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Imagine you’re trapped in a crevice after a huge rockslide. Boulders cover you, so heavy you’re sure they’ll break your back, your ribs, even your skull. You lie there for hours crying, despairing, praying. Nobody is coming to save you. Is this how your life will end?
And then, miraculously, the rocks move. Some unseen force is rolling them away, allowing you to move again, even to climb out. You’re rescued! You can breathe, you can move. You’ve never felt so free, so grateful to be alive.
That is exactly what it feels like when we forgive someone. But let me back up. I will admit one of my many weaknesses here: I’ve been a grudge holder. My husband is the opposite—he forgives so swiftly that it worries me, and I have found myself the one keeping score about untrustworthy people to make up for his generosity of spirit. I’ve told myself that someone has to watch out for us so we won’t get burned again, right?
If you have a hard time getting over slights and hurts, you probably started it in childhood, as I did. And it’s a self-protective mechanism. If we remember what happened we can prevent it from reoccurring. The problem is that there’s a huge difference between simply remembering so you can avoid repeated trouble, and harboring resentment and feelings of self-pity.
We know we’ve been commanded to forgive. Some of us think we have to attain amnesia to do it, completely forgetting the cruelty. This is unrealistic. What forgiveness really means is that we stop ruminating, stop resenting, stop wishing to get even. We hope the other person will repent and grow, even find joy through Christ. We may not have to put that person in our life where they can do damage in the meantime, but we no longer harbor ill will. We truly know they are a child of God, and while their actions bring us sorrow, they do not bring us anger. We move on, and no longer allow them any power in our lives. Love replaces bitterness.
It’s not easy, but many people do it routinely, as my husband does. I’ve struggled with this, but I think I’ve finally moved some rocks. Which brings me back to the analogy. When we decide to hold tightly to past offenses it’s as if we are lying down with boulders on our chests. And we are keeping them there to remind us how wronged we were, how awful that person was, how unfair it all is. Some of us keep these giant stones on us for years. I will never forgive him, you’ve heard someone say, as if this is going to make the other guy wince and regret his actions. Of course, it only hurts the one who’s harboring the grudge. The offender is often skipping happily along, unconcerned about the crushing weight you’re bearing.
When I have imagined offenders as the children of God they actually are, and try to see them as He does, I feel myself transforming. I realize how petty I am. None of us live perfect lives, and I wonder if perhaps I, too, have caused offense, and if someone out there is holding a rock with my name on it. This could be possible for any one of us.
And who doesn’t wish to be forgiven, ourselves? By exerting our energy to forgive others, we can secure this blessing. Henry B. Eyring said, “Carrying a grudge is a heavy burden. As you forgive, you will feel the joy of being forgiven.”
When I sincerely pray for help in letting go, I get a good feeling. I’m on the right track, and I need to stay focused. When I deliberately seek to love that person, something magical happens. I don’t forget their harmful action; I pity it. I see myself moving on from the incident, and genuinely hoping the other person can as well.
And suddenly I can breathe. It’s a spiritual breath, an awakening, a feeling of finally climbing out from under the rockslide. The air is crisp and fresh, the sun bright, the ground solid. It feels like being rescued. But it’s a rescue within our own control. It’s reaching up for the hand of God, instead of clasping a heavy rock. Why didn’t I try this before? This works with forgiving ourselves, as well.
It’s hard to make progress when we’re trapped by a rockslide. Even mentally, we quickly slip into the gloom and misery of our sorry situation. It’s hard to have faith and believe in the future when we feel overpowered by something heavier than we are. And yet it’s all within our power. We can move these rocks with our determination to follow Christ and truly forgive. We can feel almost weightless as we enjoy a lightness of being we haven’t felt in years. As Elder Richard G. Scott once said, “”If we can find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have caused us hurt and injury, we will rise to a higher level of self-esteem and well-being.”
Don’t wait for someone to pat you and agree that you’ve been dealt a load of hurt. Don’t wait for the guilty party to come to you, hat in hand, and beg forgiveness. Just bust out of there on your own, out of the dark crevice of anger and resentment, and get on with the happy life that’s within your own keeping. When we stop giving others the power to keep us miserable and discouraged, we take control of our own destiny. We purify our hearts and feel affirmation from the Holy Ghost that we’re actually free. It feels like a rescue because it is a rescue. A self-rescue. Superhero cape sold separately.
Hilton’s new LDS novel, Golden, is available in paperback and on Kindle. All her books and YouTubeMom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves in Stake Public Affairs.
Richard PearsonNovember 3, 2017
Elder Richard Scott... that's close!!!!