A Certain Englishman's Thoughts on Forgiveness

On a certain Englishman's 50th birthday he spoke in church.  He was asked to share his thoughts on how we can know if we've been forgiven.  

Note: He spoke to a congregation that our family has been a member of for years, but as many new members have moved into the congregation while he was away on other assignments and in New York City, he reintroduced our family.   

How do I know when I’ve been forgiven?

Heather and I have been married for almost 26 years and have 5 kids. When we moved here 12 years ago we had all of our kids under foot and Johnny, our youngest was only 6 years old. He’s now about to turn 18 and graduate from High School next month. Everyone has grown up and is doing their own thing. It’s amazing how much has changed in our home in such a short amount of time…but we’re certainly not grieving that they’re off doing their own thing, or wondering where the time went. In fact, we are excited about being empty nesters and will be celebrating that this is the last time our wedding anniversary will be interrupted by some sort of school graduation or event. We’ll celebrate by dropping Johnny off at the airport and sending him to Alaska less than 24 hours after graduating. Then we’re headed out on a well-deserved anniversary celebration/vacation only 90 minutes after dropping him off at the airport.

As I said before, we moved into this ward 12 years ago. For 7 of the last 12 I’ve been missing from the Ward, either due to my Stake calling, or as many of you know, we just moved back from living in NYC for 18 months. As Heathers tells it, it almost seemed like we served an 18 month mission. We loved living and serving in NYC. We had lots of opportunities and ways to serve both in and outside of our ward. Speaking of our Ward, there were roughly 750 members on our records, made up of members from many nations around the world - plus many visitors every week. Our ward boundaries were huge, covering the lower part of the island of Manhattan – Times Square @ 42nd street south to Wall Street and the tip of the island. While there, we experienced 3 bishoprics and all kinds of other changes within those short 18 months. Again, we loved it and it has changed our lives, and I think our kids lives, for the better.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about NYC is that it was, and is, a place of transformation. I saw many people transformed as the gospel of Jesus Christ took a more active part in their lives. We saw many people be baptized and become members of the church. We also helped several members prepare for and attend the Temple for the first time. In fact, Heather and I were able to attend the baptism of a wonderful young woman just two weeks ago.

Now, there are also a lot of things to not like about NYC. Sin is rampant, and some sins are frequently on much greater display which can be difficult. The reality that I’ve found though, is that sin is just as rampant there as it is anywhere in the world…it’s just that some kinds of sins are not on display as much as in other areas. Let’s face reality, there isn’t a single one of us here who is perfect and without sin, so again, my point is because we are all sinners, sin is just as rampant here as anywhere. And because we are all sinners, we need repentance and forgiveness in our lives.

As a result, Bishop asked us to talk about these topics, particularly forgiveness and how to know if we’ve been forgiven.

The first, and almost instantaneous thought I had was this…can you feel the spirit? That is a surefire way to know if you’ve been forgiven.

Elder Tad R. Callister stated the concept even better than I thought it. He said: “If you feel the Spirit—when you pray, read the scriptures, teach, testify, or at any other time—then that is your witness that you have been forgiven or, alternatively, that the cleansing process is taking place, for the Spirit cannot dwell in an unholy tabernacle” (see Alma 7:21). In most cases the cleansing process takes time because our change of heart takes time, but in the interim, we can proceed with the confidence that God approves of our progress as manifested by the presence of His Spirit.” (New Era, August 2012, How Do I Know When I Am Forgiven?)

Assuming we have truly repented, to me, knowing if we’re forgiven is closely related to feeling and recognizing the Spirit. I honestly feel that all too frequently we (myself included) have truly been forgiven and felt the Spirit in our lives, but that we have discounted the Spirit and those feelings, or even worse, we’ve discarded it. Instead we have listened to the voices in our mind that shout words of discouragement and despair, such as:
“you’re no good”, “you can’t be forgiven”, “why waste your time trying to repent…”.

I’ve heard those lies about myself, and I’ve heard those lies from several others. Again, those thoughts of discouragement and despair are lies. Fortunately, we can take courage knowing that our elder brother and Savior Jesus Christ does not talk that way. He looks to the future, with love and encouragement to help us know what and who we can be. Rather than trying to cut down and hold us back, he seeks to build and lift us up.

Imagine in your mind a young child, about 1 years old, who is just learning to walk. What do you see as this child is learning to walk? Parents, Grand Parents, siblings, friends and others are all surrounding this child as it rises and fall, stumbles, trips and falls again, and again and again.


How do those surrounding the child act and react?

Are they making comments like:
Ah, give up kid and just keep crawling;
Oh, what a loser;
What makes you think you are deserving to walk, huh?
Hey, look at Scooter over there…he’s been walking for 6 months now…you’ll never be as good as him – give up now.
You’re not worthy to walk!
Oh, you just fell…I can’t love you.

No, that would be ridiculous. The reality is that sometimes there is laughter, and sometimes there is wincing with a statement of “oooh, that’s going to leave a mark,”, but hands down, the majority of the time the reaction is full of kind, loving words and patient actions (such as hand holding and hugs) that encourage and support the child’s progress. We want that child to feel loved and encouraged; to know they can overcome their challenges and that their future is bright. We are their cheerleaders, encouraging them with every wobble and fall.

As you probably guessed, the child learning to walk can very easily be each one of us with Heavenly Father and our brother Jesus Christ there loving and encouraging us forward and onto success. Whether you knew it or not, we all have a life of trying to learn to walk that is full of ups and downs. So, what are some of the kind, encouraging, words and actions that come from our Father in Heaven, and Jesus Christ give us? Well, first of all, they have given us the Gift of the Holy Ghost to help communicate those words and feelings of encouragement.

If we are willing to get out of our own way and cast out the doubtful words and thoughts, thru the Holy Ghost we can feel the loving encouragement coming from our cheerleaders. We can feel the love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance (Gal. 5:22-23) that accompany us on our lifelong journey of repentance and forgiveness.

Then as we, who are young, wobbly and weak kneed children of a loving God and Savior, tune into their encouragement, and accept not only their encouragement, but their love and forgiveness, then we will learn to walk. And better yet, as Isaiah describes in 40:31 “… they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

If you liked this article, you might also like: 

Becoming Broken

Keep the Commandments: It's Not As Hard As You Might Think

The Repentance Paradox: A Tale of Two Teacups


Holly A said…
Great post, thankyou