Like Sands Restored, So Innocence…
When I was a teenager my parents planned a tropical family vacation for which we were all very excited. Warm clear waters and pristine sandy beaches were the goal and hope of our summer. Unfortunately, there was a powerful typhoon just a week before our trip that blew down trees, washed away fine sand, and left the island’s surrounding waters murky and uninviting. We made the best of our vacation in the tropics with warm sun, hotel swimming pools, hiking, golf, entertainment and good food, nevertheless, surfing aspirations were beached, swimming in the sea prohibited, and even those longed-for barefoot walks on sandy beaches were made impossible with little to no sand, only dangerously exposed rocks and debris upon which to trod. The fine sand that once brought everything together in delight was washed away, leaving a barren and uninviting shore.
Forgiving someone who trespasses against us is a tough thing. We all know this from personal and many a painful experience. While we would all like to believe that personal injury inflicted upon us by others is an unnecessary evil that can be avoided, it happens to us all more frequently than we prefer, and at times too severely for us to handle alone, like a raging storm disrupting the balance of everything in its path. We thank God and the atoning sacrifice of our Lord for the healing power of forgiveness that we might overcome and survive deep wounds to our hearts and spirits.
As children we are born innocent to this world with no ability to sin and sweet loving natures that make it impossible for us to offend and easy for us to forgive. Eight years old is largely considered as an age of accountability, but innocence and pure goodness can stay with us much longer if circumstances and human kindness will allow. We hope and pray that childlike love and decency will prevail over worldly behaviors as long as humanly possible.
I was such a child. Of course, like any little boy I got into mischief. Not knowing or comprehending all the rules of sharing and compassion I did not always make life easy for those around me, but innocence was beyond question, as it is with all little children.
Setting a little child before them, the Lord Jesus declared to His disciples, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me” (Matthew 18:3-5).
Yes, as in all the little children I have ever known, I was sweet, loving and innocent by nature. It was easy for me to love and to forgive. How can one not be forgiving when he cannot even comprehend why someone would purposefully cause injury? Those days were simple and sweet. Nevertheless, with the passage of time and the onset of personal responsibility that comes with age and experience, some of that innocence and kindness, began to drift away as sand being pulled from the beach into deeper waters, not all at once, but ever eroding.
Then, a big storm came, one that would strip the beach of my heart of its sandy abundance and leave a harsher world of jagged rock. It came all at once, caught me off guard, and left me with deep emotional wounds and distrust of my fellow beings. Oh, the pain of that innocence lost that left me in a dark and barren place.
When I was twelve years old I was the victim of a terrible act of betrayal and abuse, and it changed me. I would say it altered my vision of the world and humanity fundamentally. I learned to hate and to be unforgiving. It was life altering for me in the opposite direction from where I should have been going.
I did not turn to evil in the sense that I became mean and spiteful, although I had my moments. For the most part I became a defender of those who could not defend themselves, and I was quite good at it. For me it was a matter of self-survival, and for others in need of defense, heroism. I was never going to let something like that happen again to me or to anyone else. I came to enjoy fighting and to look for opportunities to do so, but at least I spent my time fighting those whom I perceived as bad and deserving of a punch in the nose. It was easy for me to justify my actions. Sadly, justification is not true justice.
The true evil I turned to in the fundamental change of my human view manifested itself in hate for those who had wronged me and my friends, and a strict unwillingness to forgive. By the time I was 16 years old, I had participated in more fights than I can count, and had forgiven less than the fingers on one fist. I was hard as flint and showed little sign or hope for positive change, a return to the sweet child I once was, the innocent the Savior once held on His knee.
Wanting better for myself, by the middle of my 17th year, I decided to receive a special blessing from a man known in my faith as a patriarch. Such a blessing provides revelation and guidance in our lives, and is recorded and held sacred. In my patriarchal blessing it was profoundly pronounced upon me that I would be humble and find it easy to forgive those who trespassed against me.
I have to admit, I lacked faith in the moment I heard those words. While I respected the whole of this revelatory blessing, knowing myself and my diminished personality, I believed those words spoken of my ability to forgive to be nearer fantasy than reality. Although I was not a young man who actively sought out opportunity to sin, those were indeed years of darkness for me. The fine sand that made the beach of my soul a pleasant place in which to abide had washed away and only seemed to exist in the creases and cracks of the rocks, providing limited comfort to the tender touch of spiritual feet.
Time passed, as it does, and so did hard feelings soften. As I drew closer to the Savior in study and prayer, the healing power of that atoning act worked on my heart. It did not happen all at once. Honestly, I did not see it coming. Little by little good choices made and opportunities taken amounted to better results. A restoration of my innocence occurred that I can only describe as miraculous.
It happened. The words of my blessing were fulfilled. Light pierced the darkness revealing the better way to my eyes. It did not come all at once. It happened over time, but it did indeed happened. The chains of hatred and unforgiveness that held me bound fell from my ankles, wrists and neck, and gave way to love and compassion, a hopeful desire that we all may freely forgive and be forgiven.
And the chains keep falling as I am refined still by trespasses and exercising forgiveness, the fundamental change ever healing, that one day I may warrant by grace the very forgiveness I seek at the bar of God, my beloved Savior at my side.
While I seek to no more carry a sword, or to use my fists as I once did, but to live as a dove of peace, it is important that we not welcome victimization as a replacement for revenge. Elder David E. Sorensen taught, “Although we must forgive a neighbor who injures us, we should still work constructively to prevent that injury from being repeated. … Forgiveness does not require us to accept or tolerate evil. … But as we fight against sin, we must not allow hatred or anger to control our thoughts or actions” (General Conference, April 2003).
Yes, to Peter the Lord taught that we must forgive “Until seventy times seven” (Matthew 18:22), but he did not command that we trust where trust is not due, or live as victims of unscrupulous purveyors of injury or abuse. As President Russell M. Nelson recently stated in an Easter message, “Forgiving others does not mean condoning sinful or criminal behavior. And it certainly does not mean staying in abusive situations. But, when we choose to forgive others, we allow the Lord to remove the poison from our souls. We permit him to soothe and soften our hearts, so we can see others, especially those who have wronged us, as children of God and as our brothers and sisters.”
Forgiveness is not allowing bullies to walk upon us or others. We need to defend ourselves and others who need defense from the wicked. Sometimes the only defense we have against evil though is to forgive wrong doing while helping those who have fallen victim in our paths. Are we more like the pious scribe or Levite who in parable walked by the victim at the side of the road, not making the needs of the helpless their own, or are we more like the Samaritan, who could not pass by without reaching out the hand of fellowship to one so desperate? The Samaritan did not concern himself with the race or creed of the one who had fallen, or with personal peril, inconvenience or cost of helping. His immediate concern was not looking for a guilty party to blame or punish. He simply reached out a kind and forgiving hand to one in need.
Accidental and intentionally orchestrated personal injury and abuse are still inflicted on the innocent every day. The giant hope shattering experience of my youth was not the last time I would have to struggle to forgive purposeful attacks on myself and those I love. Those things continue still. There are people in our lives who injure over and over again, the “seventy times seven.” Nevertheless, I have learned by the Spirit and through painful experience to forgive with or without the repentance or apologies of offenders. I steer clear of those who abuse, but I forgive them nonetheless, and that forgiveness blesses and heals my heart as only the Savior can heal.
One day, years after first hearing those words that I would find it easy to forgive those who trespass against me, I found my heart healed, hate no longer in me, and the fine and pleasing sands of the beach of my soul to be fully restored and inviting of tender touch and faithful hope.
That island beach recovered from the terrible storm and I have been blessed to walk barefoot on that shore since. It took time, gentle wave after wave returning the sands from the deep, but return they did, healing the beach, as healing hearts and hope. Like sands restored, so innocence lost is recovered. Let us see beyond fear, hate, anger, envy and all other vices that would hold us bound in unforgiving chains of darkness, and share the light of the love of He who stands desiring to forgive us all. May we stand with Him having forgiven, and receive forgiveness. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.