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The other day, I knelt down to say a prayer before going to bed. It had been a calm night. I’d been thinking about different things, but it wasn’t about anything specific. I didn’t register any particularly strong emotions. As I started to pray, I said some of the normal stuff. Things were progressing quite normally until I had this particular thought pop into my head. This thought quickly turned into a monologue in which I was no longer speaking with Heavenly Father but with someone who I found myself at odds with over the past year. The monologue included all sorts of clever insights into why this person was wrong. I continued along with my monologue for a while until I kinda woke up and realized that my prayer had gone a little astray. And at first, I mostly just tried to get my thoughts back on track so that I was saying normal-prayer type things, but then I realized I needed to be praying for forgiveness and charity.
Let’s read a verse.
3 Nephi 12:44 But behold I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
That night I found myself praying for charity for this person, and I mean really praying for charity. As I was praying, I had two specific epiphanies. The first epiphany was that I was literally semi-yelling in my perceived justice at somebody in my head when I should have been humbly talking with my Heavenly Father. I found myself feeling rather embarrassed as I pictured myself having a real conversation with Heavenly Father and all of a sudden, I was just kind of going off on somebody. I mean, have you ever done that with a normal person? Have you ever been just talking to someone and all of a sudden you find yourself ranting about someone who’s done you wrong? I can only imagine how much more embarrassed I would have felt if I had found myself doing that in the presence of Heavenly Father.
My second epiphany is what I really want to focus on today. My second epiphany was that I thought I had forgiven this person, and I thought she no longer affected me. I’ve prayed about all of this before, and most of the time, I’ve forgotten all about it. It was a while ago. I never see this person anymore. We still have indirect connections, but she no longer really affects my life like she did previously. I thought I was over all of it.
Forgiveness is an interesting thing, and loving your enemies is equally interesting. I think that sometimes we convince ourselves that we’ve reached the point of forgiveness and enemy-loving, and we move on. We convince ourselves that we’re above the sad situation, and we’re better than that. Today is a fantastic time to ask yourselves some questions about whether you’ve truly grown to love your enemies and whether you’ve truly forgiven someone.
So what does it look like when we’ve convinced ourselves we’re righteous and forgiving, but we’re actually not?
We have monologues
As I mentioned previously in my story, we often find ourselves with monologues. Even after time passes, we find ourselves reflecting on the hurt that might have come our way. We reflect on the truth coming out. We reflect on calling them out. You know all those funny little quotes about having your wittiest comebacks in the shower days after a conversation has occurred? That’s what it looks like to be unforgiving. You keep reliving it except you make yourself the “winner.”
You want others to see them how you see them
Even if you keep yourself from talking about it to other people, you want other people to know they were wrong. When you do talk about them, you have to preface it with how much you love them.
You can’t seem to give them the benefit of the doubt
Their actions all seem to have a dark motive or inherent flaw attached.
You congratulate yourself for tolerating them
You like to think of yourself as Christlike for recognizing their weakness and being kind anyway.
It can even look like a hand of friendship
This one kills me. It kills me because I used to do it, and I didn’t recognize it until someone did it to someone I love. When an argument has occurred, one side puts up a white flag. They apologize for their part in it. They want to be friends and put everything behind them.
This one is also tricky. It can be tricky because sometimes extending that hand of friendship (even when you don’t want to) can be a good step in the direction of forgiving them. It can be helpful for those who are side parties to the argument for people to be civil with each other in public places. However, it cannot stop there. True forgiveness has to occur all the way down. People can feel it when you’re tolerating them. They might not consciously recognize it, but they recognize it.
Those are some ways that it might look like you’re not really forgiving someone.
Now one of the things that I really love about these chapters is that a central theme revolves around living a higher law. Sometimes we still try to require a tooth for a tooth. Someone hurt you and you still love them, but you want them to hurt. That’s the Law of Moses. Christ fulfilled that law; we don’t get to live that law anymore. Not even the Israelites get to live that law anymore. We have to live a higher law if we want to be truly happy. So what truly is the higher law? What I’ve essentially come to believe is that it all comes down to what’s occurring in our hearts. Right? In our previous verse, we learned that we have to love our enemies, bless them, do good to them, and pray for them. In other verses, we learn that we can’t even look at someone with lust or we’ve committed adultery in our hearts. We can’t even be angry with our brother, let alone kill him. Those are things that have to occur in our hearts.
So we’ve talked about what it looks like when we’re still harboring unforgiveness, but what does it look like to be truly forgiving?
Before I continue, remember that this is an ideal. We can pray for help reaching this ideal, and even then, it may still take time. Those feelings are hard to conquer, but they have to be conquered. Anyone who has been hurt and has sincerely forgiven someone can testify of how sweet that feeling is. If you can’t yet reach that ideal, hold out patient. Keep trying. It’ll come.
So what does it look like to truly forgive?
True forgiveness can look like so many different things. True forgiveness can look like reconciled friends, brothers, or sisters; true forgiveness can look like taking a break from someone. It can look like a heart to heart. It can look like someone playing peacemaker and walking away. It can look like standing up for yourself. True forgiveness can look like going forward and calling someone to repentance (though be extremely careful with that one). Forgiveness can look like a great many things because forgiveness is something that happens in your heart.
So what does it feel like?
The pain is gone. The cynicism is gone. The anger is gone. The need to explain yourself is gone. You feel clarity and gratitude and freedom. It doesn’t affect you. Even if the situation calls for you to defend yourself and call someone out, it will not affect you in the same way when you feel forgiveness.