Many years ago when I first started to attend Relief Society, I remember hearing the story of an Aushwitz survivor, Victor Frankl, who had been able to forgive his captors while he was their prisoner. It wasn't an act he somehow managed to do several years after the event. He made a conscious decision to retain his humanity. When I heard about him, I was in awe. "How could anyone be that forgiving?" I wondered. Yet it was his ability to forgive that enabled him to survive.
I am by no means the survivor of a holocaust, but I have had moments where I have had to choose two responses: forgiveness or revenge. The first choice requires humility and the ability to let go. The second choice is full of pride and anger. It isn't easy to let go of pride to embrace forgiveness, yet it is only in this small and simple act that we can find peace.
When I submitted the manuscript to Tangled Hearts to Granite, the editor recommended I shorten the afterword, which I did. It was written in response to one of my readers after she questioned how Brooke’s temple work would be done. As I pondered about how to write the scene, I realized how difficult the request would be for Lisa. Following is Lisa’s struggle to overcome her anger in order to perform the loving act of a proxy endowment:
When Alec asked me to act as proxy for Brooke, I was absolutely stunned. I couldn’t talk for a moment, and Alec thought his phone had dropped the call. I hesitantly agreed to take her name through, but when he hung up the phone, I couldn’t stop the tears that coursed down my face. How could I take Brooke’s name through the temple when I detested her?I put my head in my hands and sobbed. John Sr. tried to comfort me, but the comfort I needed couldn’t come from him.
I had been preparing my homecoming talk for the following Sunday, so I pulled the materials out that I’d been planning to use. Maybe I would be able to find something to help with the raging emotions.
I had never felt so keenly the need for the power of the Atonement in my life. How could I forgive the apostasy of my daughter in law? She had been raised in the church and had rejected everything she’d ever been taught. Her complete rejection of her faith directly impacted the happiness of my precious son. How could I forgive her? And could I properly act as proxy for someone I detested with every fiber of my being?
I looked at the clock. I had a couple of hours before we needed to leave. Some of that time I would need to dress, of course, but the rest of the time I would need to come to terms with what Alec had requested. How could he do this to me? Surely he would have some understanding as to the trial he was subjecting me to by asking me to do her work.
I carried the scriptures and the hymnal with me as I settled into one of the spare bedrooms. I needed some alone time, and I knew John Sr. wouldn’t disturb me if I shut the door. He knew me well enough to know this request of Alec’s was an extreme trial. I’d never been asked to do anything so monumentally difficult. Could I do it?
I dropped to my knees in fervent prayer, asking the Lord’s help in overcoming my intense hatred for Brooke.
When I arose and sat on the loveseat next to the window, I opened the scriptures to Alma 33:19-22.
As I pondered on these words, the familiar melody of hymn 221, Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd filled my mind. I opened the hymnal and reflected on the familiar words.
As I finished reading the hymn, I let the book drop softly into my lap and stared at the wall. I had always considered the hymn a missionary call to convert those not of our faith, but I suddenly saw this song was about reclaiming those who had once been a member of our flock. Wasn’t Brooke a lost sheep who had strayed? Hadn’t I accepted the call of the Master to be his true undershepherd? Who was I to decide which sheep I should save?
As I sat pondering, I reflected again on the words from Alma. Was I refusing to look at the serpent and live? What did the type Moses raised in the wilderness for the afflicted Israelites mean? Was accepting the Atonement of Christ really as easy as looking at a staff with a snake on it? Had I ever really applied the Atonement in my life?
I had sung Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd many times in my life. It took on new meaning with the trial of forgiving Brooke. Could I look at Christ and live? What did it mean?
I turned once again to the hymnal. This time I opened it to one of my favorite sacramental hymns. Number 172, In Humility, Our Savior. I read it with new eyes.
How could forgiving be sweet? I was feeling bitter. I couldn’t see how I could find happiness in forgiving Brooke.
I remembered a previous Sunday School lesson from Doctrine and Covenants 64. At the time, I confess I had been thinking about something else. I hadn’t really been paying much attention. Now I was keenly feeling a need to review verse 9.
I pondered a moment. How could I be guilty of a greater sin than apostasy? And yet the scriptures were clear. I would stand condemned before the Lord if I didn’t forgive my daughter-in-law. I continued to verse 10.
I had read and studied the Atonement my entire life. I had even served a mission in Africa teaching the people there about the Atonement of Christ and how it enabled us to repent. I hadn’t considered then what the Atonement meant for forgiving. If I didn’t forgive Brooke, wouldn’t I be guilty of rejecting the Atonement? There was nothing anyone could do, ever, that Christ himself hadn’t already paid for. My refusal to forgive Brooke was refusing to look to Christ and live. He had already paid the price for her sin.
It was my pride that was preventing me from forgiving her. It was my pride that was making the forgiveness bitter. Surely forgiveness should be sweet. Didn’t the hymn say “in humility?” That was the key.
I knelt beside the bed and asked the Lord to forgive me for my pride and to help me overcome my weakness and forgive Brooke. As I stood up, an image flashed across my mind. It was an image of a mother and a newborn baby. I realized it was Serra’s mother holding Brooke shortly after her birth. I could feel the joy she felt as she tenderly stared down at the infant. Suddenly, I saw Brooke, not as the bitter woman who had caused so much sorrow, but as a beloved daughter of our Heavenly Parents. Seeing her in this light, my feelings for her changed. I rejoiced as I knew I could share a part in bringing this beloved daughter “back to the fold.”
My joy today is truly full. I have shared in sealing my family, and after a lifetime of study, I finally accepted the Atonement of Christ in my life. Is there any joy greater than that?