This year for Valentine’s Day perhaps we could think about giving ourselves and others a gift of true love, the gift of forgiveness.
I had a transformative experience several years ago when I was in the Dominican Republic serving a mission with my husband. The mission home was kitty-corner from the home of one of the party kings of Santiago. This guy had parties every Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. These parties always featured ear-splitting loud karaoke, and a live band. There was a lot of drunken singing and cussing. On extra-high decibels! They ended around 6:00 in the morning. My bedroom faced their house. Sleep was impossible.
We also had a frequent number of robberies in our neighborhood. There was hardly a night when at least two alarms in the neighborhood didn’t go off during the night. There were some nights when as many as six alarms went off at different times. They would inevitably be accompanied by barking dogs. Oftentimes there would be shouting. A few times, gunfire. As time went by, my sleep became fitful as I found myself unconsciously listening for the next alarm while I was sleeping. It made for a miserable night’s sleep.
We also had a rooster next door that liked to crow at 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00 every morning. Before long, I was suffering from severe insomnia. I was also fantasizing about cooking that dang rooster for Sunday dinner!
I tried all kinds of sleep remedies, was sent to an overnight sleep clinic by my doctor, went to multiple sleep specialists, tried sleeping with earplugs, and when that didn’t work— with noise cancellers. I even went to a psychologist. I flew to the U.S. to get a brain scan. The Church even put in soundproof windows for us. Unfortunately, by then, the insomnia had become fairly intractable.
John and I prayed and fasted several times, but to no avail. John gave me several blessings, but apparently my faith was insufficient. Our Area President, a General Authority, also gave me a beautiful blessing. Still, sleep was elusive.
I tend to be a murmurer. I rarely suffer in silence! I found myself complaining and whining. I was also fighting a losing battle against negativity and depression.
Then one night, I decided that maybe I was approaching this all wrong. If God had chosen not to heal me, perhaps it was because I needed to learn something from this experience. Consequently, I spent many hours each night, during the wee hours of the morning searching the scriptures.
On one particular night, I was struck by the phrase in the Lord’s prayer that says, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” (Matt 6:9-13). In other translations it reads, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” As we forgive those who transgress against us. It hit me in that dark room like a flash of light. I’d read that a million times before, it seemed. In fact, like every other Primary child, I had memorized the Lord’s prayer years ago. This passage hadn’t seemed particularly profound. But this night, the thought hit me pretty strongly that I should pay attention to this.
Was I actually praying that God would forgive me, only as much as I forgave others? Ouch!! I began to think of all the many trespasses I had accruing on my “trespass account.” Clearly, I needed to do some serious forgiving of others!
I got out a pad of paper and a pen and thought I should write down the people I needed to forgive. There were certainly a number of people who had been unkind or unfair to me over the years. As the time wore one, I had written down seven or eight names. But now what? By now, light was breaking through my window, and I knew it was time to get up for a new day. I would have to deal with this the following night.
During the day, some extra names came to me of people that I needed to forgive. That night, as I was again Sleepless in Santiago, the thought hit me that maybe I was completely missing the point. I not only needed to forgive people who had been unkind or duplicitous to me, but I also ought to think about asking forgiveness of all those who I might have offended.
Whoa! This was a whole other level! Apparently, I have a particular ability to cause offense. You might could even call it a gift. I tend to speak my mind before I anticipate the result. I just blurt out. I’m also competitive and ego-oriented. Bad combinations!
I began adding to my list of people. Over the next few nights my list grew to more than five full pages of names: single-spaced! I was remembering events clear back from my kindergarten days. I began to look at my life as if I had been a one-woman wrecking machine.
This was all fairly indicting. But it was now time to start taking some sort of action. First, over several nights I prayed for each name until I felt like I had finally given up any negative feelings towards that person. I prayed for understanding and I prayed for the gift of love. As my insomnia hadn’t let up any, I had lots of silent hours during the night with no distractions.
Next, I decided to start writing letters to people on my list, asking for forgiveness. I wrote several letters to people. I, of course, hoped for some sort of response, so that I could feel like any bad feelings were resolved. I didn’t get many letters back. But even so, I began to feel lighter. I didn’t need to drag all these ugly burdensome feelings around with me. I began to feel the Savior’s Spirit. I began to feel joyful. I actually found myself looking forward to my quiet, private time each night as I worked to clear and unburden my soul.
The letters I did get back were such blessings. Renewed friendships. Greater understandings. They were awesome. And they came with the sweet confirmation of the Spirit that my repentance was accepted by God.
I never got through my whole five pages of names. I had begun to realize how destructive resentful feelings were. I also began to realize how trivial most perceived slights had been. It felt so much better to just give people the benefit of the doubt and let go of any negative feelings towards them. I hadn’t realized how energy-sucking negativity was.
I also found myself receiving new spiritual insights, as I felt closer to the Lord’s children. As I ceased to find fault with my brothers and sisters, and felt some true repentance for being so judgmental, it seemed that God was more willing to communicate with me.
One person in particular had been eating at me for some time. This woman had been an especially dear friend for many years. We had shared some incredible experiences together. Then, out of the blue, she suddenly stopped writing to me while I was on my mission. I tried calling her to see if I had unknowingly done anything to offend her. She wouldn’t answer my calls. She wouldn’t respond to any texts or email messages. I couldn’t imagine what in the world I had done to offend her so deeply. It must have been something really terrible. If I only knew what it was, I could beg forgiveness and apologize profusely; do whatever it took to make things right. But there was no response.
I found myself irritated that she wouldn’t at least tell me why she was mad. But I fought down the temptation to take offense, and instead, wrote her a letter, asking for her forgiveness and telling her how precious her friendship was to me. No response. While disappointed, I was still relieved to be able to put the irritation to rest, and in my mind, leave her in God’s care.
Nearly three years went by. After I returned from my mission, I got a call from her one day. She told me that she had read my letter over and over again. More than 50 times! She was moved to tears each time, but while she had intended to write back, she just couldn’t put into words what her feelings were. But she said it had meant so much to her. Wow, who knew?
We have since become very dear friends again. We have never discussed what it was that so offended her years ago. We’ve both been able to let—whatever it was—go. And how much happier we have both been as a result! The restoration of that one friendship was worth every sleepless night it took to get there.
As time has gone on, I have learned that I don’t need sleepless nights to repair a careless or thoughtless word or action. I can repent and ask forgiveness immediately! I can decide to grant “good Intent” to others’ actions. It is always a relief. Every time. Every. Single. Time. The irritations and resentments I choose to keep, do nothing but continue to canker my soul. I don’t need them, and I certainly don’t need them to affect my own chances of forgiveness for my own sins.
So, for Valentine’s Day this year, let’s consider choosing at least one person in our lives to forgive or to ask forgiveness from. It’s a beautiful way to both extend and receive love. It brings its own blessings, and it is even a way to help wipe our own slate of transgressions a little cleaner!