To be effective, forgiveness must be total and come from the heart. The Lord lifted from all the burden of choosing whom to forgive when He proclaimed a universal law: "I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men. And ye ought to say in your heart — let God judge between me and thee, and reward thee according to thy deeds" (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10-11).
In 2007, Chris Williams, a bishop in a Salt Lake City ward, and his family were involved in a car crash that took the lives of his pregnant wife and two of their children. Before the dust settled from the wreck, Bishop Williams knew that the first thing he had to do was forgive the driver who had crashed his vehicle into the Williams family's sedan.
"As a disciple of Christ, I had no other choice," he said as he referred to the Lord's admonition to "forgive all men."
Bishop Williams said, "As I understand that statement, it is not an option whether or not I forgive somebody. It is a commandment" ("Forgiveness is the only option," Church News, Feb. 2, 2007).
In 1914, Elder Orson F. Whitney, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, wrote: "We are required to forgive all men, for our own sakes, since hatred retards spiritual growth" (Orson F. Whitney, Gospel Themes," p. 144).
Some people allow an unforgiving heart and attitude to grow in much the same manner as bamboo establishes a vast root system underground — sometimes growing for years with no visible evidence above the ground that it is there. Then, suddenly, this giant member of the grass family sprouts in an explosion of growth. An employee at the U.S. Department of Agriculture's bamboo farm near Savannah, Ga., commented several years ago that a giant or timber bamboo can grow to its full height of up to 72 feet in six to eight weeks. In doing so, it crowds out every other plant.
The network of bamboo's vast root system illustrates how long-repressed feelings of hurt or resentment can grow and then sprout suddenly, crowding out many positive aspects of our lives. Hurts and offenses that are "buried" could continue to grow deep in the subconscious for years. Those feelings could multiply, especially as one turns them over in memory's fertile soil. Like bamboo, these feelings amass roots that are like strangulating tentacles to the soul.
When something brings those feelings to the surface, there might be an explosion of emotion. Pent-up feelings of anger, resentment or hurt might erupt and be vented upon those seen as perpetrators of past wrongs. However, it is often innocent bystanders upon whom those feelings are vented.
Individuals might realize it is dangerous to nurture such feelings but don't know how to stop their growth. There is one sure way: Instead of burying hurt, anger or resentment, individuals can get rid of such feelings by forgiving those by whom they feel the offenses have come.
Harboring grudges, nurturing hurt feelings or seeking revenge can make the individual sick — spiritually, emotionally and physically.
Forgiveness is a great cleanser, a powerful healer, a balm to troubled souls, a poultice to wounds that fester in the heart.
If the remedy of forgiveness is to work, it must be administered full strength. Sometimes, to their spiritual and emotional detriment, individuals mete out conditional forgiveness: "I'll forgive him if he changes." "I'll forgive her when she apologizes," "I'll forgive them this time, but never again." And there is the classic: "I'll forgive, but I won't forget." And some postpone forgiving: "I know I should forgive him." "I must forgive her." "Someday, I'll be able to forgive them."
None of these constitutes forgiveness. To be effective, forgiveness must be all inclusive, with no reservations, and complete.
In His exemplary prayer, the Savior taught that we should ask to be forgiven our debts, "as we forgive our debtors" (Matthew 6:12). And we must forgive many times; so taught the Savior to Peter, "until seventy times seven" (Matthew 18:22).
Forgiving does not mean condoning the wrong that has been done. Forgive the offender but abhor the offense. Some wrongs cannot be dismissed easily. Some people bear physical scars, are in constant pain, or are impaired through injuries inflicted upon them by assailants or careless individuals. Others have sustained emotional or psychological scars that require professional therapy.
Harboring hatred, anger or resentment gives offenses roots in our lives; their ill effects grow so abundantly that they retard the healing process. Forgiveness, prescribed by the Lord, will accelerate healing.