Through years of Sunday School, I have been taught many lessons about the basic steps of repentance (feeling remorse, confessing to God, asking forgiveness, rectifying the problem, forsaking the sin and receiving forgiveness). However, I don’t remember ever hearing a lesson about the steps of forgiveness.
I clearly understand the importance of forgiving and I want to forgive. I know that Jesus Christ expects us to forgive everyone, whether or not they have repented, and if I do not forgive others, a greater sin is upon me than whatever the other person did (D&C 54:8-9). I know I need to keep forgiving others even if they keep hurting me (Matthew 18:21). I know I will receive forgiveness only to the extent I forgive others (Matthew 6:12) and that to become worthy of the atonement of Jesus Christ and to be forgiven of my sins, I must forgive others (Matthew 18:23-35).
I know that holding on to offense and not forgiving can rob me of happiness and the light of Christ, and that the path to the greatest joy and peace in life includes frankly and immediately forgiving others. However, I don’t remember any Sunday School lessons teaching me how to forgive.
What do I do if I feel I have forgiven the offender, have prayed for God’s help in forgiving that person, yet when that person continues to commit similar offenses, the feelings of animosity return? I think those feelings are a sign I have not completely forgiven that person despite my desire and efforts to do so. I don’t want to feel those negative feelings. I want to forgive . . . but how do I forgive more deeply and permanently?
I have been struggling with this question for more than a month, and studying to understand “How do I forgive?”. My answer came through the scripture “Charity suffereth long and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). As someone continues do things that cause me to suffer, I need to have charity towards that person and be kind. Saying I forgive someone, and stopping to have negative feelings towards that person is not enough. I must fill the void left by the abandoned negative feelings with feelings of love, charity, kindness and compassion towards that person. When I fill that void with the pure love of Christ for that person, it becomes almost impossible for those feelings of animosity to return when the person trespasses against me again.
The love for that person make it easier to bear any additional offenses, helps us to minimize the severity of those offenses, and helps us to understand where that person is coming from so we might not even need to take offense.
It is important to note that forgiveness does not mean we must continue to allow abusive behavior. We have a right and a responsibility to protect ourselves and others within our stewardships from dangerous situations. For example, we might forgive someone who has abused one of our children, but we might wisely choose to never let that person babysit our children again.
It is also important to note that forgiveness and trust are not necessarily the same. It is required of us that we forgive everyone (D&C 64:10). However, we and those within our stewardships deserve to be treated respectfully. It is reasonable for us to respectfully set healthy boundaries for our association with those people who have not acted respectfully. For example, if a child yells at my wife and hits her, it is appropriate for me to remove my child from that situation, explain the behavior unacceptable, and let the child know that they can return to be with the family when they are ready to act respectfully. Forgiving someone does not mean allowing unacceptable behavior to continue.
As we seek to forgive it is also important that we stop talking bad about the offender, even if it is true. We also need to stop blaming the offender and take back ownership in our lives.
I am grateful for the gift of forgiveness. As I fill my heart with charity and forgiveness towards others I can receive the peace that comes from forgiving others, and qualify for forgiveness from the Savior.
What have you done to help you to forgive, and how has forgiveness blessed your life?