The man steeled himself, exhaled sharply, stood up straight and walked in for what he knew would be the most important interview of his life. When he saw his Interviewer, recognition washed over him. He was, at once, awestruck, humble, ashamed and grateful. He thought he should kneel and then thought, “No, there would be time for that later, after I’m approved,” but meekly sat in front of the Interviewer. His mind was filled with events and people, acts done, and words spoken. But there were gaps in his memory. He had no recall of certain things and he was grateful. For he knew, from recollections leading up to the memory gap and of the anguish that followed it, that repentance worked. He had no memory of those transgressions, but felt cleansed and whole as though they had never happened.
An overwhelming sense of gratitude flowed over him. He looked at the kind face of the Interviewer, eager to give a full accounting of everything he had done, of his good deeds, his personal ledger sheet showing all the accomplishments in his life. Oh, he knew there were some negatives as well but those were overshadowed in large measure by the positive things. He leaned forward prepared to give an account. The Interviewer’s eyes seemed to see through him. The man knew nothing was hidden; his soul was laid bare. And, the interview began. “Tell me” asked the Interviewer “what is in your heart?”
The assembled facts and positive ledger sheet faded from the man’s mind at once. “Why that question?” he thought. “Are not my deeds enough? Did I not show patience? Did I not serve? Was I not honest? Did I not avoid saying hard things to those who deserved them? Did I not show tolerance to those who were difficult? Did I not stick with my marriage even though my wife really didn’t deserve it? Did I not support my boss even though he was incompetent? I never said a cross word about that idiot bishop who kept butting into my family affairs. Why that question? I was a Sunday meeting kind of guy. I served when asked. People were impressed by my church credentials. They could see a faithful saint when they talked to me. I always held a temple recommend. I’ve seen miracles. Surely, that’s enough.”
Then, in a moment’s look from the Inteviewer, the man’s mind was filled with phrases gathered over a lifetime of Sundays: something about beams and motes, “blessed are the merciful” “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” “I the Lord will judge all men according to the desire of their hearts.” “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” “judge not,” “Clean hands and a pure heart”
The man began to plead, “Lord, have I not prophesied in thy name and in thy name done many wonderful works?” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, the man recalled the scripture and knew the answer. He turned, ashamed, and left the room before the Interviewer could speak. The interview was over, ended by his own choice.
Clinging to Our Favorite Sins
In our relationships, whether with family, or at work, with neighbors, in school, or here, we, each of us and all of us, tend to cling to our favorite and private sins. They are private because they are largely held in our hearts and shown to others only in hints and flashes. They are our favorites because we fail to see, recognize or to take responsibility for them. Broadly speaking, these sins create in us a heart at war.
A heart at war is marked by failings which vary in number and degree among us. One consists of being judgmental of others. That is revealed in murmuring or gossip, criticism or mocking. A heart at war is likewise distinguished by its unwillingness and inability to forgive. Those conditions yield anger, frustration, depression, tension, martyrdom, or self-righteousness. Having a heart at war is pointedly marked by justification for being at war. “She is wrong and I am right.” “Who wouldn’t be offended by the way I was treated?” “He had no right to treat me the way he did, so I will punish him.” “If she’d just get her act together and live the way I do, she wouldn’t have nearly the problems that she has.” A heart at war is uneasy and unhappy and often gives way to feelings of being trapped and without hope. It nurses grudges and improves on them.
Shakespeare had Henry V upon the eve of battle describe a heart at war:
When the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews; summon up the blood;
Disguise fair nature with hard favoured rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect . . .
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit to his full height . . .
Be copy now to men of grosser blood and teach them how to war.
Henry V, Act 3, Scene 1.
That’s a great description of men ready to storm the walls but a terrible description of those who would address problems in relationships.
What Do We Do?
So, what do we do when those closest to us fail us, when those who should be our friends betray us? Don’t they deserve pay back and punishment? Aren’t we in the best position to do that? Do we not have an obligation to correct them and make sure they know of our displeasure? “Yes, I know that I am suppose to forgive, but I don’t have to do it until they repent and I am satisfied they’ve repented enough, do I?” “I mean, the only reason that I keep my heart at war is to protect myself and to make sure that he understands how wrong he really is.” And, on and on, we have a keen ability to justify a heart at war. Every day we find sound and high-minded reasons for seeing others as obstacles in our path.
But Jesus taught: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them who despitefully use you.” Matt 5:44, 3 Ne.12:10. We either don’t believe that, or think it’s an impossibly high standard, or, like the Pharisees of old, are caught up in the letter of the law and figure that is enough.
But we know that Jesus meant it, because he exemplified it. After suffering cruelty that none of us can imagine, much less experience, He said, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
The prophet Joseph, knowing of his own impending death and feeling betrayed by those he endeavored to serve, echoed his Master saying, “I am calm as a summer’s morning; I have a conscience void of offense towards God, and towards all men.” (D&C 135:4.)
There are more recent examples. At the conclusion of World War II as the concentration camps were opened, there was much hatred among the weak and emaciated survivors.
In one camp, observers noticed a native of Poland who seemed so robust and peaceful they thought he must have been imprisoned only recently. They were surprised to learn that he had been there over six years! Then, they reasoned, he must avoided the terrible atrocities that most of the prisoners suffered. But in questioning him, they learned how soldiers had come to his city, lined up against a wall his wife, two daughters, and three small sons, then opened fire. Though he begged to die with them, he had been kept alive because of his ability in language translation.
This Polish father said: “I had to decide right then whether to let myself hate the soldiers who had done this. It was an easy decision, really. I was a lawyer. In my practice I had seen what hate could do to people’s minds and bodies. Hate had just killed the six people who mattered most to me in the world. I decided then that I would spend the rest of my life whether it was a few days or many years loving every person I came in contact with.” (George G. Ritchie with Elizabeth Sherrill, Return from Tomorrow, Waco, Texas: Chosen Books, 1978, p. 116.)
There are twelve considerations to help you supplant a heart at war with a heart at peace.
1. Consider the effectiveness of the heart at war to bring about that which you really desire: the change of behavior or attitude or feelings of another person. Does it really help soften and change another’s heart by hardening yours? Are we like the poster in the company cafeteria “The beatings will continue until morale improves.”
2. Consider the pattern you are setting for others, the legacy you leave for those who follow. Unspoken thoughts are manifest in the look in your eyes, the tone of your voice, your posture, the tenseness in your limbs and face. You’ve seen it in others, see it in yourselves. Do you want your children to have the same look? Is there some benefit in being remembered as a really good hater?
3. Consider how much easier it is to criticize than to be constructive. As a nineteenth century clergyman noted, “Only God can form and paint a flower, but any foolish child can pull it to pieces.” People are not perfect; they are sometimes annoying, disappointing, inconsiderate, and selfish, and they do make mistakes. Thus, a heart at war easily finds faults, because there are plenty of them around.
4. Consider your own perspective. We all tend to look at others through lenses of pride, passion, personal feeling, prejudice, jealousy or covetousness. As a consequence, we may take comfort in finding weaknesses and faults in others. Thus, we see only the worst side of those being judged and see only nobility and virtue in ourselves. Henry David Thoreau observed, “Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?”
5. Consider that it is not possible to judge another fairly unless you know his desires, his faith, and his goals. At best, man can judge only what he sees; he cannot judge the heart or the intention, or begin to judge the potential of his neighbor. If you are prone to criticize, remember, we never see the target a man aims at in life. We see only what he hits. In fact, the intent is often more important than the act itself. For example, suppose a four-year-old girl knocks a glass off the kitchen table and breaks it. Would you judge her as harshly if she were trying to surprise her mother by cleaning up the dishes as you would if she did it because she did not want to drink her milk?
6. Consider who it is that is influencing you. “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Ne. 11:29). C.S. Lewis observed: “there is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” (C.S. Lewis, Christian Reflections, ed. Walter Hooper , 33.) To whom do you yield when you encourage a heart at war?
7. Consider that others are not responsible for your heart at war. We still have not discovered the secret of peace when we have been looking for it all through the ages. We are looking for someone to create it for us to bring it to us. Edna St. Vincent Millay said: “There is no peace on earth today, save the peace in the heart at home with God. No man can be at peace with his neighbor who is not at peace with himself.” (Conversations at Midnight, Collected Poems, Harper & Row, Copyright 1937 and 1964.)
8. Consider that because our perspective is through a lens of our own creation, we can change the filter and the focus. We have the right to choose what our attitude will be in any given set of circumstances. More than that, not only do we get to choose how to respond to other’s choices and behavior, we get to choose the stimuli to which to respond. We can let the events that surround us determine our actions or we can personally take charge and rule our lives. To do that, we get to choose what to see. When Brigham Young was approached by a woman complaining of the failings of her husband, he told her, “if you could see him in the celestial glory awaiting him, you would be compelled to kneel and worship at his feet.”
9. One who insists on making sure the score is even must not believe that God is up to the task of bringing another to justice. “Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.” Rom 12:19 (see also Mor.8:20). Vengeance is not ours to mete out.
10. Consider that your failure to forgive another, even one who does not deserve it, is itself a sin. D&C 64:9 is certain: “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.”
11. Consider the one fact that surpasses all others. The Savior has taken upon himself the sins of those whom you judge and those persons against whom you have cause to anger. Just as He is an advocate pleading your cause at the throne of the Father, (D&C 45:3) He stands before you asking your forgiveness of one who has offended you, and offers his sacrifice to satisfy your sense of justice. Is His atonement inadequate? Must you add your own condemnation for the other person to really be healed?
12. If Jesus Christ has taken upon himself the sins and infirmities of others, consider the consequences of your failure to forgive.
Remember His response to the question in the parable, “when saw we thee an hungered or athirst or in prison and did not minister to thee.
” He said “inasmuch as ye have not done it unto the least of these, ye have not done it unto me.” Matt 25:45. As Jesus offers himself in the place and stead of one who offended us and asks forgiveness, our bitterness and failure to forgive others amounts to a resentment of and failure to forgive One who has done nothing of Himself to require forgiveness, but who has taken upon Himself the other’s sins.
Christ-like mercy transforms a heart of war to one of peace. As Portia described, mercy “droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath; it is twice bless’d; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. . . [Mercy] is an attribute to God himself, and earthly power doth then show likest God’s when mercy seasons justice. Therefore, . . .though justice be thy plea, consider this, that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy, and that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”
The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1.
“But,” you say, “aren’t I just inviting more abuse by your asking me too be a doormat and put up with the actions of others, some of which may be evil from any perspective?” Not at all. The Savior could hardly be called a doormat. He condemned sin with great power and effect, but those who had ears to hear, knew that he acted with purity of motive and love in his heart. D&C 121 teaches us how to work with others so that they may change and repent. We influence others “only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile— Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy.” v 41-43
Ultimately, if we follow the pattern of mercy in Moroni 7, we will be filled with charity. We will see individuals and circumstances as the Savior does. We will love others not because they deserve it or because of their kind words and noble character, we will love others because of our own character. We will love others because we will have attained “unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” Eph. 4:13.
As you are prepared to forgive another for the pains caused, the atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ will first ease, then remove the pains and burdens from you altogether. A modern apostle has promised, “Complete healing will come through your faith in Jesus Christ and His power and capacity, through His Atonement, to heal the scars of that which is unjust and undeserved.” (Richard G Scott, October Conference 2002) As you extend mercy, mercy will be extended to you. Then, brothers and sisters, you will have a heart at peace. I so testify.
The concepts came from C. Terry Warner’s book, Leadership and Self-Deception and James L. Ferrell’s book, The Peacegiver, as well as training from the Arbinger Foundation and the Anasazi Foundation.