Relief Society Lesson 4: The Miracle of Forgiveness
My style, when teaching from the Presidents of the Church Manual, is to begin with a personal reflection, a story, a scripture, a question – something to help set the tone for talking openly, something that says, “I’ve really been thinking about this material – I take this calling and our time together seriously.”
For this lesson I might begin with this admission:
Am I the only one who sometimes forgets the “miracle” aspect of forgiveness when I’m about to sit through a talk or lesson on repentance? Perhaps it was those early lessons on the “steps” of repentance, the serious sermons on sin that make my palms sweat and pulse race. I love lessons on forgiveness, I dread lessons on repentance. And yet, they are too sides of the same coin, right?
Or I might begin by reading Luke 7: 36 – 50, pausing on the last verses:
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.
What do these verses teach us about forgiveness? What is her relationship with the Savior? What are her actions? What does He see? How does this connect with the your understanding of the repentance process?
Selected Quotes from President Kimball:
So many to choose from — here were some that helped me trace the dilemma I outlined in opener #1.
The essence of the miracle of forgiveness is that it brings peace to the previously anxious, restless, frustrated, perhaps tormented soul. In a world of turmoil and contention this is indeed a priceless gift.
It is not easy to be at peace in today’s troubled world. Necessarily peace is a personal acquisition. … It can be attained only through maintaining constantly a repentant attitude, seeking forgiveness of sins both large and small, and thus coming ever closer to God. For Church members this is the essence of their preparation, their readiness to meet the Savior when he comes. … Those who are ready will be at peace in their hearts. They will be partakers of the blessing the Savior promised to his apostles: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)
Kimball identifies peace as the “miracle.” What is peace – the “personal acquisition” kind? How is it related to Christ and his teachings? Have you experienced a moment of peace that felt, well, miraculous?
There is never a day in any man’s [or woman’s] life when repentance is not essential to his well-being and eternal progress. But when most of us think of repentance we tend to narrow our vision and view it as good only for our husbands, our wives, our parents, our children, our neighbors, our friends, the world—anyone and everyone except ourselves. Similarly there is a prevalent, perhaps subconscious, feeling that the Lord designed repentance only for those who commit murder or adultery or theft or other heinous crimes. This is of course not so. If we are humble and desirous of living the gospel we will come to think of repentance as applying to everything we do in life, whether it be spiritual or temporal in nature. Repentance is for every soul who has not yet reached perfection.
What do you feel, reflexively, when you think of the word repentence? Does it feel like something for “other people”? Does it conjure an image of “serious sins”? Does it feel heavy or light? A nagging, a guilt inducer? Hopeful? Does it feel immediate or distant? How do we integrate repentence into the stuff of everyday life? How do we embrace it – practically and emotionally?
While the major sins such as those listed earlier … call for confession to the proper Church authorities, clearly such confession is neither necessary nor desirable for all sins. Those of lesser gravity but which have offended others—marital differences, minor fits of anger, disagreements and such—should instead be confessed to the person or persons hurt and the matter should be cleared between the persons involved, normally without a reference to a Church authority. Confession brings peace. … the sharing of burdens to lighten them. One lifts at least part of his burden and places it on other shoulders which are able and willing to help carry the load.
This is an aspect of “confession” I hadn’t considered but would be worth discussing. What does “confession” mean in the context of our family relationships? Work relationships? (Is honest communication, in itself, a part of the healing?)
As a rule there are many things which a repentant soul can do to make amends. “A broken heart and a contrite spirit” will usually find ways to restore to some extent. The true spirit of repentance demands that he who injures shall do everything in his power to right the wrong. In the process of repentance we must restore completely where possible, otherwise restore to the maximum degree attainable.
I remember those great object lessons in primary. Joey steals a penny candy. Joey confesses to his mom and makes restitution by apologizing to the store owner and paying back what he took. But what do we do when we can’t “pay back” – how do we make amends when we’ve hurt someone, when the mean remark is hanging “out there?” When a relationship has a history of back-and-forth injury? When one party is willing to work on it, but the other isn’t? What does restitution mean to us as adult women?
The lesson concludes with this scripture:
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28–30.)
Does this scripture give us any insights on repentance and forgiveness?
Elaine Jack, “Repentance means turning the heart and the will to God. It denotes a change of mind, a fresh view about God, about oneself, and about the world.”
I really like this talk by Anne Pingree (she starts by
describing a Minerva Teichert painting, after all). An excerpt:
That very will to go forward toward our Savior sometimes requires on-the-spot repentance. It’s recognizing we’ve made mistakes or haven’t done what we could to encourage or help someone. These personal course corrections in thought, action, or word are essential for all who desire to come unto Christ. They represent individual choices about how we will touch each other literally and figuratively.
We draw closer to the Savior as we encircle others in loving arms. Or we don’t. We balm emotional or physical wounds. Or we don’t. We look at each other with a loving rather than a critical eye. Or we don’t. We ask forgiveness for harm we have caused, even if it was unintended. Or we don’t. We do the hard spiritual work of forgiving those who have given us offense. Or we don’t. We quickly correct our errors or oversights in personal relationships when we become aware of them. Or we don’t.
Like you, I know what it means to make essential course corrections. I remember a time when, without any intent to do so, I offended a sister in my ward. I needed to reconcile this issue, but I must admit that my pride kept me from going to her and asking for her forgiveness. Family, other commitments, on and on—I found ways to postpone my repentance. I was sure things would work out on their own. But they didn’t.
In the stillness of not one night but several, I awoke with a clear realization that I was not taking the course the Lord would want me to take. I was not acting on my faith that His arm of mercy was truly extended towards me—if I would act aright. I prayed for strength and courage, humbled myself, and went to the sister’s home and asked for her forgiveness. For us both, it proved to be a sweet, healing experience.
Sometimes a personal course correction is as immediate as retracing our hurried steps toward the exit after Church meetings and instead crossing the foyer to greet a lonely sister who we know will talk long. Often it will be as long-term as regularly rising above feelings of resentment for family members who treat us thoughtlessly—all while we are trying to build positive relationships. Regularly, these individual course corrections, which are crucial instances of repentance, yield “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”11
Seeking that fruit of righteousness, it is no wonder that we, like the women in Minerva Teichert’s glorious artwork, stretch with longing and adoration toward the Savior, for we know He extends “the arm of mercy towards them that put their trust in him.”12 Because this glorious promise is true, where else would we look, where else would we reach, where else would we come but to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, the Lamb of God, our Messiah?
I know that “the Son of Righteousness arise[s] with healing in his wings”13 not only for that certain woman with an issue of blood, but also for each one of us. He would guide and bless and gather us—if we will choose to come unto Him.