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Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Talk - Forgiveness

Forgiveness Talk –

I was asked to talk about Forgiveness today. I decided that there were 3 aspects that I would like to concentrate on –
1) Seeking forgiveness for our mistakes and sins
2) Forgiving ourselves
3) Forgiving others

Seeking forgiveness for our mistakes
Something we all share is our need to repent and be forgiven on a very regular basis. Each of us has come to earth to receive a physical body and gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize our divine nature and destiny. We all make mistakes and have weaknesses and trials and adversity. That is why we are here – to learn and grow from these experiences.

I want to share two of my favorite scriptures:

Mosiah 3:19 – “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.”

2 Nephi 9:39 – “O, my beloved brethren, remember the awfulness in transgressing against that Holy God, and also the awfulness of yielding to the enticings of that cunning one. Remember, to be carnally-minded is death, and to be spiritually-minded is life eternal.”

As I have pondered these scriptures, I realize that left to my own devices, I am a natural man, with carnal nature. Carnal is defined in the dictionary as “earthly or temporal.” This means that each of us should be actively trying to put off the natural man and our desire to seek after earthly things, and instead be willing and desirous to become like a little child and concentrate on our spiritual growth. In my mind, sometimes I feel like in the eternal realm I am like a stubborn teenager by nature distracted by things of the world and I have to make a real effort to be humble and submissive like a little child and to concentrate on what matters most (no offense to the great teens here!).

When I think of Nephi, I imagine a man who was strong and righteous. It is hard to imagine that he ever struggled in his own soul. But in 2 Nephi 4 he exclaims “O wretched man that I am! Yea, my heart sorroweth because of my flesh; my soul grieveth because of mine iniquities. I am encompassed about, because of the temptations and the sins which do so easily best me.” Even Nephi struggles with being a “natural man.” This is a great example to me. Temptations will always abound, but with the Lord as our teammate, we can learn to resist them.

Nephi begs, “O Lord, wilt thou redeem my soul? Wilt thou make me that I may shake at the appearance of sin?” Nephi was pleading for a change of heart. This can only be accomplished by allowing the Lord to change us It is important that we are willing to have our hearts softened and that we recognize that we do not have the power to resist temptations on our own. If we could do it on our own, we would have no need for a Savior.

Many of us have probably seen the picture of “Christ Knocking at the Door.” This picture was painted by Holman Hunt who was trying to make an image of the following scripture in the Book of Revelation (chapter 3 verse 20)
“Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.”

The artist was showing the picture to a friend and the friend noted that there was one thing wrong with the picture – the door on which Jesus knocks has no handle. Mr. Hunt responded, “That is not a mistake. You see, this is the door to the human heart. It can only be opened from the inside.” This is so true! Jesus may stand and knock, but each of us decides whether to open. The Lord will not force us to take action. He knows exactly what we need and is just waiting for us to ask Him for guidance and help. He doesn’t want to interfere with our own agency though. We must each take our own initiative and have the desire to repent and take steps toward receiving forgiveness and to try to live the commandments.

President Benson once said “God changes men from the inside out.” We need to be willing to have a change of heart and to correct things in our lives that are contrary to the Lord’s way. We need to humbly ask for His guidance all the time.

I read the following quote in the book “The Miracle of Forgiveness.”
“A fellow who is planning to reform is one step behind. He ought to quit planning and get on with the job. Today is the day.”

Often people may feel that they have fallen so far that there is no hope for them.

A wise bishop once said – “Satan is the sneakiest opponent you’ll ever face and he doesn’t play fair!” He wants us to feel hopeless and bad about ourselves. The Lord doesn’t expect us to be perfect in a day. He wants us to have hope throughout the whole repentance process slow as it may be.

“Men do not suddenly become righteous any more than a tiny acorn suddenly becomes an oak.”

I love this analogy that I received from one of the Priesthood leaders. When you are trying to repent and make adjustments in your life, it is like flying an airplane. The most important factor is the direction your airplane’s nose is tilted, upward or downward. As long as you are tilted upward, you are on the right path. Don’t be so worried about being perfect that you try to change your direction from a downward path to going straight up in the air. You will eventually crash the plane. Just concentrate on keeping the airplane headed the right direction and you will continue to progress and improve your life.

True repentance isn’t just turning away from sin. It involves turning to God. I imagine it like this. As we repent we get rid of the sins we are holding inside that were taking up space. When the sins and bad habits are removed, there is an empty space left. It is important to fill that empty space up with spiritual things like prayer, scripture study, good books, activity in the church, uplifting friendships, etc. so that the sins don’t sneak back in.

President Benson said “If you will put God first in your life, everything else will either fall into its proper place or drop out of your life entirely.” He also said “Our love of the Lord must govern the claims for our affection, the demands on our time, the interests we pursue, and the order of our priorities.”

There are many great examples in the scriptures of men who have received forgiveness from the Lord. Two of my favorites are Alma and Enos.

Alma the Younger was so rebellious and fought against the Lord. Alma the Younger’s father, Alma prayed for him to come to a knowledge of the truth. Alma was visited by an angel and fell to the earth as if he were dead for three days. During this time he said he “racked with eternal torment for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins.” He continued “Oh, thought I, that I could be banished and become extinct both soul and body, that I might not be brought to stand in the presence of my God, to be judged of my deeds.” I am sure many of us can relate to this feeling. Then Alma remembered that he had heard his dad talk about “one Jesus Christ” who would atone for the sins of the world. Alma’s mind caught hold upon this thought and he cried within his heart “O Jesus, thou Son or God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death.” Then the scripture goes on to say “And now, behold, when I thought of this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea my soul was filled with joy as exceeding was my pain!” Alma didn’t become this perfect person instantly, but he had a true change of heart and started down a new path.

Enos is another of my favorites. The whole book of Enos is less than 3 pages, but it is powerful. Enos had been taught about eternal life and the joy of righteousness by his father, but he was rebellious. He writes “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I had a remission of my sins.” Enos went to the forests to hunt. His soul hungered which I take to mean that his soul had unrest. He prayed all day and night for his own soul and then a voice came to him saying “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” Then Enos showed his strong testimony of the Atonement by saying “And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.” Then the Lord tells Enos that his faith had made him whole. I have faith that each of us can also be made whole through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.
The Lord also said in Mosiah 26:30 – “Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.”

These stories show me that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ do indeed keep their promises (like we are learning in Primary this year).

When I was a freshman in college my grandma sent me a letter in which she told me to remember the scripture, “Wickedness never was happiness.” (Alma 41:10). This stuck in my mind as I lived away from home for the first time and was around kids who were making poor choices with their new freedom away from home. I came to realize that repenting of our sins brings happiness and peace and that indulging in wickedness brings grief and turmoil. When I have quiet moments to think and reflect, I know in my soul if my life is what I want it to be or if I need to make changes in areas. When I am weighed down with something I ask the Lord promptly for forgiveness so I can have peace again in my own soul. (Peace Barometer)

Forgiving ourselves
Turn the corner – Once we have had a change of heart and are working the steps of repentance and are willing to let the Lord help us, it is important to look forward, not backward. Sheri Dew gave a great talk when I went to Time Out for Women last month with my mom. She likened having a change of heart to turning a corner. Once we have turned a corner, we need to keep looking forward and walking down the street. If we continue to walk back to the corner and peek around it, dwelling on how we were and the mistakes we’ve made, then we do not progress and move forward. It was a really good image to me and as I reflect on my mistakes each day and repent, I try to remember to truly turn the corner and to realize that the Lord is helping me walk down the right path.

Lots of us hold on to guilt even after we have prayed for forgiveness. What is the purpose of guilt? – Guilt is meant to be a warning signal to us – like the smoke alarm in our home. One quick “beep” of its piercing influence is all Heavenly Father meant us to have to bear. In my opinion, if I continue to harbor guilt it is almost a form of blasphemy. It is as if I would be saying that I do not accept the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Satan is author of unhealthy guilt. He wants you to feel hopeless, alone, unforgiven. The Lord has promised us that we are not alone. We can be forgiven, no matter to what depths we have fallen.

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow: though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18)

This applies to everyone! What a burden taken off our backs when we realize we can completely be clean again. Heavenly Father and our Savior want us to feel hopeful and peaceful. The adversary wants us to feel hopeless and impure.

Forgiving others
I must need lots of work in this area because I keep re-learning this lesson over and over again. When I feel I am wronged I get an intense anger inside that I tend to dwell on if left to myself. I am very conscious of this weakness in myself and am constantly asking the Lord to help me in these situations. You cannot feel the spirit and feel angry simultaneously.

A story that reminds me of the importance of forgiving quickly is this one:
A woman was patiently waiting in the mall parking lot for a parking spot with her blinker on. Someone else drove up at the last minute and stole her parking spot and then proceeded to obliviously and happily go on with their shopping. The wronged party continued to stew and fume and damage herself by holding on to the anger for the rest of the day. I made the decision that I do not want to be the person who holds on to anger and who damages herself.

The Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “To be wronged or robbed is nothing unless you continue to remember it.”

Losing the parking spot was not a big deal, but the damage from the continued anger was in this story. Most of us will have situations that will be far more challenging than just losing a parking spot, but the same principles apply.

One common misconception is that in order to forgive someone who has wronged you the offender must first apologize and humble himself before you. But we must forgive the offender regardless of his attitude. President Joseph F. Smith said “It is extremely hurtful for any man holding the gift of the Holy Ghost to harbor a spirit of envy or malice, or retaliations or intolerance toward or against his fellow man. We ought to say in our hearts, ‘Let God judge between me and thee, but for me, I will forgive.’”

I was loading the dishwasher this week and dropped a little child’s sippy cup insert from the top tray. I went to look for it on the bottom shelf and could not see it. I looked and looked and could not find it. I decided to try looking at it from another angle, took a step around to the other side and saw it immediately. This reminded me of forgiveness. Oftentimes when we are involved in a disagreement or have contention with someone, we only look at the situation from our perspective. If we can just take a step and imagine how the other person might perceive the situation, then that will be a good step toward resolving things and restoring harmony. When we strive to have charity and empathy, it is almost impossible to be unforgiving. I only wish I could have the perspective the Lord has.

In closing I want to bear testimony to you that I know each of us can be forgiven of all of our sins. Ours is a gospel of HOPE, not of hopelessness. The Lord understands us and loves us and wants to help us in all the areas of our lives. With the Lord’s help we can also learn to forgive ourselves and forgive others. He has not left us alone and he will help us every step of the way through this process.

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