That old hurt still rankle? Refuse to forgive? Believe that if you forgive, it might mean that what they did to you was okay? Say the word “forgive”, and watch shoulders go up around the ears of many people in the room. And yet, it can be one of the most important, lifechanging things you’ll ever do. Forgiveness is not a feeling or emotion. It
is a conscious decision. It also does not translate into being a doormat or excusing harmful treatment or behavior. It isn’t for their sake – it’s for yours. The American Psychological Association has found that forgiving can decrease stress, add to quality of life, and help with coping skills. Forgiveness is the taking-back of power, letting you be the one to decide whether you want to be a victim or not to what went wrong in your life. Forgiveness also increases health benefits, and enjoyment of life. Those who seem to enjoy their lives the most are people who take control of it – including their emotions and taking responsibility for them. Forgiveness frees you up, and releases you at the same time. If you are a person of faith, holding on to unforgiveness puts a wedge between you and God. Even if the other person or the situation that hurt you never is resolved, the decision to forgive is still within your power.
Dr. Everett Worthington, an expert on the topic of forgiveness, had to learn to forgive his own mother’s murderer. He writes on the subject, and about the cost of holding on to unforgiveness. I have used some of his materials in work with clients as an intern, and across the board, many people report that they were surprised at the level of freedom and peace they experienced when, in spite of their feelings and misgivings, chose to let go and forgive. The last thing that forgiveness is, is a sign of weakness or capitulation; indeed, it is an earmark of a person who knows when to let go and protect and honor their life and well-being.
Unforgiveness wreaks a horrible toll…emotional illness, hurt, somatic (physical symptoms) complaints, depression, anger, bitterness, rage, resentment, jealousy…all can be the direct outcome of unforgiveness. A life of bitterness, anger and unforgiveness has been documented through meta-analyses to contribute to cardiac issues, stress, high blood pressure, depression, angry outbursts, injured or destroyed relationships, work problems, marital problems. If you didn’t think that person or situation owned you before, with obstinate refusal to forgive, now they surely do. It may be that you never receive that apology….that person never acknowledges the real hurt they caused you…and refusing to forgive allows them to hold all the decision-making power, rendering you in a powerless position. When you choose to forgive, you change that dynamic into a reflection of you owning your life, taking your decision-making power and autonomy back, and moving forward into the future with less a weight on your shoulders…and much more capacity for mental health, peace, centeredness, hope, less bitterness, courage, strength. You can’t change anyone else’s behavior…but forgiveness is a gift you can give yourself. That person who hurt you, that situation that didn’t work out, has no say in if you choose to forgive or not…it’s a thing only you get to decide. If you are a believer, then know that Christ loved us so much, that He knew all of the things written here; He of all people knew the cost of unforgiveness. He loved us so deeply that He wanted us to experience freedom, peace, inner calm, by the act of forgiveness. He knew the cost otherwise. Even on the cross, one of his last acts before His dying breath, was to lovingly forgive the thief on a cross near Him. Can we who have received much grace and mercy do any less? Forgiveness frees.