Reg Christensen lives in the Midwest with his wife, Carol. They have seven children and seventeen grandchildren. Reg has fulfilled a variety of callings in the Church and he and Carol have been blessed with many service opportunities as Pathway missionaries and service volunteers at the BYU Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, to mention a few. While living in Jerusalem, they served in the Bethlehem branch, Carol as the Relief Society president and Reg as the branch president. His happy times come from being with family and friends, reading, writing, woodworking, leathercrafting, exploring nature, and blessing lives with his handyman skills. He has published several books including, “Unlocking Isaiah: Lessons and Insights that Draw Us to the Savior.”
As we counsel with members within our stewardship responsibilities or seek to bring insights as ministering sisters and brothers to others in our congregation, the following stories of forgiveness may be a useful catalyst for someone who may be “stuck.” Stuck in a place of being unforgiving. It is my hope that these resources will serve each of us as we strive to overcome times when we, or those we love, are “stuck.”
The Law of Forgiving Others
In the area of forgiving, so much more could be said than time and space allow. We could certainly discuss our blessings from the Savior of having our own sins forgiven through His Atonement, the need to seek forgiveness when we offend, or the need to forgive ourselves when we err.
When we forgive others, we activate the Atonement in our own lives and open the way for the Savior to forgive us.
“Inasmuch as you have forgiven one another your trespasses, even so I, the Lord, forgive you.” (Doctrine and Covenants 82:1)
Before the availability of such an abundance of electronic media that we use today, I taught with many handmade visuals— posters, object lessons, etc. One of my delights is to hear from a former student that something shared years earlier has remained with them and has positively inspired them in some way. One of the more commonly remembered teachings is how we approached what we called “The Lord’s Law of Forgiveness. “
For this lesson they expected a poster—but not a mostly blank one with only the bold heading, “The Lord’s Law of Forgiveness,” written at the top. We discussed the doctrine, and then I suggested that they help me come up with something creative we could attach to our poster that would help them remember the doctrine.
After a little discussion, and with a bit of a leading nudge from me, someone would suggest that we should get a box of ALL laundry detergent and attach it to the poster. At that point, I pulled such a box from under my desk with the detergent pre-emptied so we could easily attach the empty box to the poster. Our poster, that would now hang on the wall for the rest of the year, read: The Lord’s Law of Forgiveness with the brightly colored ALL box prominently displayed. The message was simple and clear—we are to forgive ALL! After the fact, we realized that we got a double bonus from the poster when a student made us aware of the relevance of the product slogan printed on the box, “Fights the Toughest Stains!”
Here is the Lord’s law of forgiveness, given during a time in our early church history when people were taking offense over the silliest and most inconsequential events imaginable:
“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.” (Doctrine and Covenants 64:9–10)
Rather than elaborate further with quotations from leaders or more scriptural passages (of which there are many), let us illustrate the doctrine with several examples of how people have applied the law in their personal lives. Gratefully, I have been personally acquainted with a few of these people and have witnessed firsthand their application of the Lord’s law of forgiveness.
Just Walk Away
When I was a boy, we had a hobby farm, although at times it seemed to me that it was a full-time operation. Since my siblings were older, my memories are mostly of just me working together with my dad. We once decided to raise some purebred Columbia sheep. After considerable effort and expense, we had thirty lambs ready for market and were looking forward to some reward for our efforts.
One night at our San Pitch River property, a pack of local dogs attacked our lambs and killed or injured half of them. We were heartsick, and dad was furious. (At my young age, I was more excited than angry about the drama of it all.)
The next night, we slept out in our sheep camp near the lambs. Sure enough, the dogs returned. I awoke from my sleep at the sound of gunshots. I tumbled out of bed to discover that dad had killed one dog and wounded another. In his anger, he swore that the dogs’ owners would pay for our ruined investment. We called the sheriff, tracked the wounded dog to its home, and identified its owner—a poor widow who was saddened at the tragedy and had no means to pay. The sheriff disposed of the wounded dog and continued to investigate the case.
I do not recall all the details, but I have a memory of being at the house of the widow with dad. We had known her all our lives. The sheriff was there. And then we just walked away and went on about our business. I do not know the identity of the other dog owners but suppose dad worked that out with the sheriff. I do not remember dad being angry anymore; it seemed the case was closed and there wasn’t any further grousing about our lost investment.
Just a few years before dad died, I reminded him of the event and asked him if we had ever gotten any settlement from the lost lambs. He replied, “When I realized that the dog was owned by a poor widow, I could not press the matter further. I just walked away.” Yes, he did!
My Happy Life
Elias Feinzilberg (Abba) was one of Israel’s oldest living Holocaust survivors born in 1917 and lived in Israel until his death,. He survived a two-week death march by eating snow and lived through his captivity in nine different concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Elias survived by working—always volunteering to work and help provide for his starving family of his five sisters, two brothers, and his parents. The Nazis lied to him in telling him that his family would be saved—all of them starved to death or were killed in the Holocaust.
Elias was liberated by the U.S. Army on May 1, 1945, and, true to form, volunteered to work in the kitchen of an American refugee camp helping to feed 12,000 of his fellow survivors. There he met his wife. They moved to Guatemala where they lived and worked for twenty-two years and raised their two sons and one daughter. They later emigrated to Israel where he lived until his death in Jerusalem. He is a national hero.
A few years ago, when my wife and I served as volunteers at the Brigham Young University Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies, we became friends with Abba through his caregiver, who is a member of our church.
The directors invited him to the center each semester where he told his story of survival to our students. He laughed merrily as the young ladies gather around him with hugs and kisses during their photo ops. We had a special party for him on his 100th birthday.
I was blessed to spend some personal time with him, often driving him and his caregiver to the center for our concerts or special events. When my daughter and her husband became aware of our friendship with him, they expressed a desire to meet him during their upcoming visit. He graciously invited us to his home and even had his caregiver buy a box of ice cream bars for our newborn granddaughter. (We pretended to feed them to her.) We have a video of him tickling her and playing with her. He told us his story and showed us his prized possession—a framed photo of his family before the beginning of the horrible Holocaust. It is the only surviving item from his family.
Abba was one of the gentlest, sweetest people I have ever known. His constant happy countenance revealed an inner peace that can only exist in someone whose heart has been purged of bitterness. On public occasions with our students and a few times with me personally, he said,
“My happy life with my children and grandchildren is my response to Hitler.”
His whole being radiated forgiveness.
I Have Forgiven My Attackers
When our youngest son was in elementary school, he came home with a fascinating story of a guest speaker who had visited their school that day. I was so impressed by the story that I called the school and requested contact information for the speaker. I then called her, introduced myself, and expressed interest in meeting with her to learn more of her story. She invited me to her home. Since then, my life has been blessed by knowing the application of the Lord’s law of forgiveness by Jackie Millar. Here is her story.
On November 4, 1995, Jackie drove about an hour from her home in Madison, Wisconsin, to spend a few days with a friend. While the friend was gone, Jackie was out in the yard when she heard a noise in the garage. When she entered the garage, she was met by two teenage boys with handguns. They ordered her into the house and told her to lie face down on the living room floor. They then discussed who would shoot her. One of the boys named Craig then shot her point blank in the back of the head with the .22 caliber handgun.
They left her for dead, stole her car, and went to buy gas. When they could not figure out how to open the gas tank, they purchased a container of gasoline, drove to a secluded spot, and burned the car. They then went to their homes and were found and arrested within hours.
Jackie’s friend returned home within fifteen minutes of the shooting and called 911. She assumed that Jackie had passed out and hit her head. Only at the hospital did they discover that she had been shot. She was then life-flighted to a hospital in Madison and spent the next forty-two days in a coma with a slim chance of living.
Her sons were told to look for a nursing home, since, if she lived, she would be a “human vegetable.” Miraculously, she recovered to the extent that she lives on her own, with the help of an aide who visits to help her and reads to her.
Jackie is legally blind, partially paralyzed, and has a speech impediment. She travels the country telling her story. Upon learning that, I invited her to come to our Institute of Religion and tell her story to our students. The beautiful part of her story is that she has not only forgiven her attackers, but she has grown to love them as her own children.
She regularly visits Craig, the shooter, at the prison in Green Bay.
Her story of forgiveness can be best told in her own words. The following quotations come from my personal notes from my private conversation with her and from her presentation to our institute students.
“I have forgiven my attackers. I forgave them as soon as they committed the crime. I did it for myself. I did it so my life could go forward. People, when they hear that I forgive them, say that I must have a head injury. I do have a head injury—I have six bullet fragments in my head. “How can you forgive?” people ask. It is easy—I wanted to get on with my life. It meant forgiving and I did forgive. I forgive—I don’t forget. About Craig, I am working to help him forgive himself. He can and will someday. The principle of forgiveness is something I have always had. It is my gift from God. I can laugh because I can forgive. I can forgive. I can love. It is my gift that I will now give to [the shooters]. I would like to put my arms around [the shooters]. They don’t know what a hug is! I love them and I think there should be more love in the world. I have learned love. Love yourself. Love others. I would forgive anyone anything because I want my life to go forward. If I had to choose between being healed of my disabilities or keeping my disabilities and having Craig in my life—I would choose Craig, hands down!”
If They Can Forgive – So Can We
It is hard for me to imagine that any of us will suffer offenses more serious than those described by these examples. If they can forgive, so can we. The Lord’s law of forgiveness is so easy to teach—my classroom poster does it for us: Forgive ALL!
The challenge is to apply the lessons, even through our darkest trials.
The Lord does not give laws without the accompanying grace needed to keep them. We can forgive—and as we do, lasting happiness and true peace will be ours.
Our Savior promised:
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27)