I was challenged by a friend the other day to voice my understanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness has become fairly simple for me, but I also understand that it may not be easy.
Let’ start at the beginning.
We think of forgiveness as something we should do when another person has wronged us in some way. They may have lied to us, broken our trust, betrayed us, or harmed us in some other way. We often get angry and want that person to suffer in the same way we have. We want vengeance and justice.
The Bible says to forgive and we will be forgiven. Matthew 6:14-15. “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” The Bible also says that we should forgive as we have been forgiven. Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
Psychologists generally define forgiveness as a conscious, deliberate decision to release feelings of resentment or vengeance toward a person or group who has harmed you, regardless of whether they actually deserve your forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean condoning or excusing offenses.
According to the Mayo Clinic, forgiveness brings with it plenty of health benefits, including improved relationships, decreased anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, a lowered risk of depression, and stronger immune and heart health. Letting go of negative emotions can often have a remarkable impact on the body.
Johns Hopkins states that chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.
So whether you are a believer in God, an agnostic, or an atheist, forgiveness is important to our health and well-being.
Forgiving a person who has wronged you in some way is not a feeling, it is a choice. We make innumerable choices each day on what we think and how we respond to situations. Choosing to forgive someone is not for the other person’s benefit but for your own. When you hold on to a grudge or have a desire to see the other person suffer, it is actually the person harboring the grudge that suffers. It is like a stranglehold on your life, your thoughts, and your actions. You have put yourself in a noose when you harbor unforgiveness and it strangles life from you.
Because we forgive does not mean we need to maintain a relationship with someone or trust them. When a person violates the marriage covenant and has an affair, trust has been broken. The adulterer may be remorseful and repentant, and the partner may forgive and accept the violator back. But trust has to be rebuilt and that takes time and work.
In other situations where a friend has betrayed you, you can choose to forgive, but that does not mean you need to have the same type of relationship you had before, or any relationship. Boundaries are a good part of every relationship. Sometimes we have to break relationship for our own health and well-being.
You may have been rejected by someone close to you, a parent, a dear friend, or a business partner. Sometimes we have to choose to forgive over and over and over. But each time we do we gain a little more freedom.
Forgiveness is not necessarily easy, but it is fairly simple. Choose to forgive! And make that choice as often as you need to do so. And remember, when you forgive others, you are freeing yourself from bondage.