Letting My Bitterness Go


I had taught many lessons on forgiveness, but now that I was being tested with my parents’ divorce, how could I forgive?

As a junior high English teacher, I have repeatedly witnessed the trauma divorce can cause children. Good students with great attitudes can suddenly become sullen, uncooperative, and difficult to teach and motivate when their parents split up. I had always felt sympathy for my students facing the turmoil of divorce, and I was thankful this burden was one I had not been required to personally carry. I would later experience firsthand, however, the same bitterness so many of my students had experienced—and the sweet peace that is available in the house of the Lord.

I had grown up the youngest of three children in a family that was very active in the Church. Although my parents had not been married in the temple initially, they seemed to be genuinely committed to their marriage and to our family. When I was nine years old, the five of us traveled to the Idaho Falls Idaho Temple and knelt around a holy altar to be sealed for time and eternity. My parents wept openly as we embraced as an eternal family unit, and I believed we had arrived at some wonderful destination from which we would never depart. This experience became a spiritual hallmark for me.

Our family continued to be rock solid from my point of view. We loved each other, attended church together, invited friends into our home to take missionary discussions, and were very involved in our ward. Later as a missionary in Korea, I would proudly show my family picture as I taught people about eternal relationships.

About 15 years later, when I was a 35-year-old father of five, I was astonished when my parents suddenly separated, and I was even more surprised to discover that their marriage had been strained for some time. The separation sent the marriage into a tailspin, which after a few turbulent and hostile years, ended with a heartbreaking divorce.

I now found myself in a situation that I never dreamed would be part of my life’s experience. My parents had been married for 43 years. They had been sealed in the temple. This was not supposed to happen! I felt lost and disheartened.

I began to understand why students in my classes whose parents divorced could completely stop caring about grades and the long-term consequences of poor choices. I had always understood that divorce was particularly hard on children, but now as a “grown-up kid,” I began to know exactly why children sometimes give up. I found myself wanting to quit trying too.

My grief and disappointment were intense, and I felt helpless in letting go of the hurt. I was never happy. Work became a burden, and I would go through the day numbly performing my duties simply because I had to earn a paycheck for my family. I felt no energy or creativity, both essential ingredients for an English teacher’s success. I found myself crying while I was alone in the car and late at night as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling.

On top of the divorce, my father’s commitment to the Church waned and then disappeared. Because of this, a lot of my anger surrounding the divorce was directed toward him. Although outwardly I maintained my respect for him, on the inside, my hurt was constant and gnawing. I knew this was wrong; I had taught many lessons and given talks on forgiveness. But now that I was being tested, I was unable to forgive. Over the course of several months, I fasted and prayed, pleading with my Heavenly Father to help me find relief from the pain and resentment.

Finally, one afternoon I attended the temple with my wife. I went into the temple with the same constant prayer in my heart that I would be able to forgive my father. During the two hours I was in the temple, my heart began to soften. I don’t know exactly why or how. Certainly there was no specific verbal instruction in the session, but as I contemplated the sacred principles relating to our journey through eternity, anger melted from my heart. I realized that only the Lord can properly judge even the vilest of sinners. The Lord needs ministers, not judges, and I came to understand that my job was to support my family members no matter what spiritual predicament they might find themselves in. Specifically, I needed to respect and forgive my father. The best part was that for the first time since the onset of my parents’ divorce, my heart was completely free from resentment and bitterness.

As my wife and I walked out of the temple, I felt as if a great fever or illness had broken and lifted during my brief time in the house of the Lord. I turned to my wife and said simply, “I’m not mad at my dad anymore.” A sense of calmness and peace settled over me, and since that day, I have never felt anger or resentment toward my father or anyone else concerning the divorce. For me this was a miracle, one I attribute to a sweet blessing I received from my Heavenly Father while worshipping in the temple.

The Healing Power of Christ

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“Most of us have not reached that stage of compassion and love and forgiveness. It is not easy. It requires a self-discipline almost greater than we are capable of. But as we try, we come to know that there is a resource of healing, that there is a mighty power of healing in Christ, and that if we are to be His true servants we must not only exercise that healing power in behalf of others, but, perhaps more important, inwardly.” President Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Healing Power of Christ,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 59.

[photos] Photograph of car by Christina Smith, posed by model; details of Aldo Rebechi’s The Christus photographed by Craig Dimond

[photo] Photograph of Mesa Arizona Temple by Welden C. Andersen

[illustration] The above painting, The Woman Taken in Adultery, illustrates the healing power of Christ as found in John 8:1–11. (Painting by Harry Anderson, © Seventh-day Adventist Church.)

Paul Havig is a member of the Meadows Ward, Mesa Arizona Boulder Creek Stake.