When I was a child, one of my mother’s best friends was a divorced woman. I played with this woman’s daughter, and our mothers would sit in the kitchen and talk while us girls played or watched cartoons (Tom and Jerry anyone? and of course, the original Smurfs!). Our mothers would discuss their lives: their children, their social circle, etc. But my mother’s friend had a very favorite topic: her ex-husband.
Frequently, after leaving the play-date, my mother would remark that her friend didn’t know how to talk about anything else other than her ex-husband. Although they had been divorced for many years, it was still this woman’s favorite topic, going on and on about this man’s failings and the way he had disappointed and hurt her. In this woman’s mind, her problems with her ex never ended, nor would she let them end. She became more and more difficult to be around, and eventually, my mother and this woman drifted apart.
Because my mother’s friend became unpleasant to be around, over time she likely alienated more than one friend. I wonder if there were times that she asked herself why people didn’t seem to want to be around her so much anymore? I wonder if she didn’t realize what was going on with her that those around her could see so clearly? Although she was a faithful member of the church, she was unhappy.
In our last General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf asked us how the gospel is working for us. He pointed out that the gospel sometimes seems to work better for some people than for others, and he also gave some suggestions regarding how to help it work in our lives. I think it can be said that the gospel may even seem to work better at certain times in our lives than others. But as we know, God doesn’t move from our side, we move away from His. When the gospel isn’t working so well, we can put forth effort to close the gap with God, and also focus on learning what we need to learn to be ready to close that gap. Sometimes we aren’t quite ready yet.
One of the things that can get in the way of our readiness for a close relationship with God is our failure to forgive. When we find ourselves clinching up emotionally around certain people or in certain circumstances, or perseverating on certain stories of hurt, we can ask ourselves what it is we need to forgive?… what we need to let go of?….. what do we need to accept?
Acceptance is a big part of forgiveness. In order to move on from a pain or hurt, we need to accept that it happened to us. We need to quit fighting the story and let it be what it was. Many wise teachers have pointed out that when you argue with reality, reality always wins. We need to let go. Let go of our stories of pain, hurt, disappointment, failure, neglect, and fear. Letting go means to accept what happened and move forward in our lives. As one comedian put it, “acceptance means giving up the hope for a better past.” Yes, we must give up our hope for a better past. Our hopes for something better are useless unless they are pointed towards the future.
Desmond Tutu has written a powerful book on forgiveness entitled “Book of Forgiving.” If you are not familiar with Desmond Tutu, he is an incredible man who fought to end apartheid in South Africa. The violence he has seen and the forgiveness he has worked to establish have changed the world. When he writes about forgiving, he knows what he is talking about. Along with his daughter, who is working on a PhD in forgiveness (apparently that is a thing…), they came up with what they call the “Four-Fold Path of Forgiveness.” I’ll write the steps below. And of course, if you want further information, please buy and read his book! It is a heart healer!
Four- Fold Path of Forgiveness:
- Tell the story
- Name the hurt
- Grant forgiveness
- Renew or release the relationship
Brief explanation of the four steps: When we tell the story, we tell the facts of what happened to us to someone who is empathetic and safe. We may need to tell the story many times before we are ready to let it go. Second, naming the hurt means to say what specifically happened to us emotionally. It means owning our emotional reactions and the way we have ached, felt confused, or whatever it was we felt. Next, granting forgiveness means to get to the place where we see the perpetrator’s “shared humanity.” We can forgive when we can see the other person’s pain and confusion, and release any need for retribution. Desmond Tutu quoted Henry Wadsworth Longfello in his book, “If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Lastly, renewing or releasing the relationship means to either let the person go if needs be (for safety or another compelling reason), or ideally, to renew the relationship. Renewing the relationship can be making a new relationship out of the old one, perhaps re-defining the roles and boundaries.
Desmond Tutu goes on to affirm that forgiveness for deep hurts is not easy, fast, weak, does not subvert justice, and does not mean forgetting. But he does affirm that it will help you find peace again. He quotes Elizabeth Kubler-Ross (the foremost expert on death and grieving), “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
Yes, beautiful people do not just happen. The gospel is designed to make us beautiful. If it is not making us as beautiful as we wish, I suggest forgiveness. It is what I’m working on myself.