One common question that comes up as I interview ward members is, "How do I know if I have been really forgiven?" I find myself fielding this question a lot. Why? I think we are pretty hard on ourselves. We are, it seems, less willing to forgive ourselves than the Lord is. Self-recrimination or self-condemnation are a natural part of life, even when a sin is not serious. And we often mistake the presence of self-recrimination as evidence that God has not forgiven us yet.
It seems that most of us are forgiven long before we think we have been forgiven, or before we have forgiven ourselves. To help us all understand when we have been forgiven, I'd like to offer four things that you will notice in your life when the Lord has forgiven you, and what you might notice if you have not been forgiven.
1. When you are forgiven, you will feel gratitude and reverence whenever you think of the Savior. However, if you have not been forgiven, you will likely avoid discussing Jesus Christ or thinking about Him at all. The Savior is a painful topic to those who are out of touch with His purposes and power.
2. When you are forgiven, you will have a willing heart and feel inclined to accept callings in the Church, to serve others, and to do good each day. However, if you have not been forgiven, you will be inclined to think the bishop is deluded when he issues you a calling, shrink from your duty and assignments, and will prefer to spend time away from other people, indulging yourself in distractions and pleasures.
3. When you are forgiven, you will be honest with yourself and with others, and as a result you will enjoy being with your faithful friends, being among the saints, and having contact with Church leaders. On the other hand, if you are not forgiven, you will avoid your friends who are active in the Church, find somewhere else to be on Sunday other than attending meetings, and you will feel like hiding or, worse, punching a hole in the drywall with your fist every time you see the bishop.
4. When you are forgiven, you will feel the Holy Spirit constantly encircling and guiding your life. Otherwise, you will feel upset, angry, depressed, fearful, full of blame and fury at your spouse, children, parents, friends, and Church leaders.
This is the first of a series of blogs I plan to write during 2009 on understanding forgiveness. Feel free to pose questions about forgiveness, anonymously if you'd like, in the comments on these blog posts. Next time I write on forgiveness, I'll talk about forgiving oneself—one of the toughest things we can do.