2018 BYU Women's Conference
Today I had the honor of speaking at the BYU Women's Conference on the Savior's gift of forgiveness. It has been an emotional experience over the last six months getting ready. I was so grateful for my good friends and family who came to support me and give me encouragement. The full text of my talk is below.
Forgiveness - A Complete Gift
Rohan K. Shearer, BYU Women's Conference, May 3, 2018
Two days ago I had a dream. I was skiing down a very steep mountain when an Olympic sized jump appeared out of nowhere and I went off it, flying high through the air, completely out of control. I somehow landed comfortably in an isolated pine tree, grateful that I had not crashed, only to look down and notice a lumberjack revving up his massive chainsaw. This dream accurately reflects my mental state over the last 6 months as I have prepared this talk. There have been some extreme highs and some terrifying moments of doubt and fear. For the last six months, I have thought a great deal about you. I knew that there would be many other offerings on campus at this same hour, and that those of you who would choose to be here would be looking for something specific, prayerful perhaps that you would hear something that would bring you much sought-after relief, peace, comfort or healing. Some of you may be wondering if you can ever be forgiven by the Lord for something that took place in your past. Some of you may be struggling to forgive someone who has caused you significant suffering. And some of you have been forgiven by the Lord and forgiven by others, yet you have been unable to forgive yourself. I earnestly seek the help of the Holy Ghost so that we will be able to learn together, rejoice and be edified.1
I have served for the last nearly four years as a bishop. My ward in Spanish Fork, Utah is a large one; nearly 600 members with two nurseries, over 100 young men and young women, wonderful middle-aged couples, and a Senior Citizen apartment complex. Our ward covers all the demographics of life and I have seen forgiveness at play in each. I have learned that forgiveness is a gift. In fact the word “forgive” is derived from the Old English words “for,” meaning complete, and “giefan,” meaning gift.2 So by definition when we “forgive” someone we are extending to them a gift, a complete gift. I picture in my mind that this gift is an actual present, decorated beautifully, and that once unwrapped, it is filled to overflowing with redemption, mercy, understanding, peace, kindness, comfort, a willingness to move on, compassion, and relief. In our time together today, I’ll focus on three ways that this complete gift, this beautiful present made available through the Atonement of Jesus Christ can be given and received more abundantly in our lives. I’ll focus first on the gift of forgiveness we receive from Jesus Christ, then second, the gift of forgiveness we give to others, and third, the gift of forgiveness we can and should extend to ourselves.
Gift #1 – The Lord’s Gift of Forgiveness to Us
When I was much younger, living in Seattle, Washington, one of my favorite things to do after coming home from school, after raiding my dad’s secret candy drawer, was turning on our very small color TV and watching “The People’s Court.” I loved hearing the theme song play as each case was introduced and all present, including me, would rise as the Honorable Judge Wapner entered the room. I felt like the weight of the world hung on every word. Judge Wapner was the ultimate authority. I knew, even at a young age, that you did not want to be on the wrong side of one of his verdicts. Now I don’t know about you, but I do not like courtrooms. A few years ago, I was a defendant in a trial, representing my company in a very trivial matter. I had all the information I needed, and we were in the right. Yet I could barely look the judge in the eyes. I was shaking and when it was my turn to speak, my voice was barely audible. Now if I’m that terrified in such a small matter in a courtroom here on earth, I can’t imagine how much of a wreck I will be in that Heavenly courtroom, where the case will be over the state of my soul. There, Jesus Christ will stand at the great bar of judgment and an accounting will be made of my life. I don’t know if I’ll have all the information I’ll need. And I definitely won’t have been in the right for much of my life. And, by myself, without representation, my confidence will wax very thin.
Some of us picture the Savior like Judge Wapner, one with complete authority, someone we don’t want to mess with, one who has power over our lives and will demand justice if we are in the wrong. We see Him as exacting and requiring perfect obedience. And of course, since none of us are without sin3, we might be terrified to face Him and thus feel doomed, cast off forever, and without hope.
Sometimes we forget that one of the foundational truths in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is that the Savior is merciful and has a forgiving disposition.4 He is not a Judge Wapner. In fact, listen to Elder Holland’s description of the Savior in a courtroom setting. He said that “Jesus Christ knew the predicament we as mortals would all be in, knew our helpless state as a result of the fall, and knew the judgment we would not be able to endure. It is as if the judge in that great courtroom in heaven, unwilling to ask anyone but himself to bear the burdens of the guilty people standing in the dock, takes off his judicial robes and comes down to earth to bear their stripes personally.” 5 Can you imagine Judge Wapner doing this, casting judgment on the guilty party, then throwing off his judicial robes to take their place and pay the punishment himself? My grade school jaw would have dropped to the floor. It would have been so out of character for the show and out of character for this unsympathetic world we live in, yet this is exactly what the Savior does for each and every one of us.
Though mercy cannot rob justice6, Jesus Christ satisfied the demands of justice required of you and me and extends to us complete forgiveness if we will but decide to be His.7 Instead of thinking of God as a “divine referee trying to tag us off third base,” 8 let’s remember that “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” 9 Yes, He is the grand and great judge. But He is also our Savior, Redeemer, Mediator, and Advocate. 10 He pleads our case, judicial robe cast aside.
Jesus Christ holds within His hands a beautifully wrapped gift. It is complete. And when opened, it is full of redemption, mercy, understanding, peace, kindness, comfort, a willingness to move on, compassion, and relief. Whatever mistakes we’ve made, however far we’ve fallen, however hopeless we feel, we can be forgiven completely. President Boyd K. Packer testified that “Save for the exception of the very few who defect to perdition, there is no habit, no addiction, no rebellion, no transgression, no apostasy, no crime exempted from the promise of complete forgiveness. That is the promise of the Atonement of Christ.” 11 Let us each turn more fully to Him today, pivoting, repenting if necessary, making whatever changes He requires, in order to receive this most generous and complete of all gifts. Without exception, “Those who will repent and forsake sin will find that His merciful arm is outstretched still.” 12
Gift #2 - Our Gift of Forgiveness to Others
I work for a global restaurant chain and after visiting one of our restaurants recently, I returned to my car in the parking lot but the key fob wasn’t working. Thinking the battery had died, I tried using the actual key, but that didn’t work either. As I was fiddling with the lock, I noticed some strange objects in the back seat that I had not put there. I was startled, thinking someone had broken into my car! Then I realized that that my car was several rows away and I was the one doing the breaking and entering. Not my finest moment. I am convinced that when it comes to forgiving others and following the Savior’s teaching to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” 13 too often we are trying to do so with the wrong key and thus we fail in our attempts.
For example, some of us try to use the key of time, promising that we’ll be ready to forgive at some future date, when enough time has passed. Some of us try the key of evidence, saying that we’ll forgive once the offending party has changed sufficiently. And some of us even try the key of justification, claiming that we’re not required to forgive because the offense has been so great. None of these keys will unlock the door to forgiveness, yet the Lord made it clear that there are no time restrictions, no qualifiers, and no exceptions to His commandment to forgive all. 14 I have come to understand that the grand key to forgiveness is gratitude. President Uchtdorf taught that “Gratitude is a catalyst to all Christlike attributes.” 15 If the ability to forgive is a Christlike attribute, and I believe it is, then gratitude is a catalyst, an initiator, a key to being able to do so. In fact, this connection between gratitude and forgiveness was taught clearly by the Lord when answering Peter’s question “Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times?” 16 You remember the parable that followed Peter’s question.
A man is brought in front of a King for his time of reckoning and is required to pay the debt he’s accumulated, ten thousand talents, around a billion dollars in today’s currency, a debt the man couldn’t begin to repay. Instead of commanding this man and his family to be sold off to pay the debt, the King is sensitive to his pleading for mercy, is moved with compassion, removes this man’s shackles and forgives the debt completely. The man then departs, but immediately sees another that owes him only a hundred pence, about $100, and instead of offering the same mercy he was just granted, lays hands on this person’s throat and casts him into prison. The King hears of this and demands that the man return to his presence, saying to him “I forgave thee all that debt, because thou desiredst me: Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellowservant, even as I had pity on thee?” This man is then delivered to the tormentors to pay all that was due. The Savior then closes the parable by teaching Peter: “So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.” 17
As I read this parable in preparation for this talk, I realized something that I had never before considered. The reason why the man was in debt in the first place is not even mentioned. It is irrelevant. This parable is about the condition of the heart and its willingness to forgive, regardless of the size or nature of the offense against it. It is about being grateful for the mercy we’ve received and then giving that same mercy to others. We, like the servant in the parable are forgiven a debt that can never be repaid, that which the Savior’s Atonement covered, the wages of sin and death.18 Yet we, like the servant can forget to be grateful for that gift, and then we find ourselves running around with our hands on each other’s throats, casting each other into prison (so to speak) for their debts or trespasses against us, things that pale in comparison to the great debt that we have been ransomed from. 19 The Savior said we should forgive from our hearts. So how does our heart compare to the heart of the King?
Now I know that some of you are thinking “Yea it all sounds good and looks good on paper, but this is real life. How can I be grateful when everything in my life is falling apart? My wounds are deep and I am hurting.” Maybe you feel like a sister I met with whose husband had committed adultery, thus shaking the foundations of their marriage, their family and their home. Though her tears she said “Bishop - I want to forgive him, but will this pain ever go away?” Those are very tender and difficult moments for a bishop, to say nothing of the extreme difficulty for the person whose world is falling apart through no fault of her own. All I can say is that in these situations, our only hope for comfort, peace and relief is in Christ. Elder Boyd K. Packer once said that it is “(Christ’s) mercy [that] is the mighty healer, even to the wounded innocent.” 20
Through Christ and only through Him, all difficulties and trauma we experience in life at the hands of another can be removed, entirely, completely. If you have been abused mentally, verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually; if you have been cheated on, ignored or abandoned by your spouse; if you have been ostracized or cast off by your closest friends or family; if you have suffered the unexpected loss of a parent, spouse, sibling, child or best friend because of someone else’s negligence; if you have been taken advantage of by someone you had trusted, or “seventy times seven” other difficulties, have hope. Jesus Christ has experienced and overcome them all and stands ready with a beautifully wrapped gift in His hands that He gives to us, with the mandate that we will then give it to the offending party. Now I want to make something clear. If there is abuse or risk of further harm in any way, forgiving another does not mean that you have to return to the scene of the crime. The Lord requires you to forgive but He does not require that you continue to be subject to the misuse of someone else’s agency. You must still be wise and care for the life of your soul. 21 In Latter-day Saint doctrine, that soul is the body and the spirit and both must be cared for. 22 But the peace that comes through forgiveness is sweet, even if other adjustments must be made.
Isaiah testified that the Savior would “preach good tidings unto the meek… to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound… to comfort all that mourn… (and) to give unto (them that mourn in Zion) beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness…”23 When we forgive another, Jesus Christ opens the prison door and liberates the prisoner and when that happens, to our surprise, we will realize that the prisoner was us. When we can find gratitude in our hearts for the Savior’s mercy in our lives, that becomes enough. Simply said, when we recognize that we have been given much, we too must then give. That goes for our glowing fire, our loaf of bread, our roof’s safe shelter and the gift of forgiveness. 24
Gift #3 - The Gift of Forgiving Ourselves
Perhaps of the three gifts being discussed today, the one we seem to have the most difficulty with is the gift of forgiving ourselves. Too many of us, too much of the time are too hard on ourselves. We think that our sins and mistakes, even ones we’ve repented of, have left a stain on our character that we’ll never be able to wash clean. Feeling thus unworthy, we either distance ourselves from God to dull the pain, we create our own set of beliefs that make that sin acceptable, or we carry the heavy weight of that sin much longer than the Lord ever intended. Yes, we have high standards in the Church. Yes, we are all striving to be like the Savior. And yes, perfection is the goal. But when did we forget that the purpose of our lives here on earth was to learn and to grow, especially from those sins and mistakes. God, in His infinite wisdom, knew from before the creation of any worlds, that we would need help. A Savior was part of God’s plan before Adam and Eve fell. 25 God knew perfection would not be attained in this life and so His perfect plan for imperfect people provided Jesus Christ to overcome the effects of the fall in our individual lives. 26
During my childhood years, I took piano lessons from a sweet elderly lady name Ms. Logan. The highlight of each week was actually the post-lesson trip to Dairy Queen for a double cheeseburger, fries and a blizzard. Going to piano lessons was a major struggle for me, but the encouragement from my mom and the anticipation of that cheeseburger kept me going. One of the reasons I did not like piano lessons is because I made a lot of mistakes, especially during recitals when the pressure was on. The fingers on my right hand were anxiously engaged but the fingers on my left always had a stupor of thought. That did not make for high quality music. While I have improved over the years, I have learned that beauty can come out of imperfection and that imperfections are acceptable to the Lord, as long as we are striving to improve and desiring to be better. 27 Whether it is making mistakes on a piano or making mistakes in life, neither should lead to anyone giving up. Alma taught that “there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore, this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God.” 28 Nephi taught that our days were prolonged so that we would “repent while in the flesh.” 29
I love that concept that each of us is given a “space,” room to improve, a prolonging of our time so that we would do so. It’s part of the plan! Brad Wilcox taught “As we renew our covenants, we are committing not to be perfect like Christ immediately, but to be willing to be perfected in Christ over time. Time is the medium through which the power of the Atonement is made manifest in our lives.” 30 Now I am not saying that we should use that time to delay or procrastinate the day of our repentance,31 but I am saying - let’s be a little bit easier on ourselves when we fall short and let’s use the space we’ve been given to repent and move forward, to laugh at our mistakes if we can, learn from them, forgive ourselves for them and then “go forward, not backward.” 32 Make whatever changes we need to make but then let’s move on. And if those changes don’t stick, don’t give up. We can pick ourselves back up and we can keep trying. And please don’t ever forget that we are not alone in that “space” provided. The Savior promised to be on our “right hand and on our left” 33 to help us “whithersoever [we] goest.” 34 That includes His presence as we “goest” through the repenting, pivoting, and changing process.
I have learned as a bishop that one of the adversary’s greatest tools is discouragement. He thrives in it. He hates hope because he has none, and he hates us. He will do everything he can to convince us that we are not worthy of a clean slate, that any repenting we have done has been insufficient, and that God will always hold our sins against us. He is the father of lies. 35 Can you imagine if Alma the younger or the Sons of Mosiah, or Paul or Peter felt like they had gone too far and stopped trying? The adversary would keep us hanging back, living in our past. But God motivates us to move forward and gives us the strength to do so. Dear Sisters – A beautifully wrapped, complete gift of forgiveness sits at your door. It is from Jesus Christ to you, to give to yourself. It is from a happy you, a forward-looking you, a forgiven you. I plead with you to take that gift and open it. Forgive yourself today for your past, for your mistakes, for the pain you may have caused another, and do so completely. If you have repented, the Savior remembers it no more, and neither should you. 36
Now, in closing may I share one last very personal experience. I have made many mistakes in my life, both before I joined the Church and since. I have struggled over the years with feelings of guilt and self-doubt, wondering if I truly have been forgiven and then I find myself discouraged and beating myself up over these past mistakes. On one such occasion I was brought to my knees pleading for relief and comfort. As my heart was drawn out to Heavenly Father in prayer, He spoke to my mind in a way that I will never forget. He said simply: “I’ll fix the past, you fix the future.” Tears filled my eyes and the Spirit washed over me. I felt that the Lord was saying to me “Don’t you worry about the past. You have repented. You have changed. You are on my team now and that’s what really matters. I love you. I need you. Don’t look back. You are helpless to change the past, but I am not. I can bring healing and strike what was done from the record. But you must look forward with an eye of faith, with an eye on Me, and live the best you can now and in the future.” I had been presented a beautifully wrapped gift, forgiveness, a complete gift, full of redemption, mercy, understanding, peace, kindness, comfort, a willingness to move on, compassion, and relief. It is a gift I will treasure and use for the rest of my life.
And sisters, that same gift is available to you. Not a year from now, not next week, but today, before you leave this Conference. Please accept it. Please embrace it. I testify of the Savior, Jesus Christ. His atoning sacrifice was the supreme offering which made forgiveness, this complete gift, possible; forgiveness from Him, forgiveness to others, and forgiveness to ourselves. I promise that as we accept and give these gifts, we will find greater joy and a deeper fellowship with the Lord. Life will be sweeter, our peace will be deeper, and our love for the Savior will grow until that final day in which we will kneel before Him with tear-stained eyes and we will thank Him, more than anything for the mercy and forgiveness that He offered to us time and time and time again. That we may look forward to that day with gratitude and forgiveness and hope in our hearts always, is my prayer, in the name of Him who is quick to forgive, even Jesus the Christ, amen.
1. D&C 50:22
2. Dictionary.com, “Forgive”
3. 1 John 1:8
4. Joseph Smith, comp., Lectures on Faith (1985), 42
5. Book of Mormon Student Manual, 2 Nephi 19:6-7
6. Alma 42:25
7. Matthew 19:21
8. Elder Holland, Look to God and Live, General Conference OCT 1993
9. John 3:16-17
10. See D&C 29:5, 32:3; 45:3; 62:1; 110:4
11. Boyd K. Packer, The Brilliant Morning of Forgiveness, General Conference OCT 1995
12. Boyd K. Packer, The Reason for our Hope, General Conference OCT 2014
13. Matthew 5:44
14. D&C 64:10
15. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Grateful in Any Circumstances, General Conference APR 2014
16. Matthew 18:21
17. Matthew 18:23-35
18. Romans 6:23
19. Hosea 13:14, Matthew 20:28
20. Boyd K. Packer, The Reason for our Hope, General Conference OCT 2014
21. D&C 104:37
22. D&C 88:15
23. Isaiah 61:1-3
24. LDS Hymn #219, “Because I Have Been Given Much”
25. Abraham 3:27
26. See Jeffrey R. Holland, Be Ye Therefore Perfect, Eventually, General Conference OCT 2017
27. See Brad Wilcox, His Grace is Sufficient, BYU Devotional, 07/12/2011)
28. Alma 12:24
29. 2 Nephi 2:21
30. Brad Wilcox, The Law of the Gospel, BYUI Education Week, 07/31/2015
31. Alma 13:27
32. D&C 128:22
33. D&C 84:88
34. Joshua 1:9
35. John 8:44
36. D&C 58:42