Forgiveness + Tribulation
I gave this talk on forgiveness in my ward September 15, 2019.
Three and a half weeks ago, my wife and I landed in the Paris airport, ready to begin a two-week second honeymoon and celebration of my progress in triathlon — the chance to race at the ITU Age Group World Championships.
I qualified to participate during races last year (oly, sprint), and we got married in June of this year. So as we brought our carry-ons down from the overhead bins and shuffled off the plane, we were well familiar with our feelings of anticipation and nerves of excitement to embark on a journey one year in the making.
After passing customs, navigating French directional signage for traces of English and snacking on chocolate croissants, we boarded a train, hoisted our things up on a luggage rack and collapsed, again, into our seats for a 4-hour ride. 30 minutes in, I got up to walk around. I crossed into the car behind us and, upon returning, passed the luggage rack to look down and find the lower slot empty.
Our bags were gone.
From just those few words, you might have felt, right there in your seat, that gut sinking, stomach-in-a-knot-tying sense of dread — the feeling of being violated, of the world not going the way you think it should, and grand plans running awry.
Perhaps you recalled a time something someone said or did broke your sense of reality, when your trust corrupted, or when unexpected circumstances shattered your sense of the way the world and people are.
We are all familiar with tribulation.
I am going to talk about forgiveness.
We all face tribulation. By tribulation, I mean events that bring about trouble, suffering and sorrow.
We experience tribulation …
. . . from our own weakness
Our own humanity guarantees mistakes.
. . . from our own intention
Yes, on occasion we know better. We rebel.
The line between good and evil cuts through the center of every human heart.AS, emphasis added
And sometimes, we act in evil.
. . . from others’ weakness
We are surrounded by humans, like us, blumbering along, dropping balls, communicating poorly, forgetting, assuming incorrectly even with good intent, innocently insensitive and so on.
. . . from others’ intention and malevolence
Yes, on occasion we brush up against crime, the intent to harm and destroy and rob another of his or her agency.
In all 4 situations, millstones temporal and spiritual end up around our necks.
[B]ut we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope.Romans 5:3-4, emphasis added
And whether we be afflicted [no matter the source or type of our afflictions], it is for our consolation and salvation.2 Corinthians 1:6, emphasis added
Among patience, experience, hope and the many attributes we can develop in tribulation, practicing forgiveness is one that is always available.
A heading from a Come Follow Me lesson reads:
As I am forgiven of my sins, my love for the Savior deepens.March 11-17
Further, I believe our love for each other and God and the Savior also deepens as we forgive — whether for sin or weakness — ourselves and others.
DISBELIEF / REJECTION
When I first looked down at the empty luggage rack, my initial reaction was disbelief. As my gut sank, I rejected the possibility of theft. “THIS THEFT CAN’T BE TRUE.” I first accused myself of mistake and error: “Am I really looking at the spot where I put them?”
I looked up. Yes, Emma was just seats away.
My gut again said they were stolen, and I held off, granting general humanity the benefit of the doubt as I wondered, “Perhaps someone had good reason to move them?”
Forgiveness in this moment
There was forgiveness for myself: I forgave myself for the natural, hasty accusation that I was in error.
RECOGNITION / ACCEPTANCE
When I determined our bags were nowhere in the car, I shut off my disbelief, my willingness to be generous and my willingness to believe in the goodness of others. I began to accept the reality of theft. After leaving the first station, we had stopped at two others.
“NO, THE TRUTH IS WE REALLY HAVE BEEN ROBBED, AND OUR THINGS ARE GONE, NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN.”
Forgiveness in this moment
There was forgiveness for myself: I forgave myself for the harsh abandoning of granting others the benefit of the doubt, and for saying things like, “I’ll never let our luggage out of our sight again,” a statement which implies the accusation that no one, in any circumstance, can be trusted.
REACTION / RESISTANCE
But I didn’t want the theft, or the consequence of it, to be true.
In a moment, the meaning of the theft transmuted from “a few material things are no longer in our possession,” to
- “this entire trip is a bust!”
- “Emma will never travel with me again!”
- “I am a failure of a man, not doing my duty to watch and protect my family and our things!”
In the swell, I resisted the reality and rejected my emotions of sadness and hurt.
Rather than letting my emotions come over me, I fought — “I don’t want this to be true” — by seeking for things I could control in vain attempts to force time backward and reality to undo itself.
“I will contact the conductor. I will get him to undo the situation, notify the police, review the security footage, apprehend the thieves, restore our belongings to us, and make all well in the world again.”
We did that, and I even paced up and down every level of every car of that train, saying to myself, “By checking every nook and cranny I might magically rewind time, undo what has happened and bring the suitcases back.”
My sadness, unacknowledged, gave way to anger, badgering the conductor to do more, and saying under my breath, “Just wait’ll I find those thieves and see what I do to them…”
Were I sharper, I might have metabolized my own anxiety rather than pushing it out on others.
Upon visiting every car and exhausting the conductor, I came to that place where Father Adam and Mother Eve arrived some time after The Fall: the realization that there is no going back to the Garden of Eden.
Emma and I experienced, as we all do, another Fall in mortality. And there was no going back to the way life was before.
Forgiveness in this moment
There was forgiveness for life generally: I forgave, generally, that it happened — to forgive the world, knowing the conditions of mortality.
There was forgiveness for myself: I forgave myself for my own proclivity to catastrophize situations — to shout “woe is me, all is lost!” in a selfish show to win sympathy and attention from others.
I forgave myself for responding to feeling robbed with attempts to rob others of their agency.
I forgave myself for entertaining, even if briefly, the thought that it was Emma’s fault because she was facing the rack.
I forgave myself for being less than gracious with the conductor.
There was forgiveness for the conductor: I forgave the conductor for being a man of limited means and doing his best, which was far short of stopping the train and turning back, or calling in French special ops to drop their present tasks, review security footage at the 2 stations we stopped at and put all resources into tracking down and apprehending the thieves.
There was forgiveness for the police: I forgave the police for doing what seemed to be so little — asking the station Lost and Found departments if they had received anything and inviting us to file a report.
There was forgiveness for the thieves: I forgave the thieves for the feeling of being violated.
REACHING OUT / CALL FOR HELP
I came to myself as I realized we weren’t in this alone and that there were more ways forward than the singular solution I had at first: rewind time and undo the theft.
I sat down across from Emma and we looked at each other, aware of our shared sadness. We expressed gratitude for having each other, and offered each other assurance that all was not lost, that we’d have a good trip, and everything would be OK.
I emailed the Team USA managers to ask about getting a replacement racing jersey. Just in case, I contacted a friend here who had the jersey in my size, and asked him to give it to another friend who was traveling to the event later.
Emma contacted a neighbor to ask her to fetch a new pair of my contacts from our home and rendezvous with my friend before he traveled.
Emma made conversation with the people sitting around us, and the man behind us asked a friend of his, who was into triathlon, to recommend a store where I could buy the proper shoes and pedals for my bike, since mine had been in my suitcase.
WE COULDN’T UNDO THE TRUTH OF THE THEFT, BUT WE COULD ASK OTHERS FOR HELP TO LIVE IN OUR NEW REALITY.
REPAIRS + RESTORATION
Once we arrived at our destination, we spent the next 36 hours receiving help and going to work to restore what was lost.
We visited the bike store.
We got new clothes.
We got toothbrushes and toothpaste, and essential things to live comfortably for the next two weeks.
WE RECEIVED HELP AND TOOK NEW ACTIONS ALLOWING US TO LIVE WELL IN OUR NEW REALITY.
Forgiveness in this moment
There was forgiveness for my uncle: I forgave, even here, my uncle, our host, for not knowing exactly where to take us to get what we needed to replace what we lost.
There was forgiveness for the store owners and the small town: I forgave them all for having what they had — and not everything we hoped they would.
There was forgiveness for the thieves: I forgave the thieves again, now for us taking time to do all of this, instead of our original plans.
RECONCILIATION / PEACE
It is easy to replace a shirt, or pants, or a toothbrush.
It’s harder to replace unique, sentimental and one-of-a-kind items.
Around my birthday in March, Emma remembered that during a previous trip, I threw out a suitcase that had come to the end of its days, and she presented me with a wonderful new suitcase. With our Europe trip months away, the gift was as much a gesture of restoration as a statement of promised companionship in the months to come.
I gave the suitcase a dry run during business travel that spring. Finding myself pleased with Emma’s selection, and also wanting to say, “I’m looking forward to an adventure with you,” I got Emma a matching suitcase. Having matching suitcases for our European adventure was part of the thrill of going.
The suitcases being gone, and everything within, seemed to tarnish the memory and the sentiment. And it seemed buying new suitcases simply wouldn’t polish that out.
One is not only to endure, but to endure well and gracefully those things which the Lord ‘seeth fit to inflict upon [us].’NAM, Patience, emphasis added
Beneath any temporal restoration lays a sense of spiritual and emotional loss — where the tribulation actually lives.
Even as Emma and I restored our lives temporally, my soul was troubled:
- Why did this happen?
- I would have put the suitcases in a different spot had I known . . .
- I should have never taken my eye off our bags.
- I could have prevented this fiasco had I . . .
The bottomless pit of worrying “Why me? Why us? Why now?” in search of an explanation where there is none, and the troubling triumvirate of woulda/coulda/shoulda, are certainly predictable, normal, human responses to tribulation. And I don’t blame myself for having had them, and wouldn’t blame you either.
But they are millstones and were around my neck on that train and the days following.
To endlessly ask “Why?” when the Lord has said, “I give you tribulation for your salvation” seems to be an impatient plea to bring about justice on our time table, rather than to shoulder the cross of mortality and continue walking toward Heaven.
My grandfather died in a military plane crash in 1961.
Some time within a year of that event, my aunt was talking with friends about whether God lets things happen, or if things happen and He is surprised. After that conversation, my 12-year-old aunt knelt in her room and prayed and asked God about it.
The Holy Ghost overcame me from head to toe and the answer was: ‘i-t d-o-e-s-n’t m-a-t-t-e-r.’ And that has given me comfort throughout my life. That it’s not given to us to know in this life. And on the other side in the grand scheme of things, we’ll be able to see and understand. But for now it d-o-e-s n-o-t m-a-t-t-e-r.PHH, personal notes Sep 22, 2016
The answer revealed to her reminds me of the oft repeated scriptural phrase: “it mattereth not.”
To beat oneself with woulda/shoulda/coulda, seems to deny ourselves “the grace that, so fully, He proffers me” (Hymns) and to reject the gift of the veil and conditions of mortality, wherein we have space between our choices and the necessary, full, eternal magnitude of their consequences coming down on us, so that we can repent and go at it again without being doomed to live forever in our sins.
In all tribulation, there is the physical-temporal component, and the spiritual-emotional component.
The spiritual component and how we feel about it is more important than the physical because …
Things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.2 Corinthians 4:18, emphasis added
Our visible things will not go with us.
But our unseen hearts and thoughts will.
From President Henry B Eyring:
If we are to have unity, there are commandments we must keep concerning how we feel. We must forgive and bear no malice toward those who offend us. The Savior set the example from the cross: ‘Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do’ (Luke 23:34). We do not know the hearts of those who offend us. Nor do we know all the sources of our own anger and hurt. The Apostle Paul was telling us how to love in a world of imperfect people, including ourselves, when he said, ‘Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil’ (1 Cor. 13:4–5). And then he gave solemn warning against reacting to the fault of others and forgetting our own when he wrote, ‘For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as I am known’ (1 Cor. 13:12).That We May Be One, Apr 1998, emphasis added
I promise to do my best, to be patient with you. To cultivate a forgiving heart. And to seek spiritual gifts in the tribulation we experience, inadvertently and intentionally.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
Books that helped tremendously in my practice of and growing capacity to offer and receive forgiveness:
- Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
- The Drama of the Gifted Child by Alice Miller
- Healing the Shame that Binds You by John Bradshaw
- It Didn’t Start With You by Mark Wolynn
- The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
I listened to all of these on Audible, except Alice Miller’s work which I found on YouTube. It’s now also on Audible.
Try Audible Plus or gift someone a 3-, 6- or 12-month Audible membership.
h/t to Ashley Rasmussen for these suggestions. Her man Danny was featured here earlier.