“Stop it!” was the message from President Dieter F. Uchtdorf at our most recent General Conference on the subject of judging, holding grudges, gossiping and an assortment of other unkind and unholy actions.
I would like to address one of the things he mentioned--the habit of holding grudges. I have always puzzled about how whether or not there was a way I could tell if I had forgiven someone. From the time I was a child, I heard about how once you were forgiven, God didn’t remember your sins.
Doctrine and Covenants 58:42
Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more.
As a result of this, I had always believed that if I remembered the wrongdoings of others, it must mean I had not forgiven them. I am a woman. We remember. Some of us are better at it than others, and I am a champion. In an Institute Courtship and Marriage Class the teacher once told the men “Women may forgive, but they never forget.”
I remember in Junior Sunday School when a boy made fun of me for saying the Sacrament Gem before the organist stopped playing the interlude.
I remember my devastation in kindergarten when I found out that the boy I secretly had a crush on liked a beautiful petite blond girl.
I remember my annoyance when I was in high school about to ask a boy to the girls’ dance and found out he liked that same even-more-beautiful petite blond girl.
I have over fifty years of “stuff” on the list. The guy who lied about having car trouble to get out of going to a dance with me when his friend scored tickets to a ballgame.Only three people came to my wedding shower. Two of them were the hosts. That woman on Goodreads who said something negative about one of my books. Holiday complaints include lame gifts and thoughtless attempts at celebration.
My husband, Thom, is a marriage and family therapist, and he has taught me a simple way to know if I have sufficiently let go of a hurt. I am very grateful for the insight, because it is a very concrete way to tell whether or not forgiveness and healing have taken place.
The way to tell is in the recounting of the event and the emotion surrounding it. This year it will be thirty years since my husband died in an accident. After that much time, if someone asks me what happened, I am able to discuss the details without bursting into tears or being harrowed up at the memory of it. I have healed from that event. It doesn’t mean I don’t remember it but it shows that the hurt is no longer front and center in my life.
Likewise, when any kind of emotional hurt is recent, there are usually strong emotions associated with it. It is in those critical first moments after a hurt that what we tell ourselves is important, because we often cling to those first pronouncements.
“I’ll never forgive him for that!”
“He should have known I look awful in yellow. How many times have I told him that? He doesn’t care enough to listen.”
“What does she know about struggling financially? She’s never had any trials.”
If we carry a grudge, we can still conjure up the anger or the hurt years later when we speak of it. If we can recount the event calmly and unemotionally, it is a sign that we have forgiven and healed. If we are reacting to past hurts as if they were recent, it is a sign we have not sufficiently let it go. If we have nursed a hurt and kept it alive, strong emotions will accompany any mention of the incident.
I have a friend who was recently chewed out by an acquaintance for something that happened over three years ago, something she thought was a bit of self-deprecating humor but that was taken personally by a sister from church who has apparently kept that pot stewing on the back burner. How many times did she recall those “hurtful” words to her mind? Every time she heard my friend’s name, did the flames ignite until she finally was unrestrained from going on attack?
Years ago I experienced anger from someone who was upset about something I had done, someone who was determined to take anything I did and twist it to the negative. Not believing I was in the wrong (because most of us never do), and realizing she was not going to deal respectfully with me, I simply refused to engage and hung up the phone. A few seconds later, the phone rang again. This was back in the day when we had an actual answering machine that sat on the nightstand next to the phone and I could hear the message as she left it.
“Pick up! Pick up! I know you’re there. I’m just going to keep calling and calling until you pick up!”
Before she could call back, I pushed the button to record a new message. Our former message said something like “We’re sorry we missed your call . . .” So I recorded a new message. “I’d like to say we’re sorry we missed your call, but sometimes we’re not sorry . . .”
That may not have been the kindest thing for me to do, but it was what it took for me to let go of it. Instead of getting angry, I found myself chuckling to myself as she got more and more angry with each message she left. Unfortunately, there were no winners in that war, and a lot of innocent people were caught in the crossfire. And I had a front row seat to watch what happens when you do not let go of past hurts, real or imagined.
When we are on attack or under attack, a lot of unhealthy processes take place in our bodies. Studies have also shown that when we relive something, our bodies cannot tell the difference between the real and imagined event. We flood our body with damaging stress hormones every time we relive the emotions of a hurt.
So let’s revisit something from my list, something fairly benign. Most of my friends got married at twenty or twenty-one. By the time I got married at age twenty-five, they had all moved out of the neighborhood, had already started their families and had busy lives. I was hurt when none of them made the effort to come to my wedding shower in the old neighborhood, especially since I had thrown showers for many of them, but to this day I don’t know whether it was a child with the flu or a car in the shop or some other extenuating circumstance that kept any one of them away.