Forgiving Cain: And everything else we owe to the undeserving

In the past, challenges have usually turned my mind toward Christ. But something that just happened recently turned my mind toward Cain as well.

 

Yes, that Cain.

 

The Cain who killed his brother thousands of years ago and has his story shared over and over countless times in countless Sunday school classes and in between the yellowed pages of countless Bibles tucked on shelves all over the world. The Cain we talk about in direct comparison to his obedient brother—the surest sign really of a fallen world. The symbol of slipping beyond the forgiveness of an ultimately forgiving Heavenly Father.

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That Cain, in particular, has been on my mind since a couple days ago.

 

I got a letter from someone who hurt me pretty bad three years ago. I thought the damage was beyond repair. Actually, I was fairly certain that if I ever saw him again he’d have hell to pay. Out of all the people who had ever made mistakes in my life, offended me, or treated me wrong, they all fell short of the bitterness I tended to have pent up toward this man. Without rehashing the story, it was simply unforgivable.

 

But that was three years ago. Seasons changed. I grew and learned. And between then and now I learned the hardest lesson I’ve ever had to learn: That forgiveness is owed to everyone, even the ones who never ask for it.

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What a painful lesson that is to learn. It’s painful because you crave for justice to be served. For “I’m sorry” to finally be said. It hurts simply because you feel like you’re the only one bearing the cross. And for three years I’ve wondered ever so often why I had to give this man that forgiveness. Was it just so that I could move on?

 

Contrary to what the world says, the answer to that is no.

 

We’re commanded to forgive all men—not just the repentant ones. The commandment isn’t in place just so we feel better either. The forgiveness we give is mercy that we owe simply because Christ forgave us first–before we even asked for it.

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I didn’t know the repercussions of that kind of forgiveness—the hardest kind—until I opened that letter. I never thought I’d hear from him again. In fact, for the last three years I’ve imagined him going through life without a second thought about me or the damage he caused. In a way I didn’t even care to hear from him again. But then the letter came. And it all made sense.

 

He asked for forgiveness. He asked, sincerely and deliberately, for me to understand that the hurt he caused had ultimately led to such suffering that his whole world began to fall apart. His faith was shaken—his family crumbled—he had fear that the blessings would never come.

 

And then—three years later—it was my duty, out of all people, to tell him that they would. That I already forgave him, long before he ever asked for it. That he was free simply because I was told to set him free.

 

But why? you might ask. Why should you forgive the woman who walked out on you or the man who beat you for years? Why should you forgive the father who drank too much or the stranger who ran the red light and killed your sister? Why should you forgive the church that kicked you out or the friend who betrayed you?

 

Why? Because you’ve been given grace too, even in your most undeserving of moments.

 

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a leader in my church, once said: For our own good, we need the moral courage to forgive and to ask for forgiveness. Never is the soul nobler and more courageous than when we forgive. This includes forgiving ourselves.”

 

We talk about Cain’s fall, his rebellion, his turning away from God’s voice and his unforgivable sins. But how often we forget that Eve—a mother stricken with grief for both of her lost sons—had to forgive too. Not even she was exempt.

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So neither are we.

 

Cain, in the pages of my Bible, reminds me of my obligation. So does the letter in front of me from a man that sat in the pages of my past. Because these aren’t just stories. These are reminders.

 

Father, forgive them.

 

Words always given to the undeserving. Words first given to us.

 

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Giving up on the quest to be extraordinary: And how it will change your life

My dad was an ordinary man.

He rose at dawn to go work at an ordinary job, tossing his lunch pail in the back of a maybe less-than-ordinary pick-up truck that lacked a solid floor on the passenger side. 

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He was quiet and attentive to conversations already begun–and he could pass through a room quickly without gaining much notice. He had a daily routine of reading the paper at half past six and watching every Seahawks game in his chair–it was only interrupted by play time with us kids–an ordinary hobby for many dads.

When I was a child I remember feeling sorry for my Dad. He mentioned he used to want to be a doctor before he decided it wasn’t for him. And in his youth he didn’t make much of a stir in his hometown newspaper or in sports–he just spent afternoons at the river’s edge with a fishing line and a can of worms. Ordinary things, really. 

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But me? I didn’t want ordinary. Not at all! I wanted to be extraordinary. I paraded around in dancing dresses, hosted backyard carnivals in the summer, auditioned for every school play, and dreamt of the day I’d see my name on a hardback book. I wanted to leave a positive legacy behind. I wanted to be ANYTHING but ordinary. And I loved my Dad so much–I used to cry that he could never be an important doctor.

And that mindset followed me well into my life. It wasn’t a mindset of pride or self-love. It was the desire to change lives and be known for something good–something special. But that desire, I’ve come to learn, is the desire of so many others who leave nothing behind except for a granite stone, piles of money, and bylines that quickly get shoved into archives. The desire to be great, if that desire is a sole purpose, will completely cloud over what really makes you someone to remember. But the desire to just live life fully and completely with love for people being your main purpose–THAT desire and THAT quest can change your life forever.

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As for my father with his “ordinary” life–I’ve come to understand the beauty of such ordinary things now, and the importance.

Since his passing, I’ve began to take notice of things he left behind. Ordinary things. Sifting through his things after his passing, I noticed old notebooks filled with notes from church sermons and past General Conferences–notes that he took to heart and lived. Notes he never shared.

My mother found stacks of receipts from his monthly tithing slips–tithing that she never knew he paid when she stopped going to church for a short time and he would sit alone in the pew every sunday.

Friends–from the job that everyone said he was “stuck in” for years and years–have filtered through the front door and across our social media pages, telling stories of a man with quiet faith, great love for those around him, and kindness. Always kindness. Even my father’s insurance agent from five years back called with tears in his voice, just to tell us that he’ll always remember Dad and the way he was so patient.

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Ordinary watches and worn-out wallets–thin from years of use–are now our flecks of gold. Yellowed photographs of summers at the river and tanned arms against a lawnmower are now precious heirlooms.

The ordinary, simple things that I once thought were like “every other dad”. But now, to me, are extraordinary. And he never tried to be.

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I think it’s easy, since we live in a world dedicated to proving how “special” we are or how “unique” we are, to measure ourselves at the end of the day by how many awards line our desk or how many nods of approval we get for special projects at work. But putting all of our efforts into that kind of journey distracts from the truly extraordinary. We shouldn’t give up on success within the world and careers we hold, of course–but we should also remember where true success lies.

Like being the mom that finger paints with her toddlers and doesn’t care that some hair dipped into the blue. Like being the friend that sits at the lunch table with the bullied kid in complete silence, just offering a presence. Like being the dad that works a 9 to 5 at a completely ordinary office and always makes sure to make every single ballet performance. Like being the artist that paints, that writes, that sings, that creates–just to make life more relatable, or more beautiful, for at least one person.

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How beautiful the world is when we count the little moments that make up our memories, our goodness, our friendships, our faith. How beautiful it is to leave behind something much greater than anything tangible, even while losing ourselves in ordinary tasks.

How beautiful that is. And how extraordinary. 

“I left Christianity because of the people”

“I left Christianity because of the people.”

The words hurt my heart yesterday as I chatted with a good friend of mine. We were discussing religion. God. People. Mainstream Christianity. Topics that went hand in hand with some e-mails I sifted through while I sat on my break. One email in particular stuck out to me and I shared it with him.

I won’t quote it word for word or tell you who wrote this email (Totally not my style). And I hate giving attention to negativity–but this one, in turn, made me seek for the positive. *That’s “worth-sharing” material in my book*

The long winded email elaborately stated that I’m not a Christian because I don’t read the Bible. He told me Mormons go to Hell. It stated that I’m confused and hurting over the loss of a parent because I’m not a Christian and God isn’t on my side. BUT, *they kindly interjected* if I confess my sins and look for a different church, THEN I’ll be saved.

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When I read this yesterday, I couldn’t help but share some of it with my friend. And that’s when he told me, straight out, “I left Christianity because of the people.”

Now, bear in mind, my friend *We’ll call him Dan* is probably one of the nicest guys I’ve ever met. He’s hilarious. He talks about his wife as if she’s made of gold. He works hard every single day. And without saying it, he certainly shows that he believes that kindness matters. So this was a side of Dan I hadn’t seen before as we discussed religion. I never knew that he used to be an active church member, in love with the word of God and over-scheduled with church events. I never knew that people–like the one who sent me that email–taught him a whole different lesson about Christianity.

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So–how could I NOT write about it??

Sitting there with Dan and hearing his story, I rewinded five years back to before I joined the LDS church.

I was what you would call a church floater for a time, bouncing around from one non-denominational church to another, joining different congregations and getting baptized into several different fonts. I floated–never really finding answers to all of my questions–yet settling down in a Pentecostal church until I was 18 and *had* to leave. I just couldn’t stay anymore. It wasn’t anything personal–it was just I really needed to find truth and answers to my nagging questions. Needless to say, through a friend, two missionaries, and 7 sleepless nights reading an old copy of The Book of Mormon, I found the light I’d been craving all along.

Now, five years later, one BYU-Idaho education later, a hundred missionary opportunities later, a dozen temple trips later–I don’t hesitate to still call myself a Christian. Oh–and I sure don’t let dust collect on my Bible either.

I am a Mormon and I am Christian. 

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I strive to be the kind of Christian that people like Dan feel comfortable talking to. The kind of Christian who doesn’t cut into this story and tell him to get his hiney back to church or he’ll face hellfire. The kind of Christian who has about five gay friends who *know* I’m Mormon and actually love it. The kind of Christian who goes to church because it’s a hospital for the sick, not a temple of the proud. The kind of Christian who shares a testimony of Christ simply because I *love* people–not because I love how much I know.

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I strive to be the kind of Christian who continues to adore people of varying faiths and different cultures–enjoying the unique perspectives and different acts of love and worship. I strive to be the kind of Christian who puts kindness before “being right” and love before condemnation. I strive to be the kind of Christian who doesn’t throw scripture in someone’s face, yelling out random verses to prove I’m a “scriptorian”, but to embrace scripture and try to live it to the best of my ability. I strive to be like so many of you reading this now–of all different faiths and backgrounds–who simply have it nailed on the head on how to love, how to serve, and how to emulate the Savior’s example.

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Yes, you choose to be offended. You can read a talk about that right here.

BUT you can also choose to be offensive. To be brash. To be hurtful. To use your status as a Christian to raise yourself up above everyone else and look down with haughty eyes. You can choose. (There’s a talk about that too! Right here)

Don’t be the reason someone leaves Christianity. Don’t be the reason someone feels like the outcast in your world.

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Instead, choose to be more like Him every day.

I found that when I choose that, I can honestly set aside pride and the need to be “right” or “heard”, and in turn–more people will listen to what I believe and even if they don’t believe the same thing–well, at least they feel God’s love in the process.

Because LOVE is what being a Christian is all about.

THAT, you might say, is my religion.