Many times in life we are given difficult circumstances to deal with. We often do not expect the hard things that we are faced up against. We find ourselves dealing with problems or situations that we never thought we would have to deal with.
How we react to these things says much about who we are. Do we turn to curse God and hold grudges and fill ourselves with bitterness or do we turn to the scriptures and fall to our knees pleading for help?
I understand that it is a very natural thing for humans to experience anger, bitterness, or hatred. I also know that when we decide to let go of these feelings that are characteristic of Satan, not of Christ, we become happier. We feel lighter and more able to live our lives.
It is through the Savior’s atonement that we are able to truly let go of these feelings. He transforms us into better people. He is our redeemer. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He is ever ready to help us.
“It happened on the tenth of February, 1918, high in the fastnesses of the Galiuro Mountains in southern Arizona. It was a cold, grey dawn, sky overcast, snow gently falling, when Father was shot down from behind. Two other law officers also lost their lives in the withering blast that emitted forth from the little log-cabin fortress in which the draft evaders had taken refuge.
After a cautious ten or fifteen minutes waiting, they came outside to view the remains of their grisly work. Having satisfied themselves that they had killed the entire party, they bore their father, who had received a mortal wound, into a nearby tunnel, covered him with an old blanket, sent word to a nearby rancher to look after him, saddled their horses and headed south. Destination–Old Mexico!
There followed one of the greatest man-hunts in the southwest history. The draft evaders were finally run down and caught near the Mexican border. They were tried and found guilty of murder, for which they received sentences of life imprisonment.
As a young boy in my early teens, there grew in my heart a bitterness and a hatred toward the confessed slayer of my Father, for Tom Powers had admitted killing my Dad.
The years swept by, I grew up, but still that heavy feeling stayed inside me. high school ended, and then I received a call to go to the Eastern States Mission. There my knowledge and testimony of the gospel grew rapidly, as all of my time was spent studying and preaching it. One day while reading the New Testament, I came to Matthew, fifth chapter, verses 43 to 45, wherein Jesus said:
‘Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…’
Here it was, the words of the Savior saying we should forgive. This applied to me. I read those verses again and again and it still meant forgiveness. not very long after this, I found in the 64th section of the Doctrine and Covenants, verses 9 and 10, more of the Savior’s words:
‘Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin. I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.’
And then there were these timely words of President John Taylor:
‘Forgiveness is in advance of Justice where repentance is concerned.’
I didn’t know whether or not Tom Powers had repented but I did know that I had an appointment to make after I returned home, and I resolved before I left the mission field to do just that.
After returning home, I met and married a fine Latter-day Saint girl, and the Lord blessed our home with five lovely children. The years were passing rapidly and the Lord had been good to us, yet guilt arose within me every time I thought of the appointment I had not kept.
A few years ago, just shortly before Christmas, a season when the love of Christ abounds and the spirit of giving and forgiving gets inside of us, my wife and I were in Phoenix on a short trip. Having concluded our business in the middle of the second afternoon, we started home. As we rode along, I expressed the desire to detour and return home via Florence, for that is where the state prison is located. My wife readily assented.
It was after visiting hours when we arrived but I went on inside and asked for the warden. I was directed to his office.
After I had introduced myself and expressed a desire to meet and talk with Tom Powers, a puzzled expression came over the warden’s face, but after only a slight hesitation, he said, ‘I’m sure that can be arranged.’ Whereupon he dispatched a guard down into the compound who soon returned with Tom. We were introduced, and led into the parole room where we had a long talk. We went back to that cold, gray February morning thirty years before, re-enacting that whole terrible tragedy. We talked for perhaps an hour and a half. Finally, I said, ‘Tom, you made a mistake for which you owe a debt to society for which I feel you must continue to pay, just the same as I must continue to pay the price for having been reared without a father.’
Then I stood and extended my hand. He stood and took it. I continued, ‘With all my heart, I forgive you for this awful thing that has come into our lives.’
He bowed his head and I left him there. I don’t know how he felt then, and I don’t know how he feels now, but my witness to you is that it is a glorious thing when bitterness and hatred go out of your heart and forgiveness comes in.
I thanked the warden for his kindness, and as I walked out the door and down that long flight of steps I knew that forgiveness was better than revenge, for I had experienced it.
As we drove toward home in the gathering twilight, a sweet and peaceful calm came over me. Out of pure gratitude I placed my arm around my wife, who understood, for I know that we had now found a broader, richer and more abundant life.