[This will be the topic of the next
WORTH Group Conference Call Q&A
8 May, 2014 1:00pm
text “4worth” to 91011 for details.]
My writing today is prompted by an article from the September 2011 Ensign by Dr. A. Dean Byrd titled “Anticipating the Need to Forgive”. I am very grateful for the work and writings of Dr. Byrd. They have been very influential for the profession and for me personally. I greatly appreciate the work he did with Mark Chamberlain with the book, Will Power is not Enough.
In the opening of this ensign article you will find the following hypothetical example:
A man is bitten by a rattlesnake. He must quickly make a choice: should he chase down the snake and kill it to avenge the offense, or should he immediately tend to his wound? If he kills the snake, he will get his revenge on the creature that has caused him pain. However, this rash act would neither dull the pain nor delay the onset of the poison. If he chooses instead to address the problem and tend to the wound, he will not have his revenge—but he may save his life in the process. Choosing this course of action ahead of time helps him take lifesaving steps as quickly as possible and avoid prolonged suffering.
While I find the information in this story to be helpful, I feel a need to add a few elements to it in order to be more useful to the cases I have a tendency to deal with. I agree that it is more wise to attend to the healing of the wound than it is to hunt down the snake to kill it, but what if the snake is still close enough to strike again? And, why are you spending time with snakes in the first place? Did you forget where the snakes hang out?
So, first concept I would like to emphasize: Don’t spend time with snakes while you are untrained on how to deal with them! This becomes very challenging when the person you married started out as a bunny rabbit, and latter turned into a snake. (Some people are snakes on accident. They say things like, “I can’t help it that I just spontaneously strike out at you. Or they say it is your fault, “If you hadn’t stepped on me, I would not have struck out at you.”
It does not do any good to discuss why a snake bites you. If there is someone in your life who hurts you, you need to keep a safe distance from them. If you must interact with a snake, do so from a safe distance. If a snake claims to not be a snake, trust them very slowly.
Forgiving someone does not mean trusting them. Forgiving a snake means you hope it will have a good life. It means that you hope that they experience salvation through the Atonement. We are mortals. We can endure a great deal of pain, but I am convinced that we are not expected to endure the same amount of pain and repeated injury that Christ went through, especially avoidable pain. I do not want marriages to end, but I do not expect a man or a woman to tolerate repeatedly getting bitten by their partner.
If you find yourself to be a snake sometimes, then figure out how to stop it. Use the power of God and the power of the Atonement to understand and correct your behavior and thought patterns. Don’t hide behind the rock called, “That’s just the way I am.” Don’t expect or hope to be trusted until you are no longer a snake and you haven’t been a snake for a while.
Second concept for today: Withdraw to a safe distance. Yes, there is quite a bit of overlap between this and the first concept, but this is what you do when you accidentally or unexpectedly find you are in the company of a snake because you have suddenly been bitten! Withdraw! Get away! Don’t discuss the situation in that moment. Don’t console the snake. Don’t “be there for him/her” in that moment. Any conversation right after a bite usually leads to more biting. A bit of distance – so you can heal, and so the snake can look in the mirror provided by the Holy Ghost, is more effective than conversation.
In my own life, I discovered some behaviors of my own that I am not pleased with. I have been a snake in my own marriage. I learned that saying your sorry is not enough to build trust back in the relationship. My wife demonstrated amazing forgiveness, but she kept her distance until I changed my character, not just my behavior. This was frustrating to me, but wise for her. I gained a greater testimony of the power of the Atonement, and greater respect for my wife, a Daughter of my God. She still has to tip toe around me sometimes when my rattler starts shaking (when I am frustrated, irritated or overwhelmed), but we have a strong and working relationship now. You can too.