The Gift of Forgiving Others

There is a quote that goes like this:

Forgiveness is better than sacrifice.

It took me awhile after hearing this quote to fully understand the power of this little phrase.
I have always understood the significance of sacrifice in my religion and in my life.  It is something God asks of us to test us, prove us, and qualify us for his kingdom.  I have been asked by the Lord to sacrifice many things in my life, major things, painful things, precious things.

Then there is forgiveness.

I have also been in situations where others treated me quite horribly without cause and I have had to forgive them.  At one point, I faced some challenges caused by someone else’s behavior that were so consistently recurrent that I barely had time to forgive before the emotional pain was triggered again.  You can imagine this would get quite exhausting.  I didn’t realize that I was becoming cankered with bitterness.  It happened subtly, an accumulation of pain and anger over time.  After several years of perseverance with this specific trial, and through much diligence I was given little bits of understanding and growth that finally led me, at the perfect time (when I was ready), to a lesson by President Spencer W. Kimball in The Teachings of the Prophets series called “Forgiving Others with All Our Hearts“.   He addresses the very state I found my soul in:

“Bitterness injures the one who carries it; it hardens and shrivels and cankers.”

I saw myself in that statement and knew I needed to repent.  But not only that, I felt that I needed to do something specific–to give God a sign of my sincerity. That was extremely difficult for me at the time.  I knew I  needed to pray for my offender in the moment of my pain and anger.  It was really hard.  But I did it.  And then I prayed that God would help me open my heart to continue to forgive.  And then the miracles came.  I began healing on a new level; I found increased strength to meet my challenges.  As I dispelled one form of darkness from my soul, it became easier to dispel other forms. No, things did not miraculously change with the situation, but I began to change.  And in turn that does change the situation incrementally.  Over time, God worked on the other half of this equation, and small changes became big changes.

It is amazing to me how an act of forgiveness can bring so many blessings.  President Kimball stated:

If we would sue for peace, taking the initiative in settling differences—if we would forgive and forget with all our hearts—if we would cleanse our own souls of sin, bitterness, and guilt before we cast a stone or accusation at others—if we would forgive all real or fancied offenses before we asked forgiveness for our own sins—if we would pay our own debts, large or small, before we pressed our debtors—if we would manage to clear our own eyes of the blinding beams before we magnified the motes in the eyes of others—what a glorious world this would be! Divorce would be reduced to a minimum; courts would be freed from disgusting routines; family life would be heavenly; the building of the kingdom would go forward at an accelerated pace; and that peace which passeth understanding [see Philippians 4:7] would bring to us all a joy and happiness that has hardly “entered into the heart of man.” [See 1 Corinthians 2:9.]

There is no room for God when a heart is filled with the darkness of bitterness and anger.  God works through love, and only when we make room for love can he heal us.  As I consider that little phrase “forgiveness is better than sacrifice,” I realize that sacrifice is something we do for God and others, but forgiveness is something we do for ourselves.  It frees us to heal and serve and to feel joy, which is why we are here.