How Forgiveness Will Change Your Life
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My dad has taught me so many great lessons in life, and still, at 78 years old, he manages to challenge me with his wisdom and example.
He and my mom gave us kids a life of love, acceptance, care, and comfort. Dad’s life was nothing like that! He was given up for adoption at birth, lived in 2 broken homes, was sent to boarding school hundreds of miles away and was treated with little affection until he finally left for college.
He has gone on to become a wonderful husband, father and minister and yet, as an adult, he experienced other deep hurts and unfair treatment by significant people in his life. It is hard to imagine how this pain, injustice, and loneliness didn’t embitter my dad or bring brokenness to our home, but it didn’t. Instead, he chose to forgive. More than that, he reconnected with many of those people that hurt him and gave them a second chance.
What is Forgiveness?
In the article, “8 Ways Forgiveness Is Good For Your Health,” Amanda L. Chan writes: “Forgiveness is the act of consciously deciding to let go of resentment or vengeance toward another…who has harmed you in some way whether or not they’re actually deserving of that forgiveness. It does not mean having to forget or condone the wrongdoing committed against you.”
Forgiveness is often seen as primarily benefiting the one forgiven, and although that may be true, there is a host of benefits to the one who offers forgiveness. Science, the Bible, and personal observation tell us that forgiving can be one of the best things for us.
In fact, in the article “The New Science of Forgiveness,” Everett L. Worthington Jr. writes: “Studies are finding connections between forgiveness and physical, mental, and spiritual health and evidence that it plays a key role in the health of families, communities, and nations.”
So, why is it better to forgive?
Forgiveness Frees you from Needing to Getting Even
“Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. ‘I’ll do the judging.’ Says God. ‘I’ll take care of it.’” (Romans 12:19 MSG)
There is a natural tendency to get back at someone offends you and make them pay for what they have done. This can come in the form of breaking off the relationship, passive/aggressive treatment or just being downright mean.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences, it just means that you don’t have to be the one who divvies out punishment.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences, it just means that you don’t have to be the one who divvies out punishment. In some cases, the relationship can be fully reconciled, in others, that may not be possible. Forgiveness simply gives the opportunity for the relationship to be as good as it can be.
Forgiveness Frees you to Focus on your Present and Future
“Unforgiveness is the poison you drink when someone else hurts you” – Unknown
In any sport, I hate being the scorekeeper. I have enough to think about just trying to make a basket or catch the football. When someone else is keeping score, I play better and enjoy the activity much more. Unforgiveness is a little like that because you can find yourself keeping score in relationships with people. It can take you off your game and frankly unforgiveness can be exhausting. On the other hand, forgiving removes distractions from your life and thoughts, making room for better things.
Forgiveness Frees you to have Better Physical and Mental Health
Worthington writes: “Consider that hostility is a central part of unforgiveness. Hostility also has been found to…have the most pernicious health effects, such as a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease. Forsaking a grudge may…free a person from hostility and all its unhealthy consequences.”
Forgiveness removes distractions from your life and thoughts, making room for better things.
Most people want to be healthy, and there is no lack of guidance to eat right, exercise, take supplements, etc. It’s less common to hear the benefits of addressing unforgiveness in our relationships as part of improving our health. Where unforgiveness can lead to things like a compromised immune system, heightened stress and nervousness, forgiving others as a regular practice is linked to a greater sense of well-being, happiness, and even longer life.
Forgiveness Frees you to Receive Forgiveness Yourself
“But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins too.” (Mark 11:25 NLT)
There is an injustice in being forgiven and not forgiving others – this creates tension in our conscience and relationship with Jesus who offers forgiveness to everyone. He does this by taking the consequences of people’s sin upon Himself so that justice is served. For us, forgiveness is about recognizing that God is the Judge and agreeing with his forgiveness of us and other people in our lives. When you do this, you can receive His forgiveness freely and fully, making it easier to forgive others and even yourself.
Forgiveness Frees you to Reconcile with the Person You Forgive
Often, the people who hurt us are our closest and most meaningful relationship: parents, spouses, our children, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. Although unforgiveness is always unhealthy, it is particularly altering and harmful when it is directed toward people central to our daily lives. These are people that we should be able to lean upon, trust and enjoy their company.
Where unforgiveness can lead to things like a compromised immune system, heightened stress and nervousness, forgiving others as a regular practice is linked to a greater sense of well-being, happiness, and even longer life.
Although it is not always possible to reconcile and re-establish a close relationship, forgiveness opens the door to these possibilities. It doesn’t happen overnight, but offering forgiveness changes the culture of a relationship to bridge distance, rebuild trust, and an environment of mutual care.
Forgiveness Frees you to Be the Person You were Meant to Be
“Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32 MSG)
The Bible says that we were made in God’s image. Even in the brokenness of the world, God’s purpose is to actualize us into what we were made to be. Our example is His Son, Jesus and when we look at Him, what do we see? We see a Forgiver. It’s not just part of his character, it is the entire reason he came, and it’s what he has been doing ever since. Simply said, being a Christian means following Christ and becoming like him. Learning to forgive people is a big part of that.
So to my dad and mom, Pastor Tim and Bonnie Keene, I thank you for modeling such an important and life-transforming principle to me, my family and so many others you have touched.