Relief Society Lesson Chapter 23: “Of You It Is Required to Forgive”
This is the first time I’ve done a Relief Society lesson for the Exponent, and I’m not sure what the procedure is. So here are areas I would try to cover if I were teaching this lesson or things I’d like brought up as a participant in a lesson on forgiveness.
Forgiveness does not require you to put yourself in harm’s way:
The most important thing I feel is missing from most lessons on forgiveness is that forgiveness does not mean restoring trust in or contact with the person who is being forgiven. There are people who do terrible things to us. Forgiving them does not mean you must let them back into your life or that you must trust them as you once did. The church defines forgiveness this way: “To forgive is a divine attribute. It is to pardon or excuse someone from blame for an offense or misdeed.”
I read this to mean that we no longer feel anger towards the person who hurt us. We don’t wish them ill or hold a grudge. Nowhere does this definition say you must put yourself in emotional, physical or spiritual danger to prove you have forgiven someone. It is entirely possible to say “I have forgiven this person. But for my own safety and well-being, and the well-being of those I care about, this person will no longer be a part of my life.” God does not want us to continually be hurt to prove how forgiving we are.
Forgiveness means speaking your feelings:
Forgiveness can be hard to teach. We want to validate the hurt feelings and painful experiences people have while encouaging them to forgive. Often people seem to feel guilty for ever feeling angry or hurt, and believe that in order to forgive they must ignore those feelings. I would prefer to hear that it is okay to be hurt or angry; people will hurt us and we are allowed to feel that hurt. It is what we do with that hurt that is the problem, not the feeling itself.
Many also seem to feel that forgiveness means keeping your mouth shut, suffering in silence so the person who hurt you never knows. The lesson has this to say about that mentality:
“Sometimes a brother in authority has offended, in some way, one of the members of the Church, probably unknown to himself, and that child of our Father’s silently continues to feel hurt, instead of doing as the Lord has commanded, going to the offending man and stating to him, in kindness, the feelings of his heart, and giving that brother an opportunity to say to him, “I am sorry I have offended you, and I desire that you shall forgive me.” The result is that, in some instances, we find a resentful feeling existing that has been instigated by Satan.9 [See suggestion 4 on page 253.]”
If we suffer in silence, we deny people the opportunity to apologize. We deny them the chance to learn about others, to learn when they offend others. According to the lesson, “George Albert Smith made forgiving others one of his lifelong goals when he wrote in his personal creed: ‘I would not knowingly wound the feeling of any, not even one who may have wronged me, but would seek to do him good and make him my friend.’”
Most people do not wish to hurt others, and we do them a disservice by not telling them when we are hurt by something they say or do. Forgiveness does not mean to suffer in silence, but to speak up and give other’s the chance to learn.
Forgiveness can take a lifetime, and that’s okay:
When looking at talks on forgiveness, there is no time limit given for how long you have to forgive somone. Forgiveness is a process and God knows that. As stated earlier, George Albert Smith “made forgiving others one of his lifelong goals.” It was a process for him, and will be for us as well.
In a talk “Our Path of Duty” Keith B. McMullin told this story, drawn from The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom.
“In Holland during World War II, the Casper ten Boom family used their home as a hiding place for those hunted by the Nazis. This was their way of living out their Christian faith. Four members of the family lost their lives for providing this refuge. Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie spent horrific months in the infamous Ravensbrück concentration camp. Betsie died there—Corrie survived.
In Ravensbrück, Corrie and Betsie learned that God helps us to forgive. Following the war, Corrie was determined to share this message. On one occasion, she had just spoken to a group of people in Germany suffering from the ravages of war. Her message was “God forgives.” It was then that Corrie ten Boom’s faithfulness brought forth its blessing.
A man approached her. She recognized him as one of the cruelest guards in the camp. “You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,” he said. “I was a guard there. … But since that time, … I have become a Christian.” He explained that he had sought God’s forgiveness for the cruel things he had done. He extended his hand and asked, “Will you forgive me?”
Corrie ten Boom then said:
“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
“… The message that God forgives has a … condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. …
“… ‘Help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’
“… Woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. As I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
“‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart.’
“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then.”
It is clear that Corrie ten Boom had not forgiven the people who hurt her so badly immediately after it happened. It took time for her to reach the point where she could forgive, just it can take us a long time to forgive others. It is a process to move past the pain and anger caused by the actions of another person. We don’t need to beat ourselves up for not forgiving someone quickly enough if we are working on it.
How do we forgive?
Talking about how important it is to forgive is great, but how do we go about doing it? This would be a great discussion point, but a couple of points I found in the lesson that I like are:
1. Remembering that people often do not mean to offend. The lesson says this
“Sometimes a brother in authority has offended, in some way, one of the members of the Church, probably unknown to himself, and that child of our Father’s silently continues to feel hurt, instead of doing as the Lord has commanded, going to the offending man and stating to him, in kindness, the feelings of his heart, and giving that brother an opportunity to say to him, “I am sorry I have offended you, and I desire that you shall forgive me.”
Most of the time people do not mean to offend. That can occasionally be helpful to remember. Hanlon’s razor says “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by ignorance.” More often than not, people are ignorant of circumstances or beliefs and they offend through ignorance.
2. The lesson references this scripture: “And again, if your enemy shall smite you the second time, and you revile not against your enemy, and bear it patiently, your reward shall be an hundredfold. And again, if he shall smite you the third time, and ye bear it patiently, your reward shall be doubled unto you four fold.” [D&C 98:25–26.]” A literal interpretation of this scripture concerns me, as it suggests there is virtue in putting up with abuse, that forgiveness requires you to put yourself in bad situations. But this scripture reminds me of these scriptures in Matthew 5: 38-41.
Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.”
I’ve wondered if there is a more symbolic way to interpret these scriptures. I particularly like the idea in “And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain.” What would be the advantage in spending more time with someone than is necessary? In my mind, you learn more about them, about their lives and their motives. So symbolically these scriptures could be an encouragement to try to understand the person who mistreated us, to try to understand why they might have done so and not reacting in anger. I’d prefer this interpretation rather than suggesting that submitting to abuse is a virtuous thing to do.
3. There is someone who understands the pain we are feeling and does not condemn us for us. Often we feel that we cannot share our anger or pain with others, because that means we have not forgiven. It can be healing, however, to speak about pain to others. Often if we epxress how we feel it helps us to move past the pain, to get a perspective from someone else and to get the anger out of our system. In some cases, professional counseling can help us forgive the pain we have suffered at the hands of others.
It seems that some people feel that they cannot even share their pain with God. But the Atonement did not just cover our sins, it covered our pain and our anger. Christ knows how we feel, he understands why we feel the way we do and the struggle it is to forgive another person. He has felt it. We do not need to hide our pain from God, because God understands it and can help us overcome it.