Character Strength: Forgiveness

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My  daughter was always so quick to forgive me. I was grateful as  her mother, that she could forgive and forget so easily.  She was the oldest, the tip of the spear and sometimes that can be hard. If one of your children is particularly good at forgiveness you can read this story to them to reinforce their wonderful character strength. This would also make for a good dinner time story or a family home evening. This  story and poem is from a BYU devotional of Dr. Madison Sowell gave in 1995.

“My first account has a name attached to it because it treats someone who was the recipient of another’s tender mercy, someone who learned how to forgive others by being forgiven himself.’

“Larry Dahl is an associate dean of religion on this campus. Several years ago, when he was my bishop, he shared with a group of ward members a stirring lesson from his childhood. This is Larry Dahl’s story:’

“When I was five years old, two friends and I made ourselves a hideout by tunneling into a haystack alongside a new barn in the neighbor’s yard, then digging out a spacious room right in the middle of the haystack. We delighted in our secret meeting place.’

“One day we decided to roast some hot dogs. Since our home was right next door, I secured the matches to light a fire. You can imagine the rest of the story. The fire quickly got away from us. We scampered through the tunnel to safety, and all three of us ran to our separate homes. I don’t know what the others did, but I immediately went to my upstairs bedroom and climbed into bed, panic-stricken. Within minutes I heard the wail of the town fire truck getting closer and closer. But it was too late. The haystack and the new barn were quickly consumed. Fortunately, however, someone arrived soon enough to get the animals out of the barn.”

“Somehow my parents suspected I may have had something to do with the fire, since they knew of our hideout. Not seeing me anywhere in the neighborhood, they searched the house. As I heard their footsteps on the stairs, I thought my pounding heart would jump right out of my body. When they entered the bedroom and witnessed my fearful and tearful face, their suspicions were confirmed. Mother just sat on the edge of the bed and held me. My father asked me to tell them what had happened. Through broken-hearted sobs I recited the events of the afternoon. He quietly left the room while my mother stayed and cried with me. I learned years later that my father paid our neighbor for the hay and the barn. But from the day it happened to the day of his death forty-five years later, my father never mentioned the event to me. Truly, it was as if he did not remember it.”

I love what a good example his father was to him, about what true forgiveness is!

Dr. Sowell goes on to say:

“True forgiveness implies not mentioning past sins, errors, or mistakes once they have been properly dealt with.’

Dr. Sowell closes with this poem:

“I would like to close with a poem composed by Marguerite Stewart. It is entitled “Forgiveness Flour.” The poem, written in the first person, features an unnamed wife who answers her door to find a young woman in shame and seeking flour, which symbolizes forgiveness, to make bread. The poem reads:

When I went to the door, at the whisper of knocking,
I saw Simeon Gantner’s daughter, Kathleen, standing
There, in her shawl and her shame, sent to ask
“Forgiveness Flour” for her bread. “Forgiveness Flour,”
We call it in our corner. If one has erred, one
Is sent to ask for flour of his neighbors. If they loan it
To him, that means he can stay, but if they refuse, he had
Best take himself off. I looked at Kathleen . . .
What a jewel of a daughter, though not much like her
Father, more’s the pity. “I’ll give you flour,” I
Said, and went to measure it. Measuring was the rub.
If I gave too much, neighbors would think I made sin
Easy, but if I gave too little, they would label me
“Close.” While I stood measuring, Joel, my husband
Came in from the mill, a great bag of flour on his
Shoulder, and seeing her there, shrinking in the
Doorway, he tossed the bag at her feet. “Here, take
All of it.” And so she had flour for many loaves,
While I stood measuring.”

[Marguerite Stewart, “Forgiveness Flour,” Religious Studies Center Newsletter 7, no. 3 (May 1993): 1]

This poem hit me squarely in my face. Such good imagery to remember! This poem and the story above are  great reminders that when our children make mistakes, after they have tried to make amends, we don’t keep mentioning it. My mother did that for me when I was little.  I would break something and she was so validating that it felt safe to go and tell her. She would say, “Thank you for being so honest and coming to tell me. I love you more than things.” There is such generosity in that statement!

These words by Dr. Sowell have helped me reflect on what true forgiveness is. Have you had an experience where someone gave you true forgiveness?

One thought on “Character Strength: Forgiveness

  1. Actually, your mom did the same for me once. When I was first married I would go over to her house to do laundry. One evening, the washer overflowed. I may have overstuffed, but I don’t recall if it was determined if it was my fault or a natural mechanical failure of the machine. Papa was angry at me, clearly, and implied that it was my fault…even though it wasn’t clear that was the case. I was an adult after all and didn’t mean to make such a mess of things. But Nana made me feel like it was about time that her floor and carpeted area near the wash room needed cleaning. She jumped up, gathered towels and helped me sop up the water while saying, ‘I’ve been meaning to do this – thanks for the motivation.’ She had a wonderful way of making a funny comment to disolve an error into nothing.


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