Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Change of Heart

Forgiveness is a tricky thing.  At least it seems that way from where I'm standing.

I'm the kind of person who almost never gets offended with strangers.  I make excuses for them. The guy who cut me off in traffic is probably on his way to the hospital where his daughter is dying. The lady who was rude to me in the grocery store probably found out this morning that her dog has cancer.  I make up all sorts of tragic stories in my head to excuse stranger's behavior. (I'm a writer. It's what I do.)

But family members are harder.  I know no one is dying. And I assume that I know what's going on in their heads.  Which means it's harder to forgive them for snapping at me.

And sometimes it's so much more than snapping.

I have forgiven people in the past for some pretty big things.  Ok- really big.  At least I think I have.  I can look back at some horrendous stuff people did to me or my kids without feeling angry.  I'm sad, wish it hadn't happened, and am confused by what would have motivated their actions.  I can even honestly say that I hope they are doing well in life and are not suffering for what they did.  Is that forgiveness?  And if so, how did I get there?

Because-- from where I am standing now, in relation to my children and me being abused-- that looks like a fantasy.  An impossible dream.  Like wishing I could shake Tinkerbell over my head, rain down fairy dust and fly to Never-Never Land.  Sure it would be cool- but let's be realistic.

I grew up hearing about "The Steps to Repentance." Meaning, what you need to do to fix- internally and externally- the problems you cause in your life and other's lives. They were pretty straight forward.

1. Recognize you did something wrong. (If you didn't hurt someone, there's nothing to fix.)
2. Feel bad about it. (If you're happy about hurting them, there's no point pretending you want to fix it.)
3. Apologize to whomever you hurt, and accept responsibility for your actions.  (This might include yourself, someone else, God, the world, your cat...)
4. Do whatever you can to fix the problem you caused. (Sometimes it's impossible to fix-- but do your best. Usually the harder it is to fix, the bigger the problem was.)
5. Don't do it again. 

But what if I'm not the one who did something wrong? Are there steps to Forgiveness?

This last weekend was General Conference for my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  (aka Mormons)  It's one of my favorite weekends of the year because we get to stay home and watch church on TV (or the internet) in our pjs while eating popcorn.  But best of all-- the speakers are truly inspired.  Some of The Best sermon's I've ever heard have been during General Conference.

On Sunday morning, Dieter Uchtdorf said he had felt impressed to speak about the importance if forgiving others.  (Click his name to see his talk.)

"We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children... This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon,” he said. “When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm—please apply the following: 
Stop it!”

He gave some specific ideas on how to go about this.  They were things I already knew. But they're hard! Really hard.

He suggested praying for my enemy. (My mind: Dear God, please let this man have a horrible life.  No, wait. That's not what President Uchtdorf meant. Well- give him whatever blessings he deserves, and we both know that is the afore mentioned really miserable life.  No, wait.  This isn't helping.  <sigh>  Ok.  Whatever.  Please bless him with good things.  I guess. If you have to.)

He suggested doing kind things for my enemy.  (Really?  Are you kidding me? I tried that for over 20 years and look where it got me! I really don't think so.)

He suggested remembering that I am not perfect either.  And that I hope people and God will forgive me.  (My mind: Yes, well...  Ok. that's true.  Actually, that's a very good point. Maybe I should reconsider the last couple of items.)

“We are not perfect. The people around us are not perfect. People do things that annoy, disappoint, and anger. In this mortal life it will always be that way.
Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.
Remember, heaven is filled with those who have this in common: They are forgiven. And they forgive.
Lay your burden at the Savior’s feet. Let go of judgement. Allow Christ’s Atonement to change and heal your heart. Love one another. Forgive one another. The merciful will obtain mercy.”
So I am working on it.  But I am the first to admit, this requires me to have a mighty big change of heart. 
And I am keeping in mind that forgiving DOES NOT mean letting myself or my children (or anyone else) be abused again. EVER. I might forgive a dog for biting me, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get down on the ground and wrestle with him.  Forgiveness isn't about him changing. It doesn't depend on him seeing what he did, feeling bad about it, apologizing or trying to fix it.  It's not about him. It's about me. 
Forgiving means, in my mind, that I am not angry any more. That I wish for the best for the other person.   
So I pray for him.  When I can.  Sometimes I just can't bring myself to do it.  But sometimes I take a deep breath and ask the Lord to help my ex-husband get his life in order and have things turn out well. I know I'm not there yet.  I have a really long way to go. But I remember that I'm not perfect either. And I remember a bumper sticker President Uchtdorf talked about.
Don't judge me because I sin differently that you.
I don't want to be angry forever.  It's not about wether he changes or not. 
It's about me having a change of heart.  
Have you found ways to forgive someone? Please share!
Click here to watch President Uchtdorf's inspiring talk.


Samuel + Olivia said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing. Forgiveness is a hard thing! And so very personal, and therefore, comes about differently for everyone. For me, I needed time. And prayer...and fasting...and the temple... It wasn't any one thing, but an accumulation of things over time. It is true though...forgiveness, and the peace that comes, is worth the long journey it can take to get there.

Valerie said...

Loved that talk and loved your post! I remember reading an article in the Ensign where a woman was having a hard time forgiving her Ex, and the bishop said, "Leave a place in your heart for forgiveness, so it will be ready when it comes." I think it takes time, the key is not to spend all our time on vengeful and angry thoughts. I also like the saying, "You can't stop a bird from landing on your head, but you can stop him from building a nest." I think the anger is going to come in waves, we just have to try not to let it consume us.I've honestly never had someone do anything close to what you've suffered, so I really have no personal experience, but I can say how much I admire you and what an amazing example you are to me!

a.eye said...

These steps are so important... especially not doing it again. Thanks for sharing this! It is right on time for me.

Barbara said...

Absolute best book I've ever read on the subject is "Bonds That Make Us Free" by C. Terry Warmer, a BYU professor. He gives lots of hows and whys with a gospel base. We love principles because they are true, but sometimes a road map is helpful. :) Principles being 'you must forgive', the road map being 'it's hard, and this is one way that worked for lots of people to get to that forgiving place and how it helped them'
And yes, love that talk.

*I left this on your facebook, but wanted to leave it here for others who might read here and not there.

Rebecca =) said...


Thank you for posting it here! I love getting comments here. (on the blog itself) I don't know why, but it makes me happy. =)

I'm going to get a copy of the book. Thank you for recommending it!

Rebecca =)

Barbara said...

oops...C Terry Warner....
not Warmer

If I had a blog, I'd like comments too. :)

From Tracie said...

In so many ways, forgiveness is about setting yourself free, even though it seems it would be quite the opposite.

Thank you for sharing this with the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.