Every single one of us have said or done something in our lives that we are not proud of, something we would take back if we could.
(This post was hard to write. Yes it's long, and very personal, but the message is close to my heart and too important to share. I hope you bear with me and read on.)
None of us are the same as we were yesterday, five years ago, twenty years ago. Every day we change. Sometimes it is imperceptible, other times the change is drastic. But we all change. That will never change.
When I was in my late teens early twenties in many ways I was different than I am now. I was still fun-loving and outgoing, but different. I made different mistakes. Many of my choices were driven by insecurity, immaturity, and selfishness. Perhaps that is pretty typical of one that age. My intents were good for the most part, but there were times when I said or did things then that I would never do now. There are things I wish I could take back. I wasn't a terrible person, by any means, just different. I've grown a lot. I've repented. I've learned. I've changed.
In my first book, "Does This Insecurity Make Me Look Fat?" I am quite open about some of my struggles of those years and their ramifications. It was a scary book to write. I still have struggles today, which I am equally as open about. That was even scarier to write. But I am able to be honest about all of my struggles due to the very fact that I have changed. I was and am imperfect, but I know Who makes me perfect. I have been forgiven. I have been changed. I know who I am now, and I like me very much.
Most of us want that deep inside: to be forgiven, to be seen for who we really are and who we can become. Heavenly Father is always ready and willing to offer His forgiveness. The Savior, through His Atonement, has already paid the price for our mistakes. They are just waiting for us.
If only we understood what power forgiveness really holds! Their forgiveness frees us, and yet, do we offer our forgiveness so freely to others? Can we see past who they were to who they are today? Do we withhold forgiveness because we don't feel they deserve it? Can we forgive to free ourselves of grudges or pain, even if the other person isn't sorry? Can we let go of our misgivings and allow those that have hurt us to be forgiven, to move on, to learn, and to change?
Sometimes it takes great courage to forgive people, to let people change, to see them for who they are now rather than who they were before. But, we should try. First of all, it's pretty much a commandment (Matthew 18:22) but also because it frees not only them, but it frees us.
Let me share two very different, very personal, examples of what I mean.
A few weeks after my book came out I received a call from an old friend of more than twenty years. We used to be very close, and I felt we still were. She was the kind of friend who, though we spoke every few years, I had felt a sisterhood connection with and a love that time hadn't diminished.
When I saw her name flash on the caller ID I excitedly picked up the phone and greeted her. This was her response: "I am fine thank you. I am reading your book and I am not enjoying it at all." Then she proceeded to tell me I was a terrible person. She said I needed counseling, that I was messed up. She told me that there was no way I could write something like this when after what I had done to her. How could I, in good conscience, write a book about loving God, yourself, and others?
I was dumbfounded. We had emailed back and for just a couple months prior and ne'er a word was said about any issues or events. So, I inquired as to what I could have done to cause her such anger and grief.
There were three things: First, I had said something years ago that wasn't very positive about her to her husband, a then mutual friend, when they had first begun dating. Second, she was upset that she hadn't receive an invitation to my wedding twenty years ago. And third, she was upset that in 2010 she called to tell me she was pregnant. We were about to have family prayer, so I asked if I could call her back and I never did.
Still shocked, I tried to explain myself, firstly, about what I had said years ago. Whether or not it was true, and though my intentions were good at the time I had said it, it was something that should not have been said. I reminded her that this was something we had talked about at length in the past, something I had apologized for twenty years ago, and something she had forgiven me for twenty years ago. Still, I apologized again. I then apologized for her not getting an invitation. My mother had made the list and sent them out. I didn't play a part in that, nor did I pay attention to who was on the list. I simply didn't know she hadn't received one. As for the last one--I didn't ever remember that call. I am sure she did call, I'm sure I was happy for her, I'm sure I told her I'd call her back, and I'm sure I forgot. I'm also sure there was no ill intent.
My explanations and apologies meant nothing. She was still mad, and had her mind set that I was simply a terrible person. She told her I had tried to ruin her marriage by my comment years ago (which was not true). She also told me she was sure I didn't call her back because I was jealous that she was pregnant again, and I couldn't have any children (I'd had a medically-necessary hysterectomy in 2001.). She said I had always been jealous of her, that I wanted to have her life and to be her, and that's why I didn't call. That last one particularly hurt, and proved that she really didn't know me very well now, or twenty years ago.
What she didn't know was that call came during the time we had just adopted our youngest child. The night-time routine then was long and hard. The transition was difficult for our daughter and for me. I spent many nights crying, wondering if I had the strength to be the kind of mother I needed to be to parent this beautiful, broken child. I wasn't jealous of my friend. I would have been happy for her. I was just struggling, exhausted, and focused on my own family at that time.
But she didn't want to hear that. She did want to hear about my twenty year old apology and her then-forgiveness, or that I had no idea she didn't receive an invitation twenty years ago, or that five years ago I was just keeping my head above water as I was trying to know how to parent my little girl. All she could see was who she thought I was in the past, and was convinced I was the same, that I hadn't changed.
I spoke softly and calmly while my heart ached. She said she could never be friends with someone who could have done those things to her. She said I was a terrible person who didn't even know who she was now. I posed the idea that perhaps she didn't know me as well as she though she did now, either. I suggested we start anew, that the 'her-now' and the 'me-now' become friends. I told her that I loved her, and I didn't want to lose the friendship I had always valued. She said, "Your cute words sound nice but they don't mean anything, just like the nice words in your book. No thank you. I don't want a person like you in my life. You're toxic. I am going to finish your book however, even though I am not going to enjoy it." I told her I was sorry that she was not open to our friendship. She said she was even going to unfriend me on Facebook, so I shouldn't be surprised. Then she hung up.
It was a call I had no idea was coming. For years she had harbored these feelings. They had festered, tainting her ability to know me now. She was stuck in the past, and in a reality she had created herself. She was held hostage by her unwillingness to understand, to forgive, and let go. She was unwilling to believe I could change and grow after twenty years, and felt that I was undeserving of forgiveness.
She is wrong.
Still, I was shocked and hurt. No, I was devastated. What brought me more sorrow was the fact that she was in more pain than I. She couldn't leave behind her negative feelings, and they festered until she was filled with bitterness and anger. She was in her own prison, and that made me so sad.
Contrast that with this next experience with two other people in my life, a friend and a roommate.
I had made a mistake once and was confronted by a friend in front of other people about it. Feeling ashamed, insecure, and embarrassed, I denied it. Not only did I lie, but I led her to believe that it wasn't me who had done it, that it might have been my roommate. I know, awful, right? That's exactly how I felt at the time. Insecure and awful. After the conversation nothing was ever said about it again by anyone. It just kind of melted away. We went about our lives and, as what happens to many over time, we fell out of touch.
I know it wasn't the right thing to do. I knew then. Though I never talked about it, it was still there, a heavy spot on my heart. So, years ago I spoke with the person I lied to and sought their forgiveness. They were so good and understanding and kind, They forgave me, understood me, and let it go. I felt so grateful, so good. They told me I need to apologize to my old roommate. I told them I would. Then, as it happens, we lost touch again, and the promise faded into the background of my busy life.
One day, years later, my old roommate popped up in my Facebook news feed when a mutual FB friend commented on a post of hers. Like a rush of heat I remembered my promise. I knew I needed to apologize still, even after all this time. I was surprised and embarrassed I had forgotten the promise, and knew what I had to do. It took a few days to muster up the courage, but late one Sunday afternoon I reached out to her.
I was so nervous. What if she was still upset? What if she hated me? What if she couldn't forgive me?
After our initial long-time-no-talk pleasantries, I dove into my apology. I told her what happened that day, how I apologized to our friend, and how sorry I was that I purposefully redirected possible blame her way so long ago. Then came silence....followed by laughter from her end; not unkind heckles, but a soft chuckle. She was never aware of what I had done. But that wasn't what made her laugh. She laughed because I still cared enough to apologize after all these years. Not that she thought it was funny, but she couldn't believe how sweet it was that I had still cared enough about it, about her, to apologize now.
In a loving tone she forgave me, even though she said there was no need for forgiveness. That was a long time ago. We are both different people now. We had both changed. And nothing else needed to be remembered or spoken of again.
We talked for another hour about our lives now, our families, our accomplishments, our testimonies, and our interests. She told me multiple times how it was such a joyful surprise that we had connected again and I agreed. At the end of the call I expressed my gratitude for her understanding, forgiveness, and love. She laughed again and said, "I don't even know what you're talking about. You are wonderful, Michelle."
Do you see the difference? Both incidents were of friends that I had offended long ago. One wasn't willing to see that I had changed. She was unwilling to forgive and see me for who I am now. She was weighed down by anger and pain.
The other freely offered forgiveness and let go. She rejoiced in the fact that I had changed, that we both had changed, and that brought us closer together again.
One was held hostage. The other offered freedom.
I know, it can be hard to let people change, to forgive. It's hard to acknowledge that someone who hurt you in the past could change and grow. Sometimes it takes a lot of courage to let the past stay in the past, and to live in the now. I know it does.
I had a friend who hurt me a long time ago in a way that could be easily considered unforgivable. I have heard through a mutual friend that he is a loving father and husband now, active in his church, and is happy. He has changed. I could be mad, feel that he doesn't deserve happiness, that he was and always will be a terrible person. But that simply isn't true. I am so glad he has changed. I am grateful he has learned and grown. I am free of ill feelings towards him, and, through the power of my Savior's atonement and a lot of prayer, I see that he is a good man now and I am happy for him. He has changed, but I am free.
When I say we 'let' people change, what I really mean is that we acknowledge they can and have changed; we 'let' ourselves see them as changed. It's hard to do when we want to hold onto our grudges, when the pain they cause runs deep. But, forgiveness isn't ours to keep to ourselves. The moment we ask God for forgiveness we give up the right (if it ever was one) to keep forgiveness to ourselves. When we ask God to help us learn and grow and change, we acknowledge that that is a gift He gives to all His children who sincerely seeks Him.
Every single one of us have said or done something in our lives that we are not proud of, something we would take back if we could. Most of us are trying to become better people each day, to improve, learn, grow--to change. If only we could see each other as we really are now, untainted by our past mistakes, what would we see? Who would we see? How would we feel?
Yes, it's hard to let go of our perception of who people used to be, but when we do we free ourselves, and them, to love who they are now and to keep changing (hopefully) for good. It takes courage in some cases, but it is worth it. I am heartbroken by my good friend that refused to believe I could change. I am filled with relief and joy by my sweet friend who offered forgiveness and love for who I am today.
People change. I have changed. And I will strive to continue to change the rest of my life, for that is why I am here--to become better, to become more like my Savior. I know what it feels like when forgiveness is withheld. I know what it feels like to withhold it. It is painful. I also know what it feels like to be forgiven and to forgive. It is liberating. And that, I think, is something that will never change.
As I was about to publish this post, a thought occurred to me. I've talked about letting others change, accepting who they are now and letting go of the past, but what of ourselves? I'll admit, when I remembered what I had done to my roommate so long ago I felt terrible. How could I have forgotten to reach out and apologize to her? Thoughts began to creep into my mind and the adversary, seeing a crack in my armor, fueled the flames of self-doubt. Questions about my integrity and worthiness whirled in my head, but only for a brief moment. I shared my concern with my good husband, who said, "Michelle, you made a mistake a long time ago. That doesn't mean you were a bad person then, and you are not a bad person now. Go and apologize. Let it out and let it go. Then be the person you know you are now." He was right. For a brief moment I let the past taint my own view of who I am today. Seeking forgiveness and letting go helped me to, once again, accept that I have changed for the better, and fed my desire to continue to do so.
Sometimes it takes even greater courage to see ourselves and others for who we are now, not a collection of mistakes we've all made in the past (because we have all made mistakes). It can be hard to forgive ourselves and others, to love ourselves and others. But, we must try. We need to try so we can be free. Free to love ourselves fully, free to forgive others--free to be all that we can be. Free to change. Free to forgive and be forgiven. Free to be free.