After a bitter divorce, a friend of mine was left with no choice but to move across the country. She had a lot of history here — not all of it good. She had a chance to start a new life with this move. My advice to her was to pack lightly — take only the things that matter. I wasn’t talking about what goes in the moving van. I was referring to good memories and lessons learned by the Spirit.
We all have baggage we carry in our hearts — grudges of old, hurt feelings that resurface now and then, raw emotion that never seems to mature into forgiveness. While we are counseled to forgive those who have trespassed against us, it can be the most difficult thing to do. This is multiplied when the pain we’ve experienced has come from someone close — a relative or a longtime friend.
In the Bible, Joseph was sold into slavery by his older brothers. They were jealous of him because he was favored by their father. They sold him and then took his precious coat, tore it, and soiled it with blood. They brought it back to their father, claiming Joseph had been ripped apart by wild beasts and was dead. Their father was grief-stricken.
Meanwhile, Joseph did the best he could and worked hard in Egypt. Eventually he was discovered to be a great interpreter of dreams and became a counselor in Pharaoh’s court. The Egyptians followed his counsel when he predicted seven years of famine would follow seven years of plenty by stocking up on food and supplies to prepare for the upcoming drought. But all the people in the lands around Egypt knew not of the coming famine. They were not prepared and many people starved. Joseph’s brothers traveled to Egypt to beg for food. They came directly to the Pharaoh’s court and pled their case to Joseph himself. It had been so long since they last saw him that they did not recognize him. Joseph knew who they were, though. His heart looked upon them in their afflictions with mercy and forgiveness. Not only did he give them the food they needed, but he revealed to them who he was and had them send for his father. The family was reunited again in love.
This is a breathtaking story of the power of forgiveness. Had Joseph remained bitter all the years he was betrayed, this story would have turned out very differently. But because he had a forgiving heart, he was able to make a terrible situation fruitful. In time, he was in a position to feed all of Egypt and his family not only temporally, but spiritually. His forgiveness softened their hearts too, and they were able to repent of their past transgressions.
I think sometimes how this story could have unfolded. Joseph could have turned to bitterness. If so, he may have missed all his opportunities to develop his talents and become the great interpreter of dreams. Egypt may have suffered for lack of food during the famine. Joseph’s brothers could have died; indeed, the entire region could have fallen. But happily, this was not so — all because of Joseph’s willingness to forgive and to move on.
In some respects, Joseph was thrown into an abrupt move himself, much like my friend. He was forced to “pack lightly” by taking only the things that mattered most. He chose to take his testimony and his forgiving heart. That made all the difference for him in his new circumstances.
We can learn a lot from Joseph, even if we are only in a figurative move in life. Each situation we face is like a chance to “make a move” one way or the other, toward bitterness and anger or toward love and forgiveness. In essence, we move with each choice either toward or away from eternal life. We choose to pack lightly or to carry every ounce of hurt and pain with us.
What we take with us determines how happy we will be along the way. I know when I hold grudges, I feel like I’ve been carrying a 20-lb. weight in each hand high over my head — I get too tired to go on. But when I let go of anger, when I forgive those who have harmed me, I am renewed by the Spirit of the Lord. When I “pack lightly,” I have a better outlook on my situation and I have the strength to accomplish things when I lacked strength before.
We have the opportunity each day to rewrite our history. We may not be able to control the trials that come or the severity of them, but we can control how long we dwell on them. We can focus on our misery and go to bed each night feeling more miserable, thus adding to a past full of pain. But if we adopt an attitude of forgiveness in our hearts, exercising it each day with gratitude for our situations regardless of what they may be, we can make the most recent yesterday a good day. The more often we turn our hearts toward good works, the more successful we will be in overcoming emotional pain.
To anyone who is thinking of moving or who is in the middle of moving (whether that is literally or figuratively), I offer the same advice — pack lightly. Bring only the things that matter. Rebuild your life with a renewal of spirit, having forgiven those who’ve tarnished your past. Your own true worth can then shine through your countenance more sincerely, wherever your new destination takes you. Your life is worth beginning again.
This post was originally published in August 2014. Minor changes have been made.
Nanette O'Neal loves the gospel and is very happy to share her testimony on LDS Blogs. She is a convert to the church and still feels the spirit burn strong within her heart. She graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts with a degree in music education and has taught children and adults in the private and public sphere for over twenty years. Nanette continues to study the gospel and the art of writing. She writes weekly inspirational articles on her blog and is currently working on an LDS fantasy novel series, A Doorway Back to Forever. You can find her at NanetteONeal.blogspot.com. Nanette has a wonderful husband, talented son, and three beautiful dogs.