I couldn’t believe my ears. A priesthood leader was standing at the pulpit in sacrament meeting, not mentioning me by name but publicly expressing his displeasure at the way I had handled a recent assignment with the youth. I remembered that when the calling came I hadn’t felt skilled or confident, but believing that the Lord could make something of a willing heart, I accepted, prayed fervently, put in long hours, and did my best.
And here he was chastising me! I could feel the worried looks of concerned friends, and my eyes stung with angry tears. I wondered how I would get out of the meeting with my dignity intact.
In the weeks that followed, I did some prayerful soul-searching. Trying to look at the situation objectively, I decided that the priesthood leader’s comments had some merit. I was hurt and puzzled by his method of delivery, though. I had such a grudge in my heart, and as it festered I became less and less comfortable. I tried hard to forgive and love this brother, but forgiveness just would not stay where I put it.
Who Is Right? Who Is Wrong?
My husband gave me a beautiful priesthood blessing in which he told me that Heavenly Father loved me and was pleased with my efforts. “How can that be?” I wondered. “Am I the good person Heavenly Father thinks I am, or am I the bad person my leader seems to think I am?” My confidence was shaken, but I didn’t want to let such a difficulty drive me out of the Church. I continued to pray, asking in sincerity of heart, “Who is right? Who is wrong?”
Looking back, I realize that I fully expected Heavenly Father to put an arm around my injured pride and tell me, “Of course you are right!” I was, therefore, not prepared for the sweet, simple answer that came. It was a phrase from a poem I had heard long ago that landed softly on my agitated soul: “They are good, they are bad, … so am I.” 1 Although I couldn’t remember the rest of the poem or even its title, the message was clear.
I asked again, “Who is right?” This time I knew the answer: I am, and he is. “And who is wrong?” I am, and he is. As I pondered this, the Spirit helped me understand that it didn’t matter who was right and who was wrong in this instance. Being human, we all make mistakes from time to time, despite our best intentions. We’re basically good, but sometimes our behavior isn’t. I realized that I needed to forgive because I had been forgiven many times, and it likely would not be long until I did something that would require forgiveness again. I decided to square my shoulders and support my priesthood leaders. These thoughts made my heart soar free from the burden of the grudge I had carried for weeks.
A Mess and a Message
Not long after this precious answer came, I was cleaning the holiday closet in the attic. I spent several hours taking everything out, sorting, cleaning, and putting things back neatly. By the end of the job I was tired, but suddenly I felt prompted to go to the opposite end of the attic and look inside another closet. When I opened the door, things fell out. It was a bigger mess than the holiday closet had been. My normal inclination after a long day of cleaning would be to slam the door shut and save it for another day. But something told me to dig, so I did.
I was rewarded when I pulled out a beloved old poetry book. I patted it and vowed to read it soon, but the Spirit impressed me, “No. Now.” I thought to myself, “Read poetry in the middle of a mess? A mother of nine doesn’t have time for poetry!” But I obeyed the prompting, smiling guiltily as I thumbed through the worn pages.
And there it was, the poem that had been the answer to my prayer and had given me a spiritually reviving look at forgiveness: “The House by the Side of the Road” by Sam Walter Foss. I found special meaning in the last stanza:
What Is It to Me?
When Moroni was struggling with the worry that the Gentiles would mock him for his perceived “weakness in writing” (Ether 12:23), he prayed that the Lord would give the Gentiles charity concerning his record-keeping efforts (see Ether 12:36). A patient Savior taught him, “If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful” (Ether 12:37).
Likewise, the book of John tells us that Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him, and three times Peter assured the Savior he did. Peter was then told, “Feed my sheep” (see John 21:15–17). I was familiar with that part of the story, but one day I read beyond it to the end of the chapter and learned what happened just after those famous words were spoken. The Savior told Peter that he would die the death of a martyr. Looking at John the Beloved, Peter then asked, “Lord, and what shall this man do?” Jesus answered him, “If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me” (see John 21:18–22).
Now when I begin to be offended by one of my brothers or sisters, I think of the Savior reminding Moroni that he need only be concerned about the level of charity in himself. I can hear the Lord kindly warning Peter concerning his worry about John’s assignment rather than his own. I remember what the Spirit taught me: “They are good, they are bad, … so am I.” And I am reminded where my focus needs to be. Rather than dwell on the faults of others, I need to focus on my own efforts to be Christlike.
I have learned that my house by the side of the road is my own heart, in which the Savior invites me to live with gentle, hope-filled judgment; He wants me to be a friend to man. The Savior asks me to leave grudges at the door-step and invite everyone in, as He does. I am grateful for that answer and for the help.
Sam Walter Foss, “The House by the Side of the Road,” in One Hundred and One Famous Poems, comp. Roy J. Cook (1958), 9–10.