Relief Society Lesson #34: The Power of Forgiving

by Jana and EmilyCC

This lesson focuses primarily on forgiving others to bring about unity.  It doesn’t go into how or provide any other reasons for forgiving beyond unity.  So, we’ve filled in with some additional sections; these sections are notes with **’s. 

I suggest you begin this lesson with a poem that many women will relate to, about our relationship with our mothers (ask a sister with a flair for reading poetry to share this piece with the class and you can also hand this out to each attendee to follow along):

To My Mother
by Wendell Berry

I was your rebellious [daughter],
do you remember? Sometimes
I wonder if you do remember,
so complete has your forgiveness been.

So complete has your forgiveness been
I wonder sometimes if it did not
precede my wrong, and I erred,
safe found, within your love,

prepared ahead of me, the way home,
or my bed at night, so that almost
I should forgive you, who perhaps
foresaw the worst that I might do,

and forgave before I could act,
causing me to smile now, looking back,
to see how paltry was my worst,
compared to your forgiveness of it

already given. And this, then,
is the vision of that Heaven of which
we have heard, where those who love
each other have forgiven each other,

where, for that, the leaves are green,
the light a music in the air,
and all is unentangled,
and all is undismayed.

Adapted from “To My Mother” by Wendell Berry, from Entries. © Pantheon Books, 1994.
What do you think of this poem?
What can it teach us about forgiveness?

Another possibility would be to start with singing, “Amazing Grace.”  Although this lesson is primarily focused around our forgiveness of others, it may be helpful to start with a song that reminds us that God forgives all.

Paraphrase the first story of the lesson about the man who had spoken badly of Joseph Smith and had tried to make up for it by chopping wood.  Then, ask…

Do you have a story where someone has shown you such forgiveness? (Depending on your ward, you may want to take time for each person to think of the story for themselves or invite people to share out-loud.)

We are to exercise the principle of mercy and forgive our brothers and sisters.

D&C 98:39-45
What is this scripture saying?
Do you have other scriptures about mercy or forgiveness that you find helpful?

Eliza R. Snow reported these words of the Prophet: “[The Saints] should be armed with mercy, notwithstanding the iniquity among us. Said he had been instrumental in bringing iniquity to light—it was a melancholy thought and awful that so many should place themselves under the condemnation of the devil, and going to perdition. With deep feeling he said that they are fellow mortals, we loved them once, shall we not encourage them to reformation? We have not [yet] forgiven them seventy times seven, as our Savior directed [see Matthew 18:21–22]; perhaps we have not forgiven them once. There is now a day of salvation to such as repent and reform.”7

“Suppose that Jesus Christ and holy angels should object to us on frivolous things, what would become of us? We must be merciful to one another, and overlook small things.”8

Do you find thinking about Jesus and angels in this way helpful?  Why or why not?

Forgiving restores unity of feeling.

The Prophet Joseph Smith wrote to a group of Church leaders: “Now, brethren, let me tell you, that it is my disposition to give and forgive, and to bear and to forbear, with all long-suffering and patience, with the foibles, follies, weaknesses, and wickedness of my brethren and all the world of mankind; and my confidence and love toward you is not slackened, nor weakened. And now, if you should be called upon to bear with us a little in any of our weaknesses and follies, and should, with us, receive a rebuke to yourselves, don’t be offended. … When you and I meet face to face, I anticipate, without the least doubt, that all matters between us will be fairly understood, and perfect love prevail; and the sacred covenant by which we are bound together, have the uppermost seat in our hearts.”11

How can we do this?

The Prophet Joseph Smith said the following at a meeting with his counselors in the First Presidency and the Twelve: “I have sometimes spoken too harshly from the impulse of the moment, and inasmuch as I have wounded your feelings, brethren, I ask your forgiveness, for I love you and will hold you up with all my heart in all righteousness, before the Lord, and before all men; for be assured, brethren, I am willing to stem the torrent of all opposition, in storms and in tempests, in thunders and in lightnings, by sea and by land, in the wilderness or among false brethren, or mobs, or wherever God in His providence may call us. And I am determined that neither heights nor depths, principalities nor powers, things present or things to come, or any other creature, shall separate me from you [see Romans 8:38–39].

“And I will now covenant with you before God, that I will not listen to or credit any derogatory report against any of you, nor condemn you upon any testimony beneath the heavens, short of that testimony which is infallible, until I can see you face to face, and know of a surety; and I do place unremitted confidence in your word, for I believe you to be men of truth. And I ask the same of you, when I tell you anything, that you place equal confidence in my word, for I will not tell you I know anything that I do not know.”12
Joseph Smith is doing two important things here:
1. He asks for forgiveness
2. He states he will try to not judge others

Often in wards, miscommunication happens or we speak to hastily.  Could this be a prescription for fixing strained relationships in the ward? 
How can we make it more applicable?

**Why else should we forgive?

Besides promoting feelings of unity and harmony among our friends/family, what other benefits are there to forgiving?

**How do you forgive?

In the book, All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir, Emma Lou Thayne recounts a difficult experience with a neighbor being rude to her daughters.

She (Emma Lou’s mother) let me huff and fume, even in front of the children as I recall, something she never would have approved under normal circumstances.  That was undignified and destructive.  But when I was through—a grown thirty-two-year-old woman, ranting that I wanted to call the police myself—she sat me down alongside the children and said very quietly, “Emma Lou, this is a pivotal moment in your life with the people next door.  You’ve moved in here, and you expect to stay.  Probably so do they.  And they were here first.  You’ve introduced a lot of frustration and bewilderment into their established lives.  But I’ll bet anything that Mrs. Hugo feels just as terrible as you do right now.”


“Oh, sure,” I huffed.  “She’s probably swimming in regret.”
“You know, I’m sure she is,” Mother said.  “And it’s up to you to make amends.”
“Yes, you and your little girls.”  (from All God’s Creatures Got a Place in the Choir, “Neighbors,” pg 37)

I like this section because it shows how angry Emma Lou is, and then, she is told to walk over to the neighbor’s house and apologize.  This passage shows how difficult forgiveness is.

How have you forgiven people in the past?
What concrete steps can we do to be more forgiving?
What resources (scriptures, hymns, stories) help you when you are trying to forgive?

**When forgiveness doesn’t come easily

I think it’s important to tread lightly on the subject of forgiveness when it comes to abuse victims.  This could be an entire lesson in and of itself, and I think it needs to be tailored to the specific group one is teaching.

Sister Okazaki’s piece on sexual abuse is a good place to start when dealing with this.

Also, if you have access to her book, Aloha, pgs 89-93 are excellent on forgiveness as she relates her and her husband’s experiences as Japanese-Americans during WWII and another piece on healing/forgiveness and sexual abuse.


Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is

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4 Responses

  1. Alice says:

    For the subject of When Forgiveness does not come easily, it may be helpful to mention that forgiveness does not mean condoning/excusing the wrongdoing, nor does it mean the wrongdoer is free of consequences. It should also not be confused with reconciliation – which is the restoring of a relationship. Forgiveness can open the door to renewing a relationship, if it is possible, but sometimes it is not.

  2. Jerry Young says:

    These are some of the areas I’ll be presenting in handouts and discussion Sunday on this chapter. Perhaps you may consider these in your preparation.

    A. Points to ponder (in addition to the Suggestions for Study at the end of the chapter):
    Focus on the “power” of being forgiven or forgiving. What is that power? This is what the compilers of the manual want us to learn from this chapter.
    We are commanded to forgive. When asked “if there is anything in your life …”, be sure you have taken care of this.
    Consider the face-to-face / covenant existing or future relationship: pg 394 “When you and I meet face to face ….sacred covenant by which we are bound..”; pg 394-395 “And I will now covenant ….until I can see you face to face ….”
    The Prophet’s attitude toward the repentant and an example for us: “Nothing is so much calculated to lead people to forsake sin as to take them by the hand, and watch over them with tenderness.” Pg 394

    B. Excerpts from:
    Elder Jeffery R. Holland article in the Dec 2008 New Era
    President James E. Faust, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” April 2007 General Conference
    President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Point of Safe Return,” April 2007 General Conference
    President Gordon B. Hinckley (an Apostle then) October 1980 General Conference

    C. Some trivia notes anout William Phelps and “Praise to the Man”:
    After his return to the Church, he contributed the words to many hymns. In the current edition, 13 have his text and 2 more have his revised text. As evidence of his testimony of the Prophet, he wrote “Praise to the Man”.
    It is held that for many years the tune used for “Praise to the Man” was from “Hail to the Chief”. If one reviews the stanza in Sir Walter Scott’s “Lady of the Lake”, we can find the inspiration for the words: “Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances, Honor’d & bless’d be the evergreen Pine,…” (later the tune was changed to a bagpipe Scottish air)

  3. sliverwood says:

    I think the lesson talks about several reasons for forgiving beyond unity. I had never before considered forgiving a principle of power. This lessons expands my vision and understanding of forgiving. On the first page of the lesson (p. 391), in the middle of the page it states “…willingness to forgive others, allowing them to move beyond the wrongs of the past.” I think that is so powerful! I hate the idea of being “damned” of being forever “pidgeon-holed” in the same behaviors and as the same person. Forgiving has the power to liberate and enable growth.
    I think on page 392, another power of forgiving is mentioned. This is the last phrase of the paragraph by George Q. Cannon. “…he acted with so much tenderness and justice that he won the love of all.” Forgiving is a powerful way to communicate love, not only to the one forgiven, but to who it can touch.
    Also on that page in the section under the Teachings of Joseph Smith we see that forgiving is married to mercy. Forgiving is a power that is entetwined with love and mercy.

  4. Shannon says:

    I seriously do not know where I would be without all of you who help me with my lessons! Know that your efforts are very, very much appreciated.

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