Lesson 8: Forgiveness

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, (2000), 57–65


The purpose of this lesson is to help us strengthen our commitment to forgive ourselves and others.

Activity: Who Am I?

Conduct the activity “Who Am I?” Have a class member read aloud the biographies below, not including the scripture references. Do not allow identities in the biographies to be revealed until the question “Who am I?” is asked. As soon as a sister thinks that she has discovered the identity of the person being described, she should raise her hand. However, the reader should continue until the list is complete or until all hands are raised.

Biography 1

  1. 1.

    I was falsely accused and sent to prison (see Genesis 39:11–20).

  2. 2.

    Later I was released from prison and given a high position of leadership in a foreign land (see Genesis 41:37–43).

  3. 3.

    For many years I was separated from my father and family (see Genesis 41–44).

  4. 4.

    I interpreted the dreams of a butler, a baker, and a ruler (see Genesis 40–41).

  5. 5.

    Because of famine, my family left their homeland and moved to where I was living. I was able to help them (see Genesis 45–46).

  6. 6.

    When I was a boy, my father gave me a beautiful coat (see Genesis 37:3).

  7. 7.

    Although my brothers sold me to slave traders, I forgave them and we had a joyful reunion in Egypt and lived happily for many years (see Genesis 45–46).

  8. 8.

    Who am I?

Answer: Joseph, the son of Jacob, who was sold into Egypt. (See We Ought Also to Love One Another: Beehive Course A, Young Women [1977], 16.)

  • Display visual 8-a, “Joseph being reunited with his brothers.” Why were Joseph and his brothers able to have a happy reunion and live together in peace for many years?

    Joseph reunited with brothers(click to view larger)

    8-a, Joseph being reunited with his brothers

    © Providence Lithograph Co.

Biography 2

  1. 1.

    I was the younger of two sons (see Luke 15:11–12).

  2. 2.

    I journeyed into a far country where I wasted the inheritance my father had given me (see Luke 15:13).

  3. 3.

    When a famine came into the land, I began to be in want (see Luke 15:14).

  4. 4.

    To obtain food, I took employment feeding swine (see Luke 15:15).

  5. 5.

    I remembered that my father fed his servants very well, so I decided to go home and ask my father to hire me as a servant (see Luke 15:17–19).

  6. 6.

    When my father saw me coming, he ran to meet me, kissed me, and gave me his best robe, a ring, and shoes, and prepared a feast to celebrate my return home (see Luke 15:20–24).

  7. 7.

    Who am I?

Answer: The prodigal son.

  • Display visual 8-b, “The prodigal son returns.” Why was this happy reunion possible?

    prodigal son returns (click to view larger)

    8-b, The prodigal son returns

These two stories from the Bible illustrate what can happen when family members forgive each other.

  • What is forgiveness? How do the stories of Joseph and the prodigal son illustrate the principle of forgiveness?

When We Forgive, We Exercise Christlike Love

Jesus Christ gave us the perfect example of how to forgive those who offend us. Of the Savior’s example Elder Robert L. Simpson said:

“Biblical history tells us that no mortal man has ever been subjected to the humility, the pain, the suffering that were experienced by the Savior of the world during his final hours of mortality.

“… There he hung, his body broken and bleeding, still taunted by his enemies; and it was in the midst of all this that Jesus [pled] perhaps quietly, with deep reverence, ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ (Luke 23:34.)” (“Forgiveness,” Improvement Era, Dec. 1966, 1148).

As Jesus forgave, so must we.

April Aaron is a Latter-day Saint young woman who followed the Savior’s example. While en route to a Church dance in San Francisco, California, April was attacked by a man who severely slashed her with a knife while he was trying to steal her purse. In the attack she suffered the loss of her right eye and received deep wounds in her right leg and left arm. And what did April reply when asked about her attacker?

“‘I would think he must be suffering, anybody who’s like that, we ought to feel sorry for him. …

“‘I wish that somebody could do something for him, to help him. He should have some treatment. Who knows what leads a person to do a thing like this? If they don’t find him, he’s likely to do it again’” (quoted by Spencer W. Kimball in The Miracle of Forgiveness [1969], 294).

  • How did April show Christlike love for her attacker?

Jens Christian Johansen, who joined the Church in Denmark, is another who has the Christlike ability to forgive. In his personal journal he recorded: “As I piled my hay and did my work, I took twelve piles and stuck over the fence to my neighbor, as they had no hay for the horse and cows; and we could see a little gone from our area the night before. … I would rather give them a little than have them steal” (quoted by Rex D. Pinegar in “Grandfather Johansen’s Example,” New Era, Sept. 1977, 4).

  • How did Brother Johansen show that he had forgiven his neighbor for stealing his hay?

When we can forgive as April and Brother Johansen did, we are loving others as Christ does.

  • Display a poster of the following statement, or write it on the chalkboard: I have felt that the ultimate form of love for God and men is forgiveness. (Marion D. Hanks, “Even as Christ Forgave,” New Era, June 1974, 4.) Read the statement to the class.

We Are Required to Forgive Everyone

We often say or do things that bring pain and suffering to others. Others often say or do things that offend us. To help us deal with these problems, Jesus Christ gave this counsel:

“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.

“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:9–10; italics added).

  • Whom does the term “all men” include?

  • Who is our brother? (See D&C 64:9; 76:23–24.) What will happen if we fail to forgive those who have wronged us? Who has the greater sin—the one who has offended another or the one who refuses to forgive?

In the first part of this lesson, we reviewed two stories illustrating how family problems were solved by forgiveness.

  • What would be the result if husbands and wives would readily forgive one another of their offenses? if brothers and sisters all forgave one another? if parents forgave their children? if children forgave their parents?

  • Read Matthew 5:44. Whom does this scripture teach us to forgive?

  • What would be the result if we readily forgave the offenses of our neighbors? our friends? Church members?

Jesus Christ taught that if we have been offended, we should not wait for the offender to come to ask for our forgiveness. We should seek him out and establish peace with him. (See Matthew 5:23–24.) Heavenly Father will not forgive us of our sins unless our hearts are free of all hate, bitterness, and bad feelings against others (see Matthew 6:14–15).

  • Have a sister read Matthew 18:21–22. What is another way of saying “Until seventy times seven”?

To forgive everyone requires that we forgive ourselves as well as others. When we make a mistake, we should repent of it and then forget about it. Sometimes it is easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves, but to “forgive all men” is to forgive everyone, including ourselves.

  • Why do we sometimes find it difficult to forgive ourselves? Why is it important that we forgive ourselves?

We Must Forgive in Order to Progress

Elder Boyd K. Packer related the following story:

“Many years ago I was taught a lesson by a man I admired very much. He was as saintly a man as I have ever known. He was steady and serene, with a deep spiritual strength that many drew upon.

“He knew just how to minister to others who were suffering. On a number of occasions I was present when he gave blessings to those who were sick or otherwise afflicted.

“His life had been a life of service, both in the Church and in the community. …

“On one occasion when we were alone and the spirit was right, he gave me a lesson for my life from an experience in his. Although I thought I had known him, he told me things I would not have supposed. …

“He married a lovely young woman, and presently everything in his life was just right. He was well employed, with a bright future. They were deeply in love, and she was expecting their first child.

“The night the baby was to be born there were complications. The only doctor was somewhere in the countryside tending to the sick. They were not able to find him. After many hours of labor the condition of the mother-to-be became desperate.

“Finally the doctor arrived. He sensed the emergency, acted quickly, and soon had things in order. The baby was born and the crisis, it appeared, was over.

“Some days later the young mother died from the very infection that the doctor had been treating at the other home that night.

“My friend’s world was shattered. Everything was not right now; everything was all wrong. He had lost his wife, his sweetheart. He had no way to take care of a tiny baby and at once tend to his work.

“As the weeks wore on his grief festered. ‘That doctor should not be allowed to practice,’ he would say. ‘He brought that infection to my wife; if he had been careful she would be alive today.’ He thought of little else, and in his bitterness he became threatening.

“Then one night a knock came at his door. A little youngster said, simply, ‘Daddy wants you to come over. He wants to talk to you.’

“‘Daddy’ was the stake president. A grieving, heartbroken young man went to see his spiritual leader. This spiritual shepherd had been watching his flock and had something to say to him.

“The counsel from this wise servant was simply: ‘John, leave it alone. Nothing you do about it will bring her back. Anything you do will make it worse. John, leave it alone.’

“My friend told me then that this had been his trial, his Gethsemane.

“How could he leave it alone? Right was right! A terrible wrong had been committed, and somebody must pay for it.

“He struggled in agony to get hold of himself. It did not happen at once. Finally he determined that whatever else the issues were, he should be obedient. …

“He determined to follow the counsel of that wise spiritual leader. He would leave it alone.

“Then he told me, ‘I was an old man before I finally understood. It was not until I was an old man that I could finally see a poor country doctor—overworked, underpaid, run ragged from patient to patient, with little proper medicine, no hospital, few instruments. He struggled to save lives, and succeeded for the most part.

“‘He had come in a moment of crisis when two lives hung in the balance and had acted without delay.

“‘I was an old man,’ he repeated, ‘before finally I understood. I would have ruined my life,’ he said, ‘and the lives of others.’

“Many times he had thanked the Lord on his knees for a wise spiritual leader who counseled simply, ‘John, leave it alone.’

“And that is my counsel to you. If you have festering sores, a grudge, some bitterness, disappointment, or jealousy, get hold of yourself. You may not be able to control things out there with others, but you can control things here, inside of you.

“I say, therefore: John, leave it alone. Mary, leave it alone” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1977, 90–91; or Ensign, Nov. 1977, 60).

  • Why did John call forgiving the doctor his “Gethsemane”? When did John begin to progress? What are some qualities John developed because he forgave?

Elder Sterling W. Sill told the following story about a woman who had been unable to forgive herself:

“Sometime ago I talked with a woman 53 years of age who had committed a moral transgression at age 18. She understood that her sin was very serious, but because she had repented a thousand times we can depend on the Lord’s promise that he had forgiven her. But she had never forgiven herself. Because she felt unclean and inferior, she withdrew from her friends, refused to marry, and became a kind of social and spiritual recluse. For 35 years she downgraded herself with bitter regrets and accusations. Her life of looking back upon her sin has turned her into something far below the wonderful person that God intended her to be. Her sin at age 18 was very serious. But for 35 years she has been adding to her sin by wasting the most valuable thing in the world, which is a splendid human life” (What Doth It Profit [1965], 183).

When we keep remembering our failures and mistakes, continue to harbor bad feelings against others, and refuse to forgive ourselves or others, we waste both time and energy. We accomplish nothing. We inhibit spiritual progress.

Conclusion

It is not easy to forgive others and ourselves. It may be one of the biggest challenges we will face in life. When we forgive completely by forgiving in our hearts as well as saying so, we free ourselves to progress, improve our lives, and be happy. We prepare ourselves to ask the Lord to forgive our sins. He has told us that when He forgives us of our sins, He remembers them no more (see D&C 58:42). Putting others’ offenses out of our minds and hearts and remembering them no more is an important part of forgiveness. As we forget ill feelings toward others, we will bring peace into our lives. We will seek and be prepared to receive the guidance of the Holy Ghost. We will accept personal criticism and use it to improve ourselves. We will be progressing toward exaltation in our Heavenly Father’s kingdom.

Offenses will come to us, but we must not let them shatter our lives. If we have a forgiving heart, we can overlook and forget offenses. Each of us should strive to pray sincerely, “Forgive us … as we forgive [others]” (Matthew 6:12).

Challenge

Search your feelings: Are you holding a grudge against anyone? If so, what can you do to overcome it? Ask your Heavenly Father to help you have a forgiving heart.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Read Gospel Principles chapter 19, “Repentance.”

  2. 2.

    Prepare to conduct the activity at the beginning of the lesson.

  3. 3.

    Prepare the poster suggested in the lesson or write the information on the chalkboard.

  4. 4.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.