent Way, General Conference, April 5, 1992)
Nephi and Joseph Smith are two examples of giving beauty for ashes. Many times, ashes were strewn at Nephi by his brothers, and to Joseph by his enemies. They could have easily thought that revenge was the best policy. But they didn’t. They acted the way the Lord would have and that was with kindness which also gave Him the opportunity to teach.
Then there is the story of Joseph of Egypt and how he willingly forgave his brothers. He saved his family from famine even though he had been horribly mistreated. He still showed beauty for ashes. We can be mistreated or even taken advantage of, but we should still follow Joseph’s example.
We are being buffeted daily by Satan and his followers. They do nothing but spew ashes at us. They will do all they can to play on our weaknesses. They know our weaknesses just by watching us. One of those weaknesses could be seen in how treat our fellowman. How we treat our fellowmen is a marker as to how close to the Savior we are.
We also have prayer to help us focus on the things of Christ. Plus studying the scriptures is where we can look for ways to become more Christlike. Scriptures and prayer are vital to learning more about Christ. If we are true followers of Christ, we desire to obey Him. If we put Him first in our lives, we can be true servants and learn about love.
As we become more Christlike and learn to give beauty for ashes in no way means that life will suddenly be wonderful all the time. We will still have obstacles that we will have to tackle. Overcoming obstacles is the way we become more like the Savior.
Elder Bednar said tenderly:
One of my favorite activities…is visiting members of the Church in their homes. I especially enjoy calling upon and talking to members who commonly are described as “less active.”
During the years I served as a stake president, I would contact one of the bishops and invite him to prayerfully identify individuals or families we could visit together. The bishop and I would kneel and petition our Heavenly Father for guidance and inspiration, for us and for the members with whom we would meet.
I often would ask this question like this: “Will you please help us understand why you are not actively participating in the blessings and programs of the Church.”
Over the years, however, I detected a common theme in many of the answers to my questions. Frequent responses like these were given:
“Several years ago a man said something in Sunday School that offended me, and I have not been back since.”
“No one in this branch greeted or reached out to me. I felt like an outsider. I was hurt by the unfriendliness of this branch.”
“I did not agree with the counsel the bishop gave me. I will not step foot in that building again as long as he is serving in that position.”
Many other causes of offense were cited. But the recurring theme was: “I was offended by…”
After listening to those that had been offended, I would ask them the following question:
“Let me make sure I understand what has happened to you. Because someone at church offended you, you have not been blessed by the ordinance of the sacrament. You have withdrawn yourself from the constant companionship of the Holy Ghost. Because someone at church offended you, you have cut yourself off from priesthood ordinances and the holy temple. You have discontinued your opportunity to serve others and to learn and grow. And you are leaving barriers that will impede the spiritual progress of your children, your children’s children, and the generations that will follow.”
Many times, people would think for a moment and then respond: “I have never thought about it that way.” (David A. Bednar, And Nothing Shall Offend Them, General Conference, October 2006)
Beauty for ashes isn’t just for enemies and strangers, it’s also for spouses, friends, family, and children—especially children.
Giving beauty for ashes is simple, but not easy. If we pray, study our scriptures, forgive, and love our enemies, by using the atonement we can achieve this. Beauty for ashes teaches us kindness and gives us great power. It also brings us closer to living like Jesus Christ.