I was serving my mission in Montreal when my companion and I knocked on the door of a woman. We gave one of our standard door approaches when she said that she was a member of the church. She went on to explain that she had been baptized about ten years ago but had gone inactive shortly afterward. The Branch President's wife said something that offended her. I didn't know who was the Branch President ten years ago, but as she explained the situation I knew exactly who she spoke of.
The woman that offended her was about the nicest person you could ever meet. She always had a warm heart and kind words for others. She also lacked the ability to process thoughts before words would stream out of her mouth. She had a heart of gold but I could see where she would say things that could be construed as offensive if you didn't really know her well. She would never knowingly offend anyone and if she knew that this other woman had stayed away from church for a decade because of something she said, she would be the first one knocking on her door to apologize.
My companion and I were now confronted with a situation where a daughter of God had cut herself off from the blessings she could've received because of what someone else said. What's more, she had a thirteen year old daughter who hadn't been raised in the church. As we spoke with her she said that she had been fairly miserable for the last ten years and knew that she would continue like that until she came back to church.
We worked with this sister for a while and both she and her daughter became excited to come back to church. She was a little fearful that first week back. Guess who was the first person to throw her arms around her and welcome her back? Yes, it was the sister who had unintentionally offended her so many years back.
In 2nd Nephi chapter 2 it states, "In the grand division of all God's creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon."
We have each been granted the gift of agency, the ability to choose what we will do and how we will respond to the actions of others. When we allow the actions or words of another to dictate how we will live our lives we are choosing to be acted upon.
Let me share a story from my own life. Almost two decades ago I encountered a very unhappy man. He was very unhappy before I ever met him. He took an instant dislike to me and my family. Shortly after, the police knocked on our door regularly with some unsubstantiated claim. Over the course of two years we had incurred almost $50K in legal bills defending ourselves from frivolous lawsuits. It wasn't until the authorities threatened to bring him up on charges of false reporting that he slowed down.
This was an intense and difficult time for me. For longer than I would like to admit I stewed in bitterness and anger over the non-stop onslaught of false accusations and financial ruin that was being inflicted on me.
I need to say right here that I am grateful to a loving Father in Heaven that stood by me through these trials and waited patiently for me to fully turn to him for help. It was a process and not a single epiphany for me, but eventually over time I saw more and more clearly that what I considered to be my justified anger, wasn't hurting my adversary at all. More importantly, I began to see that it wasn't helping me. Just the opposite was true. I became short tempered and impatient with others. My bitterness had a negative impact on my life that affected those around me. I finally realized that I needed to choose a better path. I needed to choose to act and not to be acted upon. I couldn't control what my adversary would do next but I could control how I responded to it.
I had to find a better place for myself. I had to turn to the Savior to find the peace that only He could bring me.
In his book, As a Man Thinketh, James Allen states:
"Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of the laws and operations of thought.
A man becomes calm in the measure that he understands himself as a thought-evolved being, for such knowledge necessitates the understanding of others as the result of thought. As he develops a right understanding, and sees more and more clearly the internal relations of things by the action of cause and effect, he ceases to fuss and fume and worry and grieve, and remains poised, steadfast, serene.
The calm man, having learned how to govern himself, knows how to adapt himself to others; and they, in turn, reverence his spiritual strength, and feel that they can learn of him and rely upon him. The more tranquil a man becomes, the greater is his success, his influence, his power for good.
The strong calm man is always loved and revered. He is like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land, or a sheltering rock in a storm. Who does not love a tranquil heart, a sweet-tempered, balanced life? It does not matter whether it rains or shines, or what changes come to those possessing these blessings, for they are always sweet, serene, and calm. That exquisite poise of character which we call serenity is the last lesson culture; it is the flowering of life, the fruitage of the soul. It is as precious as wisdom, more to be desired than gold - yea, than even fine gold. How insignificant mere money-seeking looks in comparison with a serene life - a life that dwells in the ocean of Truth, beneath the waves, beyond the reach of tempests, in the Eternal Calm!"
When it comes to offenses that we receive, either intentional or unintentional we have two paths we can choose. We can choose to act and use our agency to not become offended, or we can choose to be acted upon and allow our agency to be controlled by someone else's words or actions.
Discussing the choices we make in life and the different paths they will take us down Robert Frost wrote:
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
So what do we do if we find ourselves stewing in our own broth of bitterness and anger? How do we find that serenity that we seek that sometimes can feel elusive?
Perhaps I can give some thoughts by sharing another experience I had growing up.
I was born and raised in Southern California. My favorite thing to do on the weekends was to go surfing with my oldest brother. Yeah, I know that I don't look much like a surfer anymore. My late teens and early twenties is what I like to refer to as my Greek god phase of life. I have since moved into a more Asian deity phase of life. Anyway, I had recently acquired a custom made surfboard. The surfboard maker, without my consent, had placed a rubber tip on the nose of my board. In effect, he had turned my sleek surfboard into an emasculated sissy-stick.
There was a huge swell pounding the Southern California coast. My oldest brother and I eagerly strapped our boards to the top of his car and drove down to Huntington Beach anticipating an epic day of shredding waves.
We had been surfing for about an hour and as was always the case we had become separated from each other. This was no big deal because even though I couldn't see him, I always knew that he was somewhere close by. As I sat on my surfboard I saw the entire horizon rise up and knew that wave had my name written all over it. I paddled furiously to get into position and then pointed my board towards the shore and dug my arms deeply into the water to gain the necessary momentum to catch the wave. The monster wave lifted me up and as I rose to the crest it began its descent down the face of the wave. I pushed hard on my surfboard to pop to my feet when the inexplicable happened. I don't know if it was fatigue or what but as I pushed on my board my hands slipped off the front. Momentum carried my body forward in front of my board and my body twisted so just as my head sunk beneath the surface of the water, I was facing my board as it slid down the wave and walloped me right below my right eye.
Pain exploded in my head and my only thought was, "This is it. I'm going to lose consciousness and die." I got churned up by the spin cycle of mother nature's washing machine but eventually my head broke the surface of the water. I quickly put my hand briefly to my face and as I pulled it away it was stained crimson. I was still alive but I was in serious trouble.
I saw another surfer about twenty feet away and I called out to him for help. The look of horror on his face confirmed my fears. However, he made no move to paddle in my direction. It was then that I realized that I was in the kill zone. That spot where the waves break and where you really wouldn't want to be in a big swell. Then I remembered my oldest brother and I called out at the top of my voice to him. He was my oldest brother and I knew that if he heard my cries for help that he would paddle right into the kill zone to rescue me because I knew he loved me.
After getting pounded by a few more waves I finally worked my way back to shore. My brother materialized shortly afterward and got me quickly to the nearest hospital. He told me that he hadn't heard my plea for help but did feel an intense need to find me.
An interesting side note to this story is that the rubber tip on my board saved my life. Without it, my surfboard would've buried itself deep into my skull and I wouldn't be here today. I called the surfboard maker to thank him for putting it on. He told me that no longer added them because too many people complained about having a sissy-stick.
I bear you my testimony that we have a loving Father in Heaven who is very aware of us. And even though we can't see Him, we can call out to Him in our times of need. He loves us unconditionally and will surely paddle right into our spiritual kill zones to rescue us.
As we pray for the help we need to overcome offense and bitterness, we can also pray sincerely for those that are afflicting us. As I have done that in the past the Lord has graciously allowed me to see others as He sees them, not as one deserving of my anger, but rather as a child of God that is possibly lost and needing help too.
It helps me to remember that once the Savior of mankind was reviled, hit, and spat upon by those that should've been worshiping Him. Rather than choosing to be offended He said, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do."
I pray my brothers and sisters that we can all learn to seek that peace and serenity that comes only from the Lord by choosing not to become offended.