Perhaps in families more than any other setting, we have the chance to forgive. In my own family, I’ve had plenty of chances to forgive — and unfortunately, I’ve also given others a lot of chances too. Siblings can be brutal to each other, parents can lose their patience, and overall, people just make mistakes! Sometimes these mistakes can cause severe pain, eventually leading to a rift in family relationships.
“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” lists forgiveness as one of nine vital principles to create a happy and successful family. Why might forgiveness be such an essential ingredient in family life? And if forgiveness is so great, how can we actually get through that sometimes impossible process of forgiving?
Elder Kevin R. Duncan shared a simple but profound reason we all should strive to forgive:
Even though we may be a victim once, we need not be a victim twice by carrying the burden of hate, bitterness, pain, resentment, or even revenge. We can forgive, and we can be free!
Holding on to whatever hurt we’ve received doesn’t make the situation better. In fact, it just hurts us! Whenever I hold onto a grudge or hurt, part of me feels like I’m justified. But in reality, this attitude just hurts myself.
Not only does forgiving help us let go of emotional baggage, but it also helps our relationships thrive. Research shows that forgiving in marriage helps couples decrease marital conflict and increase the effort they put into their relationship. This leads to higher marital satisfaction, as well as better co-parenting.
How Can I Forgive?
While most of us understand how important it is to forgive, it may seem impossible at times. Thankfully, we aren’t alone in accomplishing this task. Through research of experts and (most importantly) through the gospel of Jesus Christ, we all have the capacity to let go and forgive.
Dr. Everett Worthington, a professor of psychology, developed five steps to forgiveness that coincide well with gospel teachings.
1. Recall the hurt.
Sometimes we try to block out the pain and totally ignore what has happened. However, by avoiding our hurt, we’re also avoiding forgiveness.
In order to forgive those who have hurt us, we have to come to understand their perspective. Elder Kevin R. Duncan said, “One key to forgiving others is to try to see them as God sees them.” As we see our offenders as children of God, it will be easier for us to truly forgive.
3. Offer the altruistic gift of forgiveness.
If we understand our own weaknesses, our own need for forgiveness, it will be a lot easier to forgive others as well. President Uchtdorf points out, “None of us is without sin. Every one of us makes mistakes, including you and me. We have all been wounded. We all have wounded others.” Remembering that need we have for mercy can help us offer that gift that Christ so freely gives to us: forgiveness.
4. Commit publicly to forgive.
Just like any goal, you’re more likely to be successful by telling someone else about your commitment. You could also write a letter or a journal entry committing to forgive the person who has wronged you. This formal commitment really helps the process of forgiving.
5. Hold on to forgiveness.
Even after committing to forgive, we will probably still remember the wrong that has happened. It can be easy to revert to old patterns of thinking, feeling angry or resentful toward the person who hurt us so much. However, when we have little flashbacks of pain, we must remember our commitment to forgive. Now is the time to move forward and upward.
Christ Can Heal Us
Of course, none of this could happen without our Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of His grace, not only can we be forgiven of our sins, but we can also forgive others. Truly, “All that is unfair about life can be made right through the Atonement of Jesus Christ.”
Elder Kevin R. Duncan compared the Atonement to a healing ointment that can repair any wound. He said, “When we apply the healing ointment of the Savior’s Atonement, He will soften our heart and help us to change.”
We all will get hurt by family members, and we probably will all hurt family members ourselves. But the glorious gospel allows us to repent, forgive, and come closer together. As we truly forgive through the Atonement of Christ, we will have greater personal peace and happier homes. So start the forgiveness process today!