“My Quest to Forgive,” Ensign, Apr. 2004, 52
While I was a young child, my dad sexually abused me. I lived with this awful secret until I was 21 years old. I never told anyone. My dad, a violent man, threatened me, and I was afraid of what he would do. I thought my mom would leave my dad and wouldn’t be able to take care of our big family. My mother and siblings were the only lifeline I had, and I couldn’t bear the thought of life without them. I also thought I was the only person in the world who had been treated this way. I constantly watched how I acted and what I said for fear that somehow, someway, someone would find out. All of this was a heavy burden to carry.
My mom was a Latter-day Saint, and my dad was an atheist. This caused some major challenges in our home and in my personal life. I was torn between two worlds—my mother and Primary teachers taught me about a Father in Heaven who cared about me, but my dad treated me in a way I knew was wrong. I became very confused and worried. However, I learned that I could pray to Father in Heaven and tell Him anything. He would listen, and no one else would know what I said. I began praying for help and comfort. I knew I was never alone.
When I was eight years old, the missionaries taught my brothers and me the gospel. We were baptized shortly after that. When I came out of the water I felt so clean and pure that it literally took my breath away. I felt so glad to be a child of God, and I was so happy. I’ll always cherish that moment. I didn’t want to leave and go home because I knew that when I saw my dad I would lose all those wonderful feelings.
When I became a teenager, I desperately wanted to tell my branch president about my situation, but I felt I couldn’t. I didn’t want to tell my district president since I felt comfortable around him, and I couldn’t bear the thought of him treating me differently. So I just kept my feelings to myself.
My dad was betraying my mom, and he was making me lie to her too. I hated not only him but also myself. I thought of myself as a dirty person with no self-worth. Although I knew what was happening was wrong, I didn’t know how to correct it. I had very few friends, and I mistakenly felt that Heavenly Father was upset with me.
It wasn’t until I moved away from home that I really started to gain the strength I needed to tell someone. But I didn’t know whom to tell. The Lord prepared a way. When the missionaries came over one night, we had a wonderful discussion about patriarchal blessings, and I felt a sudden urgency to get mine right away. The Holy Ghost prompted me that when the mission president interviewed me for my patriarchal blessing, I could tell him. The closer it came to my interview, the more my fears increased, yet the more determined I became to tell the mission president.
As I met with President Brown (name has been changed), he started to ask me the questions about my worthiness. When I told him what had happened to me at home, I was shocked at his response. Somehow I was expecting to be lectured to, but President Brown listened empathetically to me with tears in his eyes. I will never forget that tender moment.
When he asked me if I felt worthy to go to the temple, I told him, “Oh, I can never go there.” He dropped his pen, looked me in the eye, and said ever so softly, “Sister, why not?” I looked at him dumbfounded. I told him, “I’ll never be clean enough to go there. I’m filthy.” He told me, “No, you are not filthy. What happened to you is filthy, but that is not your fault. You can go to the temple one day and be married.” I was so shocked by those words. It wasn’t my fault, and someday I could go to the temple! That idea held so much hope for me.
President Brown will never know the impact he had on my life that day with his soft-spoken words. I could feel the awful weight of guilt being lifted from my shoulders, and I left the interview crying tears of joy. I was overjoyed that I had listened to the Spirit and had been guided to President Brown.
Within the next two years I was married in the temple, just as my patriarchal blessing and my mission president had promised me. My wedding day was a bittersweet one for me—I was elated to enter the house of the Lord to be sealed for eternity, but I was scared to be alone with my sweetheart for the first time.
I had not told my husband about my past abuse. During my interview with President Brown, I had asked him if I needed to tell my future husband about the abuse. He said it would be up to me, so I decided not to tell. I felt too ashamed and scared my future husband wouldn’t love me anymore. I prayed that things would work out.
Then one morning after we had been married about a year, my husband and I were sitting in our living room with our baby son. My husband told me my mother had called and shared with him that she had just found out my father had abused me. My heart dropped.
I looked carefully at my sweet husband to see his reaction to this awful news. He just sat there calmly, looked at me tenderly, and asked me to tell him about it. As I told him, he cried with me. I could see he still loved me. He was hurt that I hadn’t told him before but grateful that now he could give me emotional and spiritual support. I loved him so much at that moment.
Knowing that the Savior sacrificed His life for us played an important part in helping me be able to forgive my dad. I knew of the mistreatment the Savior had endured, and yet as He hung on the cross He begged His Father to forgive those who had harmed Him. This was a powerful example to me.
I also learned from the scriptures:
“Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
“I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men” (D&C 64:9–10).
That put things in perspective for me. Suddenly, I was more afraid of losing my Savior’s forgiveness than of doing what had to be done to forgive my dad.
I knew Jesus Christ had taken upon Himself the sins of the world, including the sins of abuse. He willingly suffered for people like me. I felt I was letting Him down by going through life being miserable, hurt, and distrustful and by harboring feelings of hatred and anger toward my dad.
I realized that if I failed to forgive, I would continue to bring suffering on myself. So I put my trust in the Lord and went to Him in prayer. I asked Him to help me forgive my dad because I didn’t need to carry that burden anymore. I could turn it over to the Lord and let it all go.
I quickly learned that it was one thing for me to say I forgave my dad when he lived many miles away and I rarely saw him, and another thing to actually see him in person. Now I had a daughter of my own, and I was suddenly afraid for her. I wasn’t sure how to act when we visited my dad. Once again I knelt in prayer and turned to the scriptures. I came to realize that I did not need to keep company with a person who had sinned a grievous sin and not repented. So I decided to treat my dad civilly but that would be the extent of the relationship. When I came home I would talk to him politely and treat him cordially. Nevertheless, I continue to keep my daughter next to my side whenever he is around, and he is aware of what I am doing.
Today my dad and I have a simple relationship. That’s enough for now. I did not go to him and say, “I forgive you,” but he knows that I don’t hate him. Do I trust him? No. Do I hate him? No. Do I think what he did was right? No, but I leave all those feelings back in the years when the abuse happened. This is now, and I don’t want to let what has happened in the past destroy my life or my family’s life today. I have gained confidence, feel happy, and enjoy life to its fullest.
I have learned that if we have a forgiving heart, we can overlook and forget the offense. President Gordon B. Hinckley urges us “to stand a little taller, rise a little higher, and be a little better.”1 I know that when we forgive, we truly can stand a little taller, rise a little higher, and be a little better. As a result, I have made the Savior an integral part of my life, and my hatred for my father has been replaced with the sweet, peaceful feeling that comes from forgiveness.
“To forgive one who is mean and offensive is the act of one near to perfection.”
President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 204.
“If only we would look beyond our present suffering and see our struggles as a temporary chrysalis. If only we would have the faith and trust in our Heavenly Father to see how, after a little season, … we can emerge from our trials more refined and glorious.”
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Finding a Safe Harbor,” Ensign, May 2000, 60.
More on this topic: Ann F. Pritt, “Healing the Spiritual Wounds of Sexual Abuse,” Ensign, Apr. 2001, 58; “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign, Nov. 1995, 102; Richard G. Scott, “Making the Right Choices,” Ensign, Nov. 1994, 38; Maxine Murdock, “Hope and Healing,” Ensign, Jan. 1993.