Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Real Deal

One does not need to look far for relevant inspiration when needed. It's usually as close as your web browser when you're on the prowl (as I always am) for an upbeat assessment of one's triumph over tragedy. As a young man, I loved reading John F. Kennedy's Profiles in Courage.

Such was my experience this morning when I read about Gary Ceran. (Here's the link). Gary is the poster child for tragedy, forgiveness, business reversals and starting over. Lee Benson is the writer, and the details are just what you're looking for if you're feeling particularly depressed today about your circumstances. You've come to the right place. Take a page from Gary Ceran's book of life.

The "real deal" in my definition is someone who is authentic because of the sorrows they've known, but has overcome. I'm always more interested in someone who has turned sorrow and setbacks into something positive -- someone who has the uncanny ability to make lemonade out of lemons, rather than turning into a bitter lemon or a pickle sucker.

Gary Ceran is just such a man.

Imagine having half your large family wiped out in one night by a drunk driver -- an illegal alien who was in this country without papers no less. Imagine losing your thriving business as the economy tanks. Imagine forgiving the instrument of your family's demise, then visiting him in prison over Christmas to give him comfort. That's authentic. That's the real deal in my judgment.

Gary was one of several during a particularly difficult time a few years back when it seemed the newspapers and media outlets were filled week after week with stories about tragedies. Remember the highlights from the Amish community when their school was attacked by a random shooter and several children were killed? Those wonderful people found a way to forgive their assailant about the same time Gary was suffering his losses.

Yesterday's post featured a letter writer who was an accomplished "pickle sucker" in the words of President Hinckley. Today's post features a more useful rebuttal than anything I could say.

The theme is forgiveness and moving on. Someone said it best: "Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other guy dies."

Gary remembers his father's way of saying it: "Life is like a grindstone. Whether it grinds you down or polishes you up, that's up to you."

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said it this way: "One important dimension of loving-kindness is forgiveness. Our generosity, forgetfulness, and forgviveness can often be the equivalent of an 'emancipation proclamation' for someone who has erred, as 'with the breath of kindness,' we 'blow the chaff away.'" (The Neal A. Maxwell Quote Book, 130).

President Harold B. Lee added this insight:

Now don't be too hasty in your conclusions as to what conditions in mortality constitute the greater privileges. That condition in life which gives the greatest experience and opportunity for development is the one to be most desired and any one so privileged is most favored of God. It has been said that "a smooth sea never made a skillful mariner, neither do uninterrupted prosperity and success qualify for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude of the voyager. The mariners of ancient times, in bracing their minds to outward calamaties, acquired a loftiness of purpose and a moral heroism worth a lifetime of softness and security." (Decisions for Successful Living, 165-66).

In his classic The Miracle of Forgiveness (see 268-9), President Spencer W. Kimball masterfully illustrates the need for each of us to freely forgive:

People who are inclined to sit in judgment on others should read and reread these words of Paul to the Romans: "Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" (Romans 2:1-3).

The Redeemer's principle of not judging is not a single-action program -- it is a day-to-day requirement of life. He tells us to clean up our own errors first -- to remove the beam-size faults. Then, and not till then, is one justified in turning his attention to the eccentricities or weaknesses of another.

"And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?" (Matthew 7:3-4).

This should leave no doubt in any mind. The unequalness of the beam and the mote is telling. A mote is a tiny sliver like a small portion from a toothpick, while the beam is usually a great, strong timber or metal which runs from wall to wall to support the heavy roof of the building. When one is loaded down with beam-size weaknesses and sins, it is certainly wrong to forget his own difficult position while he makes mountains of the molehill-size errors of his brother.

Our vision is completely obscured when we have no mirror to hold up to our own faults and look only for the foibles of others. When we follow the instructions of the Lord, we are kept so busy perfecting ourselves that we come to realize that the faults of others are small in comparison. We should establish the delightful habit, then, of minimizing the weaknesses of others and thus increase our own virtues.

He who will not forgive others breaks down the bridge over which he himself must travel. This is a truth taught by the Lord in the parable of the unmerciful servant who demanded to be forgiven but was merciless to one who asked forgiveness of him. (See Matthew 18:23-35).

It is interesting to note the difference in the debts. The wicked servant owed 10,000 talents and was owed only 100 pence. The Bible dictionary says that a talent is 750 ounces while a Roman penny is the eighth part of an ounce. In the parable, then, the wicked servant who owed 10,000 talents and who begged for time and mercy was condemning and imprisoning for debt the man who owed him a relatively paltry sum, one 600,000th of his own debt. Did not Paul say that we are usually guilty of the same transgressions and errors of which we accuse and condemn our fellowmen?

Returning to Gary Ceran and his noble example, can we do less and hope to be forgiven?

"Remember three things: First, Christ took upon his own head the sins of those who have wronged us. Second, because of this, he stands between us and those whom we think have wronged us, asking us to realize that the atonement is sufficient for those sins and to therefore repent of our grudges and give up our enmity. And finally, if we forgive, the atonement fills us with what we have lacked and either washes away our pain, or sustains us in it." (James L. Ferrell, The Peacegiver, 76-77).

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