And other Myths about Forgiveness
I had been seriously wronged. I had done nothing to deserve the kind of treatment I had received, and I was hurt. After my husband had an extended period of unemployment I had reluctantly returned to work, even though I still had small children at home. I was happy to find an employment situation that provided childcare so that my children could be near. I felt this was the ideal job situation. I was wrong. At first I had a very good working relationship with my supervisor. As time progressed, however, she made some decisions that impacted me negatively. When I protested the decisions she made some accusations of me that made it impossible for me to continue to work with her. Fortunately during my short employment my husband’s job situation improved. My income allowed us to get back on our feet and I was happy that I was now in a position to quit my job and stay home with my children.
I tried to put my unhappy memories behind me and forget about the past, but there was one problem. My supervisor happened to be a member of my stake (a large congregation for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints). I dreaded seeing her at stake events. Fortunately she did not attend many events and I rarely saw her. I knew as time progressed that I would heal, but it wasn’t happening very fast. I felt increasingly resentful toward my former supervisor and started feeling paranoid that I would see her face to face. Then the dreams started. It was always the same. I was at the stake building for some kind of event or meeting. Somehow I became aware that “she” was there. Fear struck my heart. I couldn’t let her see me! I would spend the rest of the dream hiding from her so she didn’t see me. If she couldn’t see me she couldn’t have any power over me. I would always wake up in terror, and then, after a few minutes, realize how silly I was being. Why couldn’t I get over this?
About a year after my employment ended I realized I wasn’t getting over this devastating situation as quickly as I had hoped I would. I still had deep resentment for this woman. At this point I started to wonder if I should forgive her. One day I heard a radio commentator talk about forgiveness. “Why should you forgive someone who hasn’t asked to be forgiven? Forgiveness should be predicated on whether or not the person who did the wrong has repented,” he reasoned.
Was this true? Did my former supervisor only deserve forgiveness if she asked for it? After all I had been genuinely wronged. Why should I forgive someone who wasn’t even repentant for what she had done? For several months I mulled these thoughts around in my head. I prayed for relief for the anxiety I felt and the dreams I was experiencing. I realized that I wasn’t thinking about it all of the time as I once had, but the dreams continued and the hurt was still there. One day I realized I hadn’t gone to the scriptures for the answer to my question about forgiveness. I didn’t do an extensive search for scriptures on forgiveness, maybe it was easier to just assume I didn’t have to forgive without an apology, but I did start to notice scriptures that talked about repentance and forgiveness. At first they all seemed to prove my theory that the transgressor must ask for repentance. The burden seemed to be on them to cry for forgiveness and confess their sins. I knew we were required to forgive those who asked for forgiveness, but I had come across nothing that said we must forgive without repentance. I had just about convinced myself that I was completely justified to withhold my forgiveness.
Then one day I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants and came to section 64 verse 10, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” Uh, oh. This seemed to be contrary to what I had come to believe. I began to search the surrounding verses for more information. Surely there must be one that said you must forgive all men, but only if they ask for forgiveness. I didn’t get much help reading forward in the section so I began to backtrack. When I read the proceeding verse, verse 9, it was as if it had been written specifically for me. “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” Was I committing the greater sin by not forgiving? As quickly as I had asked myself the question I knew the answer. All those months I had been unsure if I was required to forgive, but now I knew. Forgiveness is not for the transgressor; forgiveness is for the person that has been wronged. When we forgive we are empowered over those who have wronged us. When we hold onto resentment we give them power over us. Forgiveness is the power to heal. Suddenly everything that had been so unsure for all these months was crystal clear.
Knowing I must forgive was easy, doing it was not. This was not the end of my quest, but the beginning. I studied, prayed and thought about the situation a lot. Gradually I found that I rarely thought about the hurt, and when I did it didn’t hurt quite so much. But the dreams continued. I didn’t get them quite as often, but they did come.
About two years after my employment ended our stake had a special day in the temple, a full day of temple attendance. My husband and I had been unable to attend the sessions early in the day, but we did come for the evening chapel session. We dressed in our temple clothes, walked into the chapel, happily greeting friends that we saw, and took a seat. I sat peacefully enjoying the beautiful music and the company of those I was fond of when it happened. My dream came true. My former supervisor walked into the row in front of me and sat directly in front of me. “She’s so close,” was my first thought, “that I could reach up and wring her neck!” I wanted to scream! I wanted to run and hide! Why now! Why here! Then the thought came to me, “Why not here?” What better place to get over my negative feelings. What better place to really forgive.
I don’t know if my former employer saw me there that day. She left the room ahead of us, and never looked behind to see me. I don’t know if it would have made any difference if she had. But I do know that a change come over me that day. I realized that she is just a woman with faults, as we all had. I realized that I could let the hurt go, and leave her alone to deal with her problems. I realized I could forgive. I know that the healing did end that day and my forgiveness was complete. After that day in the temple I never had the dreaded dream again.