Recently I spotted a couple that I had not seen for several months. I observed them for a moment or two as they moved in my direction. Both are friendly, outgoing people who have always had a smile and a cheerful greeting. But on this occasion I was struck by a lack of energy and an absence of emotion in their demeanor.
We visited briefly, but their usual positive spark was lacking. Not wanting to say something inappropriate, I inquired of a mutual acquaintance if something serious had befallen them. I learned that there had been some hurtful conduct within their family several months earlier and the couple continued to complain, to all who would listen, of the ills they had suffered and the shortcomings of the offender.
This is not an unusual occurrence or response. In our daily lives mistakes are made, people are mistreated and there are many injustices. None of us move through this life without being victim to the wrongful acts or words of others. Our history is full of such instances, and some of them have led not only to resentment and hurt feelings, but in extreme cases countries have gone to war over seemingly insignificant slights.
Unfortunately, after the initial offense, we may choose to be victims a second time by carrying the feelings of hurt, anger and outrage with us as we move through our lives.
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Many experts in behavioral studies have described the harmful effects of brooding over past injuries, whether imagined or real. When there is hurt or pain, whether physical or emotional, strong emotions are involved and must be dealt with. The body’s response may be an increase in blood pressure, disturbed sleep, or a “short fuse.” The anger and need for revenge or justice may also leave its mark on our appearance and personality.
In a recent talk, Elder Kevin R. Duncan of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints told of a splinter he got in his finger while mending a fence. He made a half-hearted effort to remove it, then just tolerated the discomfort. As time passed, skin covered the sliver and a lump developed on the finger. It was annoying and sometimes painful.
After a few years, he decided to get rid of the annoyance. He applied an ointment regularly to the bump and kept it covered with a bandage. After a couple of weeks he removed the bandage to discover the splinter had emerged. Elder Duncan compared the pain and annoyance of the splinter to the burden of an unforgiving heart.
Through the act of forgiving another, we can free ourselves of the burden of hateful thoughts, resentment and feelings of being wronged or misused. By leaving the matter of punishment to God, who is the supreme judge, we free ourselves to find peace and joy in our lives.
The New Testament contains several statements regarding the obligation to forgive others of their offenses against us. The Lord’s Prayer gives voice to the plea that we be forgiven of our debts as we forgive our debtors.
God knows us. He knows not only our faults and shortcomings, but is also aware of the wrongs that we suffer at the hands of others. He is more than capable, and willing, to mete out justice — but it is his responsibility, not ours.
In the Doctrine & Covenants of the Church, Christ said, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:10). His is the perfect example, having been unjustly accused, beaten and then hung on the cross, yet asking that those who abused him be forgiven.
The Atonement is the means by which we can be forgiven if we repent. But it also helps us forgive others. It is not easy to forgive someone who has caused grievous injury or pain, but it is worth it.
Elder Duncan closed his talk with these words: “If you are having trouble forgiving another person or even yourself, ask God to help you. Forgiveness is a glorious, healing principle. We do not need to be a victim twice. We can forgive.”
Glenna M. Christensen is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.