Forgiveness, Boundaries, and Reconciliation

This is part of the General Conference Odyssey.

And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Matt. 6:12).

And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us (Luke 11:4).

I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men (D&C 64:10).

Forgiveness is a topic that I think most Mormons struggle with. What does forgiveness actually mean? What does it look like in practice? Is forgiving the same as forgetting? How does one balance boundaries with that concept of forgiveness, especially those who have suffered violence and abuse? Or are boundaries and forgiveness not mutually exclusive?

There has been a fair amount of research on forgiveness. The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley offers this helpful explanation:

Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Just as important as defining what forgiveness is, though, is understanding what forgiveness is not. Experts who study or teach forgiveness make clear that when you forgive, you do not gloss over or deny the seriousness of an offense against you. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses. Though forgiveness can help repair a damaged relationship, it doesn’t obligate you to reconcile with the person who harmed you, or release them from legal accountability. Instead, forgiveness brings the forgiver peace of mind and frees him or her from corrosive anger. While there is some debate over whether true forgiveness requires positive feelings toward the offender, experts agree that it at least involves letting go of deeply held negative feelings. In that way, it empowers you to recognize the pain you suffered without letting that pain define you, enabling you to heal and move on with your life.

These findings coincide with Elder Marion D. Hanks’ October 1973 talk: “What is our response when we are offended, misunderstood, unfairly or unkindly treated, or sinned against, made an offender for a word, falsely accused, passed over, hurt by those we love, our offerings rejected? Do we resent, become bitter, hold a grudge? Or do we resolve the problem if we can, forgive, and rid ourselves of the burden? The nature of our response to such situations may well determine the nature and quality of our lives, here and eternally.” Elder Hanks recognizes that forgiveness, at least in part, is about our own well-being. “But not only our eternal salvation depends upon our willingness and capacity to forgive wrongs committed against us,” he says. “Our joy and satisfaction in this life, and our true freedom, depend upon our doing so. When Christ bade us turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, give our cloak to him who takes our coat, was it to be chiefly out of consideration for the bully, the brute, the thief? Or was it to relieve the one aggrieved of the destructive burden that resentment and anger lay upon us?” Hanks concludes, “God help us to rid ourselves of resentment and pettiness and foolish pride; to love, and to forgive, in order that we may be friends with ourselves, with others, and with the Lord.” We should always remember: “Christ gave his life on a cross; and on that cross he fully, freely forgave.”

Reconciliation is the ultimate purpose and intention of forgiveness. This seems to be an unavoidable conclusion. Forgiveness mends relationships and makes them sustainable. But forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. Relationships are not individualistic, but by definition involve others and their choices. Relationships require trust, boundaries, etc. The violation of boundaries and the erosion of trust may make reconciliation in some instances unlikely. But the release of anger and resentment opens the doorway for relational and personal healing. It can be a fountain of empathy, compassion, and generosity. In short, this “ultimate form of love” can help us align ourselves with the Master we’ve chosen to follow.

Check out the other posts from the General Conference Odyssey this week and join our Facebook group to follow along!


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