Sunday, April 23, 2023

Talk on Forgiveness

Today Andrew and I spoke in church. Reid came over to our house to hang out with the kids since we're still trying to navigate our return into public air (but really Phoebe is getting much better at masking so we might be close; today when she noticed Andrew and I were getting ready to go somewhere she quickly went to find shoes and a mask). Rachel was home, of course, but we didn't want to leave her home with all the kids because...they're a handful. Phoebe did great without us!

Miriam came with us, since we were still figuring out the specifics of her playing the organ for the Spanish Ward. 

And we figured out Zoë's baptism date as well...more or less. She wants to get baptized while we're out in Utah.

So, it was a productive morning at church! And then Rachel got her patriarchal blessing this afternoon! Busy day!

Anyway, I spoke on forgiveness and Andrew spoke on loving others.

Here's more or less what I said:

Good Morning Sisters and Brothers, 

Since I’m speaking first, I’ll give a quick overview of our family. We’ve lived in this ward for about four years now; we moved in just before it split. And it’s been kind of a weird time. COVID has done some wacky things to our timeline; in fact, we were just talking about how it still feels like we’re relatively new to the area when in reality we’ve lived here longer than we’ve lived almost anywhere else in our married life. It’s likely we’ll be here for quite some time, but we moved around a lot while Andrew was in school and figuring out his career. 

In fact, we have six kids and they were all born in different places as we ping-ponged around.

Our youngest, Phoebe, was born here. She’s 1.5 years old and is a going concern. Seriously—she’s exhausting. Alexander was born in Provo, Utah. He’s 5 and loves owls and MarioKart. Zoë was born in Durham, North Carolina; she’ll be turning 8 next month and she loves writing and drawing and climbing trees. Benjamin was born in American Fork, Utah. He’s nearly 11 and he loves Zelda and Minecraft and playing outside. Miriam was born in Cairo, Egypt. She’s 13 and loves music and coding. You’ve seen her at the organ and she was recently asked to play the organ for the Spanish Ward and is really looking forward to serving in that capacity. Our oldest, Rachel, was born in Orem, Utah. She’s 15 and has been working on logging her driving hours with her grandfather because I’m too terrified to take her out myself. 

That brings me to my father-in-law, Reid Heiss—you heard him speak on Easter Sunday. He’s lived here a little over a year now. My kids begged and begged him to move out here and finally he relented. So he’s just around the corner from us and we love having him here. 

I homeschool our children and am also working on my master’s degree, so to give me some “free time” to devote to my studies and to spend time with his grandchildren, Reid will sometimes take the kids out on “field trips.” I think this is a mutually enjoyable thing for them (at least, I hope it is). Reid lives alone and is used to quiet, a thing that is in short supply when you cram a handful of children into a minivan. One day, soon after he’d moved here, Reid was out with the kids and some sort of squabble erupted in the back seat and this squabble escalated to a physical altercation. I’m not sure exactly what happened. It could have been anything. Let’s just say: Insults were hurled. Punches were thrown. 

And Reid was like, “Whoa! Stop fighting! Or I’ll turn this car around…”

And there was a bunch of finger pointing as the kids were all, “Well, he… Well, she…”

And Reid said something like, “I don’t care who said what, that’s no excuse to hit each other!”

And sweet, angelic-looking Zoë locked eyes with Reid and said, “Grandpa, in THIS family, we do payback.”

For the record, that’s…not…true. 

We don’t actually condone payback of this nature. It’s a little too “eye for an eye” and “tooth for a tooth” for us. We definitely try to teach our children to turn the other cheek and to be, as it says in Ephesians 4:32, “kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” But kids are going to do what they’re going to do.

Childish backseat squabbles are rather easily forgiven and soon forgotten, but unfortunately, not every offense is as easy to forgive as that. Life can bring some pretty hefty issues that may take more effort to get over. In the October 2022 General Conference, Sister Kristin M. Yee stated that she “had personally witnessed the miracle of Christ healing her…heart.” She shared that she grew up in a home where she suffered emotional and verbal mistreatment from her father.

“Over the years and in [her] efforts to find peace and healing on the path of forgiveness, [she] came to realize…that the same Son of God who atoned for [her] sins is the same Redeemer who will also save those who had deeply hurt [her].” Importantly, she noted that it was not possible to believe the first truth—that the Saviour atoned for her sins—without believing the second—that the Saviour atoned for the sins of those who had wronged her.

As I mentioned, I homeschool my children, so I’m acutely aware of what they’re studying and I know that in math Zoë has been learning about algorithms—”a step-by-step process used to do something” (Beast Academy Math Guide 2D, 2019, p. 43). For example, if you’re adding two numbers together—let’s say 7 and 7—the algorithm we’re typically taught tells us to put a 4 in the one’s column and carry the 1 into the ten’s column. The answer is simple: 14. But the algorithm still works—the process is still the same—as the numbers get bigger and bigger. You simply repeat the algorithm over and over again until you’ve worked through all the digits. The biggest number she worked through this week was sixty-five billion, six-hundred fifty-six million, five-hundred sixty-five thousand, six-hundred fifty-six plus seven billion, four-hundred thirty-seven million, four-hundred thirty-seven thousand, four-hundred thirty-seven. That’s a lot of numbers to work with—and she doesn’t always work with numbers that big—but the point of the lesson was to demonstrate  that if she simply repeated the algorithm from the right to the left—carrying the one over and over again—until she’d completed the problem, it didn’t matter how big the number was: she could solve the problem.

I think that’s how forgiveness works, too. The algorithm remains the same; we simply have to keep repeating the process until we get to the end of the problem. When Peter asked the Savior “how oft shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Till seven times?” Jesus told him that he should keep forgiving “until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:21–22). The Come Follow Me manual notes that this scripture is not about forgiving someone a specific number of times. Rather it’s about the algorithm—it’s about seeking to develop “a Christlike attitude of forgiveness.”

So what is a “Christlike attitude of forgiveness?” What is the algorithm?

Nephi often comes to mind for me when I think of forgiveness; he was able to “frankly forgive” (1 Nephi 7:21) his brothers, even after they tied him up and left him for dead in the wilderness. That phrase “frankly forgive” is so illustrative of the algorithm of forgiveness. It also appears in a parable that Jesus taught in Luke 7 when a woman—a sinner!—comes to dinner and anoints his feet and annoys his dinner companions. Sensing their discomfort at having a sinner approach the Him, Jesus offers the following words:

There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?

The answer, of course, is “he, to whom he forgave most.” 

Jesus went about forgiving people of their sins, telling the woman taken in adultery that he doesn’t condemn her and instead bidding her to “go [her] way and sin no more,” and reminding onlookers that there is not an innocent soul among them (John 8:7–11). When the paralytic man is lowered through the roof, Jesus excuses him of his sins and when the crowd questions this, Jesus responds asking “Whether it is easier to say to the sick of the palsy, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and take up thy bed, and walk? But that [we] may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins,” he healed the man physically as well (Mark 2:9–11).

Now, unlike the Saviour, most of us don’t have the authority to go around forgiving people of their sins, but I believe the algorithm he shows us of frankly forgiving offenses is what we should be trying to mirror in our own lives. In the parable of the unprofitable servant (Matthew 18), a King forgives an astronomical debt that one of his servants has racked up—ten thousand talents, which is equivalent to billions of dollars—and then that servant, who has just been shown an incredible amount of mercy, turns around and finds a peer of his who owes him 100 pence, which was about three months’ worth of wages—a pittance compared to the debt he was just forgiven. Instead of showing mercy to this man, however, he grabbed him “by the throat” and demanded payment. And when the man begged for more time, instead of showing him mercy, he had him sent to debtor’s prison. So when the king heard of this, “he was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due unto him.”

The Saviour tells us that this is precisely what our Heavenly Father will do if we do not forgive every one of their trespasses. In D&C 64:10 we’re told that while the Lord will forgive whom He will forgive, of us “it is required to forgive all men.” We may not have the authority to forgive people of their sins, but we likewise have no right to hold them to account, either. 

Now, as Sister Yee (2022) emphasized in her talk, “please know that forgiving someone does not mean that you put yourself in a position where you will continue to be hurt.” The King in the parable may have forgiven his servant’s debt, but I doubt he would be quick to extend a loan to him again. We have to learn from our experiences and become better, wiser stewards through them. Sister Yee (2022) notes that “on the path of forgiveness and healing lies a choice not to perpetuate unhealthy patterns or relationships in our families or elsewhere. To all within our influence, we can offer kindness for cruelty, love for hate, gentleness for abrasiveness, safety for distress, and peace for contention.” We can, as Elder Holland (2018) said, labor with the Saviour “in the daunting task of peacemaking in a world that won’t find it” except through forgiving over and over and over again. 

I think the most stunning example of the Saviour’s ability to frankly forgive others is when he was on the cross, enduring excruciating torment, and he uttered a prayer, saying, “Father forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Keep in mind that this was a premeditated offense, and still He considered it naive.

So rest assured that we, likewise, don’t know what we’re doing and are therefore privy to the same grace. At least, I don’t know what I’m doing (perhaps I shouldn’t speak for everyone).

Every day is new and while I have learned a lot of things in my life, I keep winding up in situations that require research, faith, creativity or time to solve because I…am still learning. I don’t know what I’m doing.

The scriptures tell us several times that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. And though we’re commanded to be like God, this is at least one point where our developmental algorithm deviates because rather than remaining the same, we need to change, and we do change. The author Alice Munro once said that “every year, when you are a child, you become a different person. Generally, it’s in the fall, when you reenter school, take your place in a higher grade, leave behind the muddle and lethargy of the summer vacation. That’s when you register the change most sharply. Afterward you are not sure of the month or year but the changes go on just the same…”

I’m reminded of this every time I look in the mirror and see more and more grey hair. I couldn’t stay the same if I tried.

We’re all changing all of the time and I think that’s one of the reasons why forgiveness is so important. When we harbour angry feelings about something that happened, it’s usually about something that happened in the past. Those angry feelings don’t necessarily hurt the person who hurt us—but they do hamper our ability to feel at peace, even as the person who offended us has moved on with their life. 

I’m reminded of a story about my [redacted A] who harboured resentment against [redacted B] for twenty-five years over a toy [redacted B] got as a child that [redacted A] wanted. [Redacted A] didn’t think it was fair that [redacted B] got one and [redacted A] didn’t and [redacted A] allowed this offense to be a stumbling block in their relationship, something [redacted B] wouldn’t have dreamed was getting in the way of their ability to be close…until [redacted A] told [redacted B] about it…because [redacted B] hadn’t realized that it was a problem at all and had moved on completely, and in fact had not thought of that toy for decades. Yet because [redacted A] chose to keep that offense, it was a heavy—and needless—burden that [redacted A] had to shoulder for years. [Redacted A] likely would have been happier if [redacted A] had shed that burden sooner.

That’s what the algorithm of Christlike forgiveness does for us—it allows us to put down burdens, to heal our hearts, to be unafraid to seek forgiveness ourselves, as well as to forgive ourselves and allow ourselves and others to grow and change. It allows us to be “new creatures” in Christ; it allows for old things to pass away, and for all things to become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).


Yee, K. M. (2022, November). Beauty for Ashes: The Healing Path of Forgiveness. Liahona.

Holland, J.R. (2018, November). The Ministry of Reconciliation. Liahona.

1 comment:

  1. Your talk and Andrew's--both inspiring. Thank you for sharing!