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|The Talk I Will Someday Give|
Apr. 25th, 2012 at 1:23 pm
In the April General Conference, President Uchdorf spoke about forgiveness. He reminded listeners of the need to forgive as Christ taught, “Forgive one another, for he that forgiveth not…(stands) condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”
He also noted the common trap people make when it comes to the idea of forgiveness. “We make exceptions when it comes to own bitterness because we feel that, in our case, we have all the information we need to hold someone else in contempt.” Of course. When I am upset, it is righteous anger. When you are upset, you are unreasonable. You might even need anger management therapy.
President Uchodorf gave two suggestions on how to not judge others and forgiving. The first suggestion made me smile. Stop it. “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!” I have always been a fan of simple solutions.
His next suggestion was a bit more complex. “How is it (forgiveness) done? Through the love of God. When our hearts are filled with the love of God, something good and pure happens to us….Lay your burden at the Savior’s feet. Let go of judgment. Allow Christ’s Atonement to change and heal your heart. Love one another. Forgive one another.”
Here’s the thing: I couldn’t do it. I have heard variations of talks on this theme my whole life. I tried to forgive. I tried and tried for 10 years. I went to Bishops and asked for advice. I read scriptures, received blessings of comfort and prayed like crazy. Whenever anyone asked me what I wanted, I would reply, “Peace. I want peace.” I felt tormented and I didn’t know how to off load the burning hate I carried.
I decided that if I couldn’t get to forgiveness through just spiritual practice, it was time to try conventional help. Sort of like when you break your leg, no amount of praying is going to fix it; it still needs to be reset by a physician. I made an appointment with a therapist, hoping that we could quickly get to the magic words that would heal my pain. Within 15 minutes of talking to the psychologist, I realized at the rate we were going, it would be years before I felt better. I had already been miserable for ten years; I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars and more time trying to identify what I already knew. I was impatient to get on with it. I quit after the second appointment.
I decided the old adage “Time heals all wounds” was probably true. With enough time, I would be able to forgive. In tandem, I felt badly about myself because I knew logically as a Christian, I should forgive. Obviously, I wasn’t a good person. I carried that around for another few years. Somewhere in there, I started ignoring talks like Pres. Uchtdorf’s. Been there, done that.
To keep from going crazy, I erected a mental wall in my mind. That was the past, which I will not think about. This is the present. Here I will stay. It worked most of the time, as long as I didn’t have to hear songs about families are forever, talks about genealogy, lessons about the importance of personal histories or anything that referred to Jesus’ love of children. In other words, my hate from enduring a seriously crappy childhood kept oozing through my carefully constructed wall.
I got curious about CS Lewis because the General Authorities kept quoting him in talks. I had no idea he was the same guy who wrote the book I read in middle school, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. After someone in Sunday School said that we shouldn’t be relying on non-Mormons like CS Lewis for our gospel insight, the scriptures contained all the truth we need, I was determined to find out more. I bought his book, Mere Christianity because the book store clerk said it was the most popular in the religious category.
I liked it immediately. I liked CS’s style of using examples (parables) to explain complex thoughts. Even though I prided myself on my high scores in English and writing classes, I had never read any books as thought-provoking as Mere Christianity. It was definitely grown up writing. When I got to chapter seven, Forgiveness, my world blew up.
Finally, I found what I had been searching for my whole 27 years.
CS wrote, “And secondly, we might try to understand exactly what loving your neighbor as yourself means. I have to love him as I love myself. Well, how exactly do I love myself? Now that I come to think of it, I have not exactly got a feeling of fondness or affection for myself, and I do not even always enjoy my own society. So apparently, “Love your neighbor” does not mean “feel fond of him” or “find him attractive…So loving my enemies does not apparently mean thinking them nice either. That is an enormous relief. For a good many people imagine that forgiving your enemies means making out that they are really not such bad fellows after all, when it is quite plain that they are…So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do. Now that I come to think of it, I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man’s action, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner.”
“…How could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? …However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it….Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. Not one word of what we have said about them needs to be unsaid. But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and in hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again.
“…Does loving your enemy mean not punishing him? No, for loving myself does not mean that I ought not subject myself to punishment –even to death…In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed. I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it anymore. That is not how things happen. I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head. It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible…We must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves- to wish that he were not bad. To hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured: in fact, to wish his good. That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.”
I’m sure to many President Uchdorf’s message, along with the hundreds of talks before his on the same subject, was soul healing and just what they needed to hear. I needed to understand forgiveness in a different way.
The book Mere Christianity was a compilation of weekly radio talks that CS Lewis gave in Britain after WWII. The topics were taken from the letters people wrote to him, asking for his advice on religious themes. I can easily imagine people writing and saying, “ I know we are supposed to forgive everyone, but what about the Gestapo? What about the terrible bombing in our country? What about the atrocities of this war? How can we forgive this? We are still suffering today because of their wickedness. I love Lewis’s response: You don’t have to invite them to lunch. You don’t ever have to let a Nazi into your home. You never even have to speak to them ever again. You do have to wish them well. Wish them the very best God has in store for them. Wish for them that they will be judged in heaven righteously, that the punishment they receive from God for their terrible acts will be just.
We don’t know why people do bad things. Is it a mental illness? Is it a chemical imbalance that drove them to evil? We can’t know such things and shouldn’t drive ourselves crazy trying to make sense out of the senseless. We need only to concern ourselves with allowing the evildoer the same grace before our Maker that we wish for ourselves. Wish them well. That is all.