I think part of the reason I enjoy editing and pursued it for a career is that I have a sensitivity to words and phrases, and they will impact my mind for good or ill.
This is especially true in the church, where certain quotes, scriptures and concepts are oft-repeated, and I may reach my threshold of annoyance with several of them.
One of those phrases is “you have to forgive yourself,” or its variation “the hardest person to forgive is yourself.” I believe I became irritated with it because I didn’t quite understand it.
Fortunately, there’s a positive facet to what so far in this post sounds like a Grinch-like attitude. With understanding comes peace, even and especially if a struggle takes place beforehand.
Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount contains the aphorism, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” My mind goes to many places when I hear the word “mercy.” Whether it’s the scripture that we need the “merits, mercy and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Nephi 2:8) to dwell in the presence of God, or that we will “praise and adore at the mercy seat” (Hymn 193, “I Stand All Amazed”). Mercy is a word that will take up residence in my mind for good, and leave me with a desire to learn more.
Then I came across a general conference talk from five years ago by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, titled, guessing not coincidentally, “The Merciful Obtain Mercy.” You might remember this one for the following moment:
But here’s the part that hit me like a ton of merciful bricks:
“Haven’t we all, at one time or another, meekly approached the mercy seat and pleaded for grace? Haven’t we wished with all the energy of our souls for mercy—to be forgiven for the mistakes we have made and the sins we have committed?”
I have to say I’ve felt that way frequently, but in a way that it’s very easy for my mind to think back to past failures and faux pas — no matter how long ago — and torture and torment myself in an unmerciful way, thinking that those I offended still remember and would not forgive me for those moments.
Then I thought of the phrase “forgive yourself” in terms of “have mercy on yourself,” or rather, think of the times when you yearned and pleaded for mercy, and then grant that mercy to yourself.
Is it possible that Christ is encouraging us to be merciful toward ourselves first? That we “obtain mercy” in greater measure to show toward others when we first recognize that the mercy of Christ is available to us as individuals?
I feel like this has been my experience, to remember my own desire for mercy that in turn fuels the capacity of mercy for fellow children of God. And the Savior’s plea in the Garden of Gethsemane that His Father would take away the bitter cup, no doubt it increased his empathy for all of us, the ones for whom he suffered.
It should be noted that we’re in a time where we are learning of many grievous offenses toward the vulnerable by the powerful, and no one should ever be pushed to forgive or show mercy when they are not ready or when the pain inflicted is too great. And perhaps that’s why we need to take a measure of mercy for ourselves, for those times when the hurt makes every day difficult to live. Christ’s Atonement is available for that, and we thank Him for His mercy.