Sunday, 19 January 2014

Choosing to Forgive

Corrie ten Boom has long been honored as an exemplar of Christian faith in action. (In my mind, she is a true heroine, and someone I hope to emulate.) Arrested by the Nazis along with the rest of her family for hiding Jews in their Haarlem home during the Holocaust, she was imprisoned and eventually sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp along with her beloved sister, Betsie, who perished there just days before Corrie's own release on December 31, 1944. Inspired by Betsie's example of selfless love and forgiveness amid extreme cruelty and persecution, Corrie established a post-war home for other camp survivors trying to recover from the horrors they had escaped. She went on to travel widely as a missionary, preaching God's forgiveness and the need for reconciliation. Corrie's devout moral principles were tested when she came face to face with one of her former tormentors in 1947. The following description of that experience is excerpted from her 1971 autobiography, The Hiding Place.
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. ...
And that's when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. ...
"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard in there." No, he did not remember me.
"But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, ..." his hand came out, ... "will you forgive me?"
And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." …

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling."
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then.
The Lord said,
28 ¶Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 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.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
When we choose to forgive, we are handing our burden to God and receiving peace and rest in its place. Christ took upon Him ALL our pains and infirmities. If we allow him, he will make our burdens light.

Forgiveness is a choice.

Corrie ten Boom called it “an act of the will.” Choosing to forgive can be the hardest choice we have to make.

Forgiveness is letting go of blame, releasing great burdens, and moving ahead with our lives. It is not allowing harmful behaviour to continue, condoning a wrong, or forgetting what happened to us. Lewis B Smedes, a renowned Christian author, ethicist and theologian once said, “Forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

Without forgiveness, our future may look very bleak indeed. It can be bogged down by pain, sorrow, grief, and anger. James E Faust said, “Forgiveness is freeing up and putting to better use the energy once consumed by holding grudges, harbouring resentments, and nursing unhealed wounds. It is rediscovering the strengths we always had and relocating our limitless capacity to understand and accept other people and ourselves.”

Forgiveness is a commandment.

The Lord promises us rest from our heavy burdens. Anger, resentment, guilt and bitterness are but some of the fruits of an unforgiving heart, and are incredibly heavy burdens to bear.

Let me tell you about a man. In this story, his name is Malcolm Tent, but perhaps you know someone just like him. When he was a boy, he started a rock collection. This was not a collection of beautiful or interesting stones; this was a collection of grudges. For every time a person was unkind or thoughtless to Malcolm Tent, he would find a rock and put it in his pocket. “I’ve got to remember how angry I am,” he would tell himself, “I don’t want to forget in the morning.”

Over the years, as his rock collection grew, his life became smaller. Rocks spilled out of his pockets as he walked. Rocks spilled out of his cupboards, shelves, and closets. He kept rocks in his coats, in his trousers, even in his bed! It was always so easy to notice someone being mean to him, and he vowed to never forget it.

Malcolm’s rock collection was the talk of the town, and one day a geology enthusiast asked to view his collection. This surprised Malcolm - nobody talked to him much anymore - but he agreed to a tour. Much to the geologist’s surprise, the rocks weren’t magnificent specimens of rare beauty, but ordinary pebbles and stones (some were even chunks of concrete). Malcolm Tent tried to explain why he chose these particular rocks for his collection, but found it difficult. Was this particular rock chosen for the time the taxi driver failed to pick him up? Or was it when he didn’t receive the correct change at the corner shop? Maybe it was the time when his paper was left in the rain….

The geologist thanked him for his time, and left. Malcolm Tent looked around at his piles of dusty, ordinary rocks scattered around his home. He suddenly saw them for what they were - cold, hard and unpleasant.

In Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord admonishes us:

9 Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to aforgive one another; for he that bforgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
10 I, the Lord, will aforgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to bforgive all men.
Now, he didn’t say WHEN we need to forgive, but I imagine it is much easier to throw one rock away and forgive immediately, than it is to store them all up over a lifetime and try to change a habit of holding grudges that has been nurtured for many years. As Malcolm Tent discovered to his dismay, that could very well end up being a LOT of rocks.

There are no constraints placed on forgiveness. We are required to forgive as often as is necessary. When Peter asked the Lord how often one should forgive his trespasser, he may have been thinking of the law of his day that only required a person to forgive three times. The Lord, however, pointed out a better way:

21 ¶Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I aforgive him? till seven times?
22 Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until aseventy times seven.

Forgiveness brings freedom and peace.

Nursing a grudge by carefully stoking the fires of anger and hostility ultimately only harms the grudge holder. Perhaps this is why God has commanded us to forgive those who hurt us - those miserable feelings drive away the Spirit and pull us away from God’s presence.

President Gordon B Hinckley counseled: “If there be any who nurture in their hearts the poisonous brew of enmity toward another, I plead with you to ask the Lord for strength to forgive. This expression of desire will be of the very substance of your repentance. It may not be easy, and it may not come quickly. But if you will seek it with sincerity and cultivate it, it will come. There will come into your heart a peace otherwise unattainable.”

Guy de Maupassant, the french writer, tells the story of a peasant named Hauchecome who came on market day to the village. While walking through the public square, his eye caught sight of a piece of string lying on the cobblestones. He picked it up and put it in his pocket. His actions were observed by the village harness maker, with whom he had previously had a dispute.

Later in the day the loss of a purse was reported. Hauchecome was arrested on the accusation of the harness maker. He was taken before the mayor, to whom he protested his innocence, showing the piece of string that he had picked up. But he was not believed and was laughed at.

The next day the purse was found, and Hauchecome was absolved of any wrongdoing. But, resentful of the indignity he had suffered because of a false accusation, he became embittered and would not let the matter die. Unwilling to forgive and forget, he thought and talked of little else. He neglected his farm. Everywhere he went, everyone he met had to be told of the injustice. By day and by night he brooded over it. Obsessed with his grievance, he became desperately ill and died. In the delirium of his death struggles, he repeatedly murmured, “A piece of string, a piece of string.”

Do you have your own version of a string in your pocket? Do I? It is worth examining ourselves and taking the time to root out any embittered feelings, lest we find ourselves following a similar path as Hauchecome.

Corrie ten Boom spoke of watching camp survivors in her rehabilitation home who withered away from the weight of bitterness and anger towards the perpetrators of the cruelty they had endured. Although the war was over and they had lived to be emancipated from the camps, these people were not truly free - bound with the chains that only forgiveness would loosen.

.I have found this to be true in my own life. I experienced hardship at the hands of my father; his emotional abuse created scars in my psyche that took years to work through. It has been difficult to find the strength to forgive him, but when I finally completed that step, I felt such peace. The helpless anger melted away and I was truly able to free myself from the binds that the abuse created. It was only when I recognised the need for the Saviour’s atonement in my journey towards forgiveness that I was able to truly forgive. His perfect love for me helped me to heal from my pain and recognise the good that has come from my past. I can safely say that I am grateful for all my experiences, because they have formed me into the person I am today.

Forgiveness is Godly Love.

Forgiveness means that problems of the past no longer dictate our destinies, and we can focus on the future with God’s love in our hearts. President Hinckley, always so kind and wise, said “A spirit of forgiveness and attitude of love and compassion toward those who may have wronged us is of the very essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Each of us has need of this spirit. The whole world has need of it. The Lord taught it. He exemplified it as none other has exemplified it.”

More wise words from Alexander Pope, the 18th century English poet, “To err is human, to forgive divine.”

There is no peace in reflecting on the pain of old wounds. There is peace only in repentance and forgiveness. This is the sweet peace of the Christ who said, “blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.”

44 But I say unto you, aLove your benemies, cbless them thatdcurse you, do egood to them that fhate you, and gpray for them which despitefully use you, and hpersecute you

We can find peace when we choose to forgive. The experience may not be as heart-wrenching and immediate as when Corrie ten Boom forgave her prison guard, but we are promised that it will be just as profound and life changing.

Lastly, do not forget to forgive yourself. Repent of your sins, apply the soothing balm of the Atonement to your aching heart. Then arise once more to a new day filled with hope and promise. Do not allow yourself to become attached to yesterday’s mistakes or let them define who you are. Seek for the peace that will surely come when you choose to forgive everyone.