THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS
When you hold a grudge, who really suffers?
by Heather Carr
In October 2006 the Amish community in Nickel Mines,
Pennsylvania, endured the fatal shooting of five young girls in a
one-room schoolhouse. Many of us looked on in wonder as this
community forgave the shooter and embraced his family. In this
case, the Amish demonstrated the amazing human ability to
forgive, even in the most painful of circumstances. 1
Forgiveness was a tough choice for those people. It's tough
for us as well, but something we must do if we're going to
survive spiritually, physically, and emotionally. If we choose
instead to begrudge the evildoer, the stakes may be higher than
Jesus makes this clear. He says that forgiving an offense is
not merely a nice thing to do; it is a requirement that affects
our relationship with God:
"If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly
Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their
sins, your Father will not forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:14,15).
Through our example, we open the door for others to accept
the life-giving forgiveness offered through Christ. Extending
forgiveness, especially when it seems impossible, allows the
heart of God to shine through us.
Defining a grudge
When we experience an emotional offense, extending
forgiveness is a real challenge. It may seem impossible to see
anything beyond our grief. If the pain begins to take over, a
deep-seated resentment, or grudge, may form.
A grudge results from allowing our initial negative
reactions to consume us. We replay our hurt repeatedly, leaving
us feeling helpless, even overwhelmed, in the face of injustice.
Anger, confusion, or sadness dominate our thinking and crowd out
positive feelings, like joy and peace.
Look for these cues to determine if you're holding a grudge:
* You think about your painful past more than your present. 2
* You feel physically or emotionally upset thinking about the
* You replay the situation in your mind. 2
* You have a chip on your shoulder. 3
* You are easily angered. 3
* You plot revenge. 3
8 You think the worst about people or situations. 3
Holding a grudge doesn't hurt the offender; it hurts us.
Researchers have discovered that unforgiveness adversely affects
the immune, nervous, and cardiovascular systems. Result? Higher
blood pressure, increased headaches and backaches, stomach
problems, and other ailments.
Refusing to release a painful experience causes our bodies
to relive it. Whether the event is recent or many years ago, the
physical result can be the same. "When we think or feel something
intellectually or emotionally, part of that experience is a
physical experience," says Dr.Fred Luskin, director of the
Forgiveness Project at Stanford University.
According to Dr.Luskin, the mind-body connection is the link
between forgiveness and health. A long-standing resentment or
grudge is "going to have an impact on you physically through
the stress response, and then the physical is going to have an
influence on your mind by telling you how much this painful
experience has harmed you."
Our bodies aren't the only things to suffer when we hold
grudges from being wronged; our emotions take a beating as well.
Negative feelings like hopelessness, depression, and anxiety can
Research has also shown that deciding to forgive the hurts
of the past allows us to release those negative emotions and
replace them with joy, hopefulness, and improved self-confidence.
Forgiving allows us to focus our energy on the positive aspects
of self and the world around us.
First steps, hurdles
Admitting that you're holding a grudge is tough. Letting go
of it can be even tougher, especially when the offense is great.
As with many challenges in life, it takes only a few small steps
to move in the right direction. Try these to get you moving:
* Understand what specifically caused you to become upset. Why do
you feel the way you do?
* Share your feelings with someone you trust. Loved ones may be
able to shed light on the situation and provide needed support.
* Make a commitment to forgive. Forgiveness isn't easy,
especially if the offender isn't interested in receiving it. But
with practice and patience, you can work through it.
Here's a look at some common hurdles and concerns in
forgiving, and how Dr.Luskin recommends overcoming them:
* Forgiveness doesn't mean you condone the actions of the person
who hurt you, nor that you'll reconcile with him. Forgiveness
does mean that you can find peace regardless.
* You don't have to forget in order to forgive. You may still
remember what happened, but you'll remember it differently,
allowing you to move forward.
* You don't have to wait for someone to ask your forgiveness. In
the case of a stranger or one who's died, waiting for the person
to ask will prevent forgiveness and block you from the benefits
of a forgiving lifestyle. In many ways, forgiving isn't about the
person who hurt you; it's about you.
Overcoming these hurdles is a huge accomplishment, but don't
stop there. To fully realize the benefits of forgiveness, Dr.
Luskin recommends making forgiveness a lifestyle. Putting these
healthy habits into action will help you make the transition from
pain to freedom.
Live in the present.
You can't change the past, but you can control your reaction
to it today. Admitting that your pain results from the past will
help you move ahead.
Look for the silver lining.
If you feel upset, try to focus your attention on something
that still brings you joy.
Put your time and energy
into something positive. If you're tempted to revisit the
pain of the past, redirect your energy into something like
volunteering, helping others cope with a similar experience, or
working toward a life-long goal.
Live with a thankful heart.
Instead of dwelling on your pain, look for the beauty in the
world that surrounds you. An attitude of appreciation will help
heal the hurts of the past.
Tell a new story.
Think about your experience and retell it in a way that
emphasizes your triumph, not your tragedy.
Follow the example of others.
Approach someone you know who has come through a similar
situation - victoriously. Or join a support group.
A forgiving lifestyle enables us to maintain a sense of
peace through difficulty. We relinquish our desire for revenge
and acknowledge God's control over our situation.
Many examples of forgiveness are in the Bible, from Joseph's
acceptance of his brothers' plea after selling him into slavery
(Genesis 50:17) to the greatest example, Jesus. As He was dying
on the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not
know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).
This can be the case in our lives as well. People may not
know what they've done to hurt us. They may have started out with
good intentions. We will know we've truly forgiven when we feel
peace despite what they did. The desire for revenge or need to
speak against offenders will be replaced with sympathy,
gentleness, and compassion.
When it comes to forgiveness, the choice remains ours. May
we go the way of Jesus and reap the benefits.
Heather Carr writes from Waterford, MI. Scripture quotations are
from the New International Version.
1. "How can the Amish forgive what seems unforgivable?" (12 June
2. Dr.Fred Luskin. "Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for
Health and Happiness" (Harper San Francisco, 2001), pp.77-92, 211
3. "Forgiveness: How to let go of grudges and bitterness"
MayoChnic.com. (07 April 2009,
National Forgiveness Week
October 25-31, 2009
* to celebrate the power of unconditional Love and forgiveness in
producing good health and happiness at home, at work, at worship,
and in our individual Lives.
* to repair, restore, rebuild, and revive damaged relationships
through the process of unconditional love and forgiveness.
Sunday: Please forgive others.
Monday: Help me forgive them.
Tuesday: Please forgive me.
Wednesday: Please restore my joy.
Thursday: Remove bitterness from my heart.
Friday: Bless those who have hurt me.
Sabbath: Help me to forgive myself.
Visit www.unconditionallovelive.com. Click on National
Forgiveness Day. Download information and send to others.
- Robert Moyers
Liberty Center, Ohio
From "The Bible Advocate" - October/November 2009 - a publication
of the Church of God, Seventh Day, Denver, CO. USA.