This week I learned a lot about how to forgive. I attended a funeral this which touched my heart so deeply, I feel I should share about the experience. For anyone keeping up on the news there was a murder-suicide in Price, Utah about a week ago. The man (Scott) pulled a gun on his wife (Shaniel) and then shot himself. They had 4 children from ages 7-13. My husband and I were both shocked to hear to news as we know Scott's parents quite well.
The day that it happened I went to bed and could not stop thinking about the children, the parents, the siblings, and everyone close to them. I wondered how I would feel as a mother to get a phone call and find out that my son had taken a life. I wondered how empty and heartbroken the children might be feeling after losing both parents at the same time. I wondered how I would feel if one of my sister's were ever harmed by their husbands. As I thought about various relationships to these individuals, I could not imagine how they were going to cope with something so tragic.
When I visited with Scott's parents I was touched to hear about their experience apologizing and visiting with Shaniel's family. Shaniel's parents let them know right away that they had no ill feelings towards them or their son. They had decided to plan their children's funerals together and they were having a loving and peaceful experience doing so. My heart was touched as I watched the news coverage about how the two families had come together in love. To me, they were teaching the world how to forgive. The eldest daughter (in 7th grade) had asked the community to write positive memories of her parents on a paper heart and tape it to their house as a way to heal and forgive. I was overwhelmed when I drove past their house and saw the physical display of love and healing.
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Days later I attended the funeral and there was such an incredible and powerful feeling in the room. Both families spoke of their love for both the husband and wife and for each other's families. Sisters of both Scott and Shaniel gave beautiful tributes to their lives and pleaded with those in attendance to forgive. They felt very strongly that Shaniel had already forgiven Scott, and that he was very sorry for what had happened. They explained that if you knew Scott, none of what happened made sense. He had been dealing with depression and some serious physical challenges but he loved his wife and children very much.
The most touching part of the funeral for me was when Shaniel's mom got up and spoke. She was not on the program, but she felt very strongly that she should get up and say some words. She explained that there is nothing more heartbreaking than hearing that your daughter has been taken from this life; but that she knew without a doubt that her daughter had already forgiven him. She then said that from the moment she got the phone call about her daughter's murder, she forgave Scott immediately. She talked about this life being too short to harbor negative feelings towards others and pleaded with everyone to forgive him as she had.
The scripture Provers 3:5 was read, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding” and it was explained that if we lean to our “own understanding” and try to figure out the whys and the hows for everything that happened, that it would be a stumbling block to our forgiveness. Both of their families explained that some things that can't be fixed in this life, get fixed in heaven–including people. It is not our job to try and “understand” all the reasons why some people do the things they do; but rather, is is our job to “Give it to God,” lean on him and forgive those around us.
Through this family's example, I learned the following about how to forgive:
- 1. Forgive immediately. This answers the questions of “How to forgive?” in the best way. I feel that if Shaniel's mom had let her mind wander and give in to negative feelings (which would have been very easy to do in her position) that the decision and ability to forgive would have been much more difficult. By deciding right in the moment that she was going to fill her heart with love, she allowed forgiveness to fill her heart. I feel that the longer we carry the burden of harboring ill feelings towards another person, the harder it will be to let go.
- 2. Don't try to understand. Because we will never fully walk in another's shoes, it is impossible to completely know another's story. One of Scott's sisters explained that although her brother did a horrible thing, none of us knew exactly what was going on in that exact moment, and none of us were experiencing the physical challenges that he was. None of us knew what his exact mental state was, and none of us are in position to judge him. I've learned too often in life that people act the way they do for a reason. Sometimes we learn those reasons and it humbles our heart towards them, but more often than not we will never know.
- 3. Pray for Help. As I soaked in the strong feelings that existed during the funeral, and as I listened to the families talk of miracles that had occurred during their week, I knew with certainty that God and angels were lifting them up and helping them through their tragedy. Just because they were able to forgive didn't mean that their hearts weren't breaking. They talked of moments of sadness when it was hard to breathe, and memories that had become hard to carry. But they also knew that God was helping them a day at a time to continue to feel love, strength, and to pull through the hard times. The strength that existed, the forgiveness that was shown, and the love that was felt were all miracles from God.
- 4. Think of that person in a perfected state. Something I love about funerals is the positive focus on a person's life. If you are having a hard time forgiving, think of that person as a child, or as an angel in heaven. Think of that person's funeral and the positive things that might be said. This always helps for me, and sitting at Scott's funeral hearing about his life filled me with nothing but love for him. Sometimes a person acquires negative characteristics or qualities due to their life experiences and may act in a way that is hard to understand. Think of them child-like state, trying to make choices and do their best just like the rest of us.
- 5. Remember that you too frequently require forgiveness from others. We all make mistakes and do things we wish we wouldn't, and we all at times require others to forgive us. Our Savior Jesus Christ is the greatest example of forgiveness and he asks us in return to forgive those around us. There are probably plenty of times that others have wondered why we act the way we do and why we say the things we do. What a wonderful experience it is when someone forgives us without having to know exactly why we act the way we do.
I pray for these families that they will continue to heal, and I thank them for their powerful lesson on how to forgive and love in a powerful way. May God continue to bless them tremendously.
I loved the quote they had on the front of the program: “Heaven's kindness will never depart from you, regardless of what happens…Bad days come to an end, faith always triumphs, and heavenly promises are always kept.” -Jeffrey R. Holland
I also like this forgiveness quote by Robert Muller:
This whole experience reminded me of another story on how to forgive and the power that comes from doing so. You can watch it here:
In what ways do you find the strength or ability to forgive others?