Grudges are painfully easy to hold onto and are hard to let go. It’s not until you put down the burden and walk away that you realize just how heavy it was to begin with—and that the person you’ve been so angry with wasn’t being affected by the bitterness you clung to. A cloud descends, blocking out the spirit and making other things—like feeling genuine gratitude during the Thanksgiving season—almost impossible.
I remember all too well a difficult time in high school when a person wounded me deeply. It happened in the spring, and I felt the hurt—and the resulting anger—for the rest of the school year, all of the summer, and into the next school year. For a full six months, every time I thought about the person involved or saw them, even just passing by in the hall, I got a nauseating pit in my stomach. My heart raced, and I had a hard time breathing. I quickly looked away, clenching my books as I escaped down the hall.
Beyond noticing my dirty looks, the other person was likely unaffected by my visceral reaction, but the burden for me was constant. It was like proverbial drinking poison but hoping the other person gets sick. I spent half a year poisoning my spirit. I couldn’t go to school without a sinking pit in my middle. I could think of little else. Eventually, I knew that I couldn’t go on that way; something had to change.
One morning, through intense prayer and sheer willpower, I arrived in the school’s main hall, determined to do something different. When I saw the other person near a staircase, I forced myself to smile pleasantly and say hello.
The shock and confusion on their face was priceless.
But more than that, as I walked away, I felt as if heavy lead scales slipped off my body and clattered to the floor. My shoulders literally felt lighter. Instead of a pit in my stomach, it had butterflies. I took a deep breath. It felt good. My heart raced as it often did after a confrontation, but this time it was the pitter-patter of nerves, not the heavy drum beat of anger and resentment.
In the nearly two decades since that experience, I’ve faced situations far more complex and difficult to handle than a simple high-school peer issue. And if I’m paying attention, whenever I allow anger to take root, I can sense a change, starting on a physical level. My heart rate and breathing are altered. Muscles tensing up. A throbbing headache begins at the base of my neck.
But most importantly, the Spirit withdraws. I lose my compass, my connection with the Lord. I get depressed, anxious, unable to hear answers to prayers.
Learning to forgive has been a gradual lesson, one I’m still learning on a day-by-day basis. I have to continually remind myself not to drink the poison. Not to hurt myself.
Instead, we are taught to turn over the situation to the Lord, for He has borne our burdens already. Forgiving doesn’t excuse the actions of the other person. Instead, forgiveness is a gift that allows the Lord be the one to take care of it, to let us set down the burden, knowing that it’s in good hands.
For me, the most powerful way of letting things go is to find a quiet place, close my eyes, and—as silly as I may feel—verbalize my forgiveness. It’s important for me to hear my own voice saying the words. “I forgive [person] for [action].” The more specific I am, the better—even if I’m forgiving myself for not living up to the level I know I should.
As I forgive and let go of the anger or bitterness, a peace descends over my body almost immediately. The tension in my muscles and my stomach loosens, and I can breathe easier. Forgiveness is healing. I think it is no coincidence that most of the Savior’s physical healings were also accompanied by spiritual one: He stated that the person’s sins were forgiven, and then he healed their infirmity.
To be whole in every way, to feel gratitude and hope and faith—elements that should be our focus in November as well as the rest of the year—we must have the Spirit with us as a constant companion, and harboring anger makes that difficult.
The more I’ve learned about forgiveness, the more I see how critical it is for each of us in working out our salvation. No wonder the Lord commanded us to forgive “seventy times seven.”
I’m still very much a work in progress with this principle, but the more regularly I apply it, the lighter and more vibrant I feel. It’s easier for me to experience joy and peace, to feel the promptings of the Spirit, and to progress as a daughter of God.
We can all tap in to the benefit of this principle by remembering a single concept taught by Nephi with such simplicity: “I did frankly forgive them all that they had done” (1 Nephi 7:21).