“Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Ephesians 4:31-32

In our journey to the healthy place, it is important to understand that our emotional and mental status impacts our physical health.  As we can see from the scripture listed above, we need to deal with the emotion of unforgiveness. In this new year, it is a great time to start with a clean slate and let go of past issues which are not serving us well.  Unforgiveness, an emotion which causes much harm to our bodies and it is linked to anger, bitterness, resentment and offense.  All of these emotions cause stress which initiates a cascade of hormonal and chemical reactions in our bodies which create poor health outcomes.

However, the health benefits of forgiveness are plenty. In a study at Virginia Commonwealth University, researchers came to a conclusion about forgiveness. They wrote, “Chronic unforgiveness causes stress. Every time people think of their transgressor, their body responds. Decreasing your unforgiveness cuts down your health risk. Now, if you can forgive, that can actually strengthen your immune system.” [1]

It takes effort to forgive as well as to harbor anger, bitterness and offense.  Yet, it is forgiveness which actually heals us.  We all have experienced betrayal, disappointment and pain.  However, we can respond differently when we understand unforgiveness is not good for our health.  Holding on to unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  It just does not work that way.  Much of the time, the other person is going on with their life unaware of your anger, while you are still bound by the offense.  Unforgiveness is a toxin which causes more harm than good.

However, there is good news.  “Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress.” [2]   Stress is a reaction to a stressor and in this case, the stressor is the event which caused the emotion of anger or offense.  Therefore, by changing our reaction from unforgiveness to forgiveness, we can change our bodies reaction towards it.  As is noted in these studies, we can have better health outcomes and lessen our risk of chronic disease.

In our last blog, “Journey to the Healthy Place:  Where do we start” it was noted that our journey starts with a conscious decision and commitment to change.  Forgiveness is also a decision which will take effort but it is important for our health.  Forgiving others is not stating that what happened was not hurtful or offensive.  And the offender is still responsible to God for their harmful actions and words.  However, we are responsible to follow God’s word for ourselves and trust Him to help us to forgive. (Matthew 6:12)   In 3 John 2, it states our physical health will prosper as our soul (mind, will, and emotions) prospers.  Therefore, you can choose to not allow the actions of others to do harm to your physical body by responding differently.

In our determination on our journey to our healthy place, we must acknowledge that it will be hard to forgive others until we have forgiven ourselves first.  It took me many years to understand this concept because I had a tendency to blame myself whenever something happened.  And I constantly beat myself up for anything that went wrong in my life.  We all need to take time for self-reflection because what I have come to understand for myself is that many things I am offended by “struck a nerve”.   These “nerves” were areas which I needed healing.  For me it was in the areas of low self-esteem and fear of rejection.  This discovery led me to pray and read more to understand I have an identity in Jesus Christ.  (Ephesians 1 and 2)   Once I understood, God’s love for me and His acceptance, it helped me to be less offended. Then I was also able to understand, “Hurt people, hurt people”.  So, I could choose to be a victim of the “hurt person” or I could be compassionate and forgive. 

It is time to stop beating yourself up for the mistakes of the past and start anew.  Just as we give mercy to others, we need to extend that same mercy to ourselves. (2 Corinthians 1:4) God gives us new mercies every day and gives us an opportunity to repent and think differently. (Lamentations 3:23, Romans 12:1-2)   Many mistakes stem from wrong ways of thinking and an altered perspective concerning a particular situation.  As we learn to do better, then we can see improvement in our lives. 

At a “Be in Health” retreat I attended in Thomaston, Georgia, I learned about the principal of separation.  The concept is that as people we are under attack from the enemy, Satan; who does not want us to fulfill God’s given purpose for our lives.  So, he will use people to betray, disappoint, hurt and offend us to keep us in the sin of unforgiveness.  In Ephesians 6:10 it says, “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  

We must recognize there are other forces at play to cause us harm and we have to confront those forces.  In the principle of separation, we have to separate the person from their sin and see them as a victim of the same enemy which caused their actions or words to hurt you.  Then it may be easier to see the humanity in a person and extend compassion.  I believe Jesus understood this on the cross when He said, “Fatherforgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)   He forgave the very people who were putting Him to death!   And just as Jesus did, we can pray for the person to be freed from what caused them to do these harmful actions.  We can also pray for their wounded place to be healed. 

Is it easy?  Of course not, but God has left us a helper in the Holy Spirit who aids us.  And He gives us the grace so we can overcome challenges in our journey to the healthy place.  This journey to the healthy place is not easy but I can guarantee the reward is worth it.  Let’s continue our journey by forgiving ourselves and others and move forward.

Scriptures to read and meditate on this week and do the following homework:

  • Matthew 6:12-15
  • 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8
  • 1 John 1:9
  • Colossians 3:13

Write a list of those person you have not forgiven.  Pray to God to confess the sin of unforgiveness and ask Him to help you forgive and heal where you were wounded by the person’s actions and words.  Then tear up the list and throw it away.  Believe you are forgiven and that you have forgiven others.  Realize there may be other temptations to feel hurt but every time you make a decision to forgive, it will become easier.

[1]. See the work of Dr. Everitt Worthington at Virginia Commonwealth University : http://www.people.vcu.edu/~eworth

[2]. Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It | Johns Hopkins Medicine

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