Forgiveness

Practice Forgiveness; Improve Your Health

Few things have more potential to improve our health than practicing forgiveness. Forgiveness brings a supernatural peace, and peace lowers our stress levels. Any time we lower our stress levels, we improve our health.

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Everyone enjoys receiving forgiveness, but most are reluctant to extend forgiveness. We don’t forgive for the other person’s sake. We do it for our own sakes. Withholding forgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

[callout]Forgiveness is letting go of our right to retaliate against that person is any way, shape, or form.[/callout]

God tells us to forgive. (Matthew 18: 21-22) Is this because he’s trying to catch us breaking his rules, so he can pronounce us guilty, and punish us? For heaven’s sake no! It’s because extending forgiveness is for our own good.

It has been said that by offering forgiveness we set the prisoner free. Once we do, we discover that the prisoner was us.

At an intellectual level, we know this is true. However, most of us are still reluctant to forgive. I believe this resistance is due to a lack of understanding of what forgiveness is, and what it is not.

Forgiveness Is

Forgiveness is letting go of our right to retaliate against that person in any way, shape, or form. In our minds, we cease trying to even the score, or extract restitution from that person.

Forgiveness is unilateral. The person that hurt us may or may not ever acknowledge that what they did was wrong. We can still forgive, because we are in control of our response.

It’s far better to simply turn that person over to God, and let God worry about making things right, or avenging us. (Romans 12:19)

The crazy thing is that, often the perpetrator is not even aware that they’ve done anything wrong. How silly it is for us to continue to stew over the event in our minds. We think that somehow, this will inflict harm on that person. The only person this choice harms is us.

Unforgivenss leads to resentment. Resentment leads to bitterness. Bitterness leads to anger and hatred. In addition to robbing our joy, and stealing our peace, these toxic emotions cause a flood of unhealthy chemicals to be released in our bodies. For more on our physiological response, see my post: How Thoughts Affect Our Health. 

Forgiveness Is Not

Forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgetting is impossible. What we should have as our goal is to be able to recall the event without any pain associated with it.

Forgiveness is not saying what they did was okay, or that it didn’t matter. People are imperfect, and sinful. And sometimes their sinful behavior is hurtful. By choosing to forgive, we’re acknowledging that we are in control of our response. We shouldn’t allow them to continue to hurt us by holding on to the event.

Forgiveness is not reconciliation. In order for reconciliation to take place there must be repentance on behalf of the other person. Even it this does not take place, we can, and should, still forgive.

Forgiveness is not letting them off the hook from moral or legal consequences. Sometimes, people need to go to jail for what they’ve done. Depending on the nature of the event, they may loose their job, or family as a result. We can still forgive.

Forgiveness is not becoming a door-mat, or tolerating abuse from a violent person. You may need to remove yourself from an abusive situation. This can even require a legal restraining order in extreme cases. The level of abuse however does not give us the right to not forgive.

Forgiveness is not conditional. We should never say things such as: “I’ll forgive them when they say their sorry.” 0r: “I’ll forgive them if they promise to….get a job, grow up, stop spending.” etc. If we put conditions on our forgiveness, then we haven’t forgiven. This robs us of the peace that is rightfully ours.

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What Can We Do?

Everyone has people in their lives that need to be forgiven. I suggest making a list of people that have hurt you. In prayer, go through the list, use their names, and release them to God.

Tell God that you’re tired of living under the hurt that this person has caused. Tell him that you let go of your right to retaliate, or seek restitution from this person. Tell God that you trust him to deal with them. Ask God to come into the wounds, and heal the broken places in your heart that these hurts have caused.

Lastly, it may be years or even decades that these memories have troubled you. The toxic thoughts get burned into our neural networks like a groove in a record, or an image burned into our computer monitors. We need to re-train our minds to stay, and walk in this new-found freedom that forgiveness brings. (Romans 12:2)

I suggest writing out a prayer thanking God for the peace he’s given you by turning these people over to him. Read the prayer out loud daily for at least a month. This helps establish new neural connections in our brains, and keeps us from falling into the old, familiar thought patterns.

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About the Author David Sandstrom

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