Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great Gift of Forgiveness

Alexander Pope once said, "To err is human; to forgive, divine." Being the imperfect being that I am, divine forgiveness is something I not only admire, but desperately seek from day to day. Only Jesus Christ lived a perfect life on this world. The rest of us suffer from temptations and trials that seem to so easily beset us. Satan whispers constantly, waiting for the unsuspecting moments in life that can lead us astray. And when we give into these whisperings, we find ourselves broken, miserable, and lost. It is easy in these times to want to give up hope or think we can never be as we were. But that is when the light of the Atonement allows us to begin mending our lives.
For me, one of the most poignant moments of forgiveness in the Bible recalls the story of the woman taken in adultery. Her accusers would have her stoned according to the law, but they bring her to Jesus and ask "But what sayest thou?" Then Jesus answers with that beautiful lesson, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." Stunned no doubt by his response, and perhaps shamed in remembering their own guilt, the accusers depart. I imagine that tenderly the Lord then asks, "Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?...Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more." Jesus was the only man in the world that could have stood to accuse this woman, but instead He shows mercy and compassion. He does not condone the sin, but instead offers the admonition of "Go and sin no more." (John 8:4-11)
Heavenly Father will never excuse sin, but He loved us so much that He created a plan, with a Savior, that thereby we could repent and return to Him through the gift of forgiveness. Directly following this encounter with the woman taken in adultery Christ states, "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (John 8:12) Sinning can bring about a spiritual darkness that would envelope us with its blackness, but the light of Christ that comes by receiving forgiveness through the power of the Atonement will always bring us back into the presense of our Heavenly Father if we trust in Him.
Another favorite story from the gospels is found in Luke. The Savior has been healing and, seeking this blessing for friend, several men brought a man with palsy to be healed, but could not get into the house. "And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee. And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Rise up and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins, (he said unto the sick of the palsy,) I say unto thee, Arise, and take up thy couch, and go into thine house. And immediately he rose up before them, and took up that whereon he lay, and departed to his own house, glorifying God." (5: 18-25)
There are so many wonderful lessons to be learned from these verses. First, no matter how hard the way may seem, never allow anything to come between us and the healing power of our Savior. Sometimes it might seem as though we have to figuratively dismantle a roof in order to uncover our Savior. But Elder Holland teaches, "Each time we reach out, however feebly, for Him, we discover He has been anxiously trying to reach us. So we step, we strive, we seek, and we never yield." (Holland, Broken Things to Mend) Christ wants to heal us spiritually through His forgiving power. We must never forget, that Christ suffered for each of us individually in the Garden. He knew, even before we did, the sins we would commit. He knows each of us so deeply and thoroughly that he knows exactly how to succor each of us. Alma states, "He will take upon him their infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities." (Alma 7:12)
Second, God heals us according to our faith. Not only did this man have to come to the Savior to receive forgiveness and healing, he had to believe it was going to work. I recall another story of healing, wherein a father brings his son to the Savior. "Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And staightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief." (Mark 9:23-24) We must have faith to be healed, especially spiritually.
Finally, forgiveness is not complete until we learn to forgive ourselves. Christ said, "Of you it is required to forgive all men." I don't think there was any part of that statement that said, "Exept yourselves- I want you beat yourself up and tear yourself down for your failures." He said All Men. Sometimes I think forgiving myself is the hardest part of all. Once the steps of repentence are in place and all seems done, I still feel that somehow I deserve to be punished more. That what I did was so awful, I should live with my guilt. That for some reason I can never again be as good as I was. But I have learned that this is Satan's greatest lie. Because if he can make us hate ourselves, then we can not do nearly as much good in God's kingdom. We must learn that the power of forgiveness comes in completely washing our sins away, from our mind and God's. Only then can we truly feel whole once more.
I love the inspiring end to "The Miracle of Forgiveness." Elder Kimball quotes Matt 11:28-30 "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Then he states, "It is my hope and prayer that men and women everywhere will respond to this gentle invitation and thus let the Master work in their individual lives the great miracle of forgiveness."
It is my hope as well that we can all embrace the great gift of forgiveness. Whether our sins be large or small, the Atonement is there to allow us to return once more to our Heavenly Father and truly find peace and happiness in being forgiven.

Monday, June 18, 2012

For A Moment

Have you ever had a phone conversation that begins with the phrase "Hold for a moment please" or some derivative of that statement? For me, once those words are heard, I roll my eyes and settle in for the long haul because I know that moment will seem to me to last forever.

There are many such moments like this in life. Moments when it seems time stands still, the world ceases to revolve, and everything in life becomes caught in this one long pause that carries on indefinitely. These are the moments that memories are made of. The ones forever engraved in our minds with such vividness that we can view them years down the line with the same clarity as when they occurred.

Many of the moments are happy. Time spent with family as a child, being taught to ride a bike by a father, learning to cook with a mother, special vacations to exotic locations like Disneyland and Beaver, UT (great ice cream-just saying). Eventually there are more poignant moments. A wedding day, the birth of a child, your little one taking his first steps. Moments of joy that resonate within our souls.

But there are also moments of darkness, too many to even describe them all, when our souls seem battered by storms that never cease, when the night has fallen, when even the stars in the sky are obscured, and every path seems strewn with the wreckage we call our lives. In moments like these, it is hard to see how we can ever navigate the oceans of dispair and find our way back to the light and love of our Savior.

The scriptures are filled with countless examples of these bleak moments that were made light through the mercy of the Lord. I think about the life of Joseph in Genesis 37, 39-45. He was cast into a pit and then sold by his brothers into Egypt and later, falsely accused and imprisoned for years. I wonder if there was a point in his life that Joseph looked upward and simply asked, "Why?". It is hard to see the end from the beginning when we are in the midst of our trials, but if we can endure these moments in our lives, the Lord can put is in places that will be of greatest benefit to both ourselves and those around us. Because of the events in his life, Joseph was in place to save his family from famine.

Sometimes these moments are ones that come because of our own failings. Alma the Younger, though taught by a loving father the ways of the Lord, strayed and in his own words "went about seeking to destroy the church of God" (Alma 36:6). It took an angel of the Lord appearing unto Him to cause Alma to being to change his life. Said he, "I was racked with eternal torment, for my soul was harrowed up to the greatest degree and racked with all my sins...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." (Alma 36:12, 15) Alma's moment lasted for 3 days and 3 nights but I'm sure to him, it felt like an eternity.

We may not have an angel appear unto us and distill in us the need to change, but there will be times when we hear the clarion call of the Savior of all mankind, pleading with us to repent, to come back, to allow His mercy and His Atonement to have a place in our lives. It is hard to believe that He would want us back, that we haven't gone too far, done too much, or failed too many times that we no longer have any redeemable worth in His eyes. And yet the Lord forgave even Alma, a wicked and idolatrous man (Mosiah 27:8), and helped him become one of the greatest prophets to the Nephite people.

Alma states, "My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but i am snatched, and my soul is pained no more... (Mosiah 27:29) Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so equisite and sweet as was my joy" (Alma 36:21).

For a moment, we might feel like we are in the darkest of nights. We hang our heads in failure when we give into the temptations that so easily beset us and take us away from the paths of righteousness. In these moments we might feel as if we are dangling from a cliff with only a finger or two preventing our fall into the abyss. It is in these moments that Satan whispers to give up, give in, and quit trying. He would tell us we've failed. Our moment has lasted for too much of our lives. There's no hope left. BUT HE IS WRONG!

The most vital moment in history sheds its light upon everyone in everytime. The Savior of the world atoned for each person so that we could all find our way out of the dark. I know His moment was not easy. In the Garden of Gethsemane He cried to His Father, "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine be done." (Luke 22:42) How dark this moment must have been! But the darkness was conquered, Jesus is the Savior for each of us, and we can overcome our own moments of darkness through Him.

Isaiah wrote, "For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer...For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. (Isaiah 54:7-8, 10)

What comfort this promise gives! Even if in our moments of despair we feel as if the Lord has forsaken us, we can know of a sureity that He will have mercy on each of us. He has covenanted to bring us peace in our moments of deepest grief. He is the light and the life of the world. He will take the moments of our lives, both the good and the bad, and will mold us into the person we were meant to be.

One of my favorite poems states:

My life is but a weaving
between my Lord and me;
I cannot choose the colors,
He worketh steadily.

Oft times He weaveth sorrow,
and I in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper,
and I the underside.

Not til the loom is silent
and the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
and explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needful
in the skillful weaver's hand,
As the threads of gold and silver
in the pattern He has planned.

Heavenly Father is aware of our moments. He knows our happiness and our sorrow. He sees our weaknesses and our strengths. For a moment we might feel as if we have no hope, but He has promised mercy to each one that gives his heart to Him. He loves us all, He has a plan for each of His children, and if we let Him, He will create of our moments a masterpiece.