Forgiveness is a vitally important part of a happy, healthy life. Recent studies on the effects of forgiveness on our health have confirmed that an inability to forgive causes excess stress hormones and depletes the immune system, leaving a person at risk for developing chronic and life-threatening diseases.
Judeo-Christian traditions require repentance and forgiveness. Verses throughout the Old and New Testament leave little doubt that God expects us to forgive those who have wronged us. A life of forgiveness gives us greater peace. But forgiveness is work. I would pose that it is the most important work we will ever do in our lives. Like all work, forgiveness has certain requirements in order to make it happen.
Faith: Forgiveness requires faith in a power outside us. Forgiveness is not a natural tendency; it is an empowered choice from a higher source. One has to believe there is a power greater than oneself in order to forgive someone else. One who forgives believes in a higher power and that power is love. Forgiveness requires faith.
Open: We must be open to forgive. Think about a person whom you know that you have forgiven. Which word would describe your feelings towards that person; open or closed? Even if it is a person whom we can’t remain in relationship with, if we have forgiven them we are open to praying for them and loving them. If we have not forgiven them, then our experiences and perceptions of that person are going to be closed. Forgiveness requires openness.
Receive: Offering forgiveness can only happen when we receive love. If I cannot or will not receive love, than I cannot and will not be able to forgive. Forgiveness is hard work. We need strength for the journey. Forgiveness requires that we receive love.
Gift: To forgive means to treasure the gift of life. Think about a gift that is the wrong color, size, etc. We bother to exchange it only if the gift means something. We need to acknowledge our life and someone else’s life as a gift before we can really forgive. Forgiveness requires that we see life as a gift.
Initiate: Forgiveness is an action. We must initiate forgiveness, make a conscious decision and act. Sometimes it is not possible to physically initiate forgiveness because it isn’t wise, safe or possibly because the person is no longer in our lives. Sometimes forgiveness has to happen in the silence of our hearts. Still, forgiveness requires that we initiate it by making the decision and taking appropriate actions to forgive. Forgiveness requires that we initiate action.
Vent: The word vent implies breathing. When I think of venting, I think of a release valve that lets out steam. We need to vent, to express our pain appropriately. Sometimes it takes years of counseling, venting, to get to a place where we can forgive. We take in the good, and let go of the bad. Forgiveness requires us to vent our pain and frustration so we can readily forgive.
Ease: Ease is one the fruits of forgiveness. When we forgive, we feel at ease, at peace with the relationship or situation which required forgiveness. We experience ease when we forgive.
When Peter asked Jesus how many times he needed to forgive someone, Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven times”(Mt.18:22). In scripture, the number seven implies completion. Jesus’ reply clearly indicates that God expects that forgiveness is limitless. Unlimited forgiveness is the key to peace; in our hearts and in the world. It doesn’t mean that we don’t need boundaries. Boundaries, laws and consequences are all needed to protect us from offenses in the first place. God gives us the grace for unlimited forgiveness.
I have struggled with forgiveness in my own life. A few years ago, a long-time friend offended me and my family. For two years, my mind, body and spirit was not at rest. Thoughts and feelings of vengeance clouded my mind and stressed my body with negative emotions. All along, the Lord was nudging me to live what I profess.
A few years later, a mutual friend died and we knew we would see this person at the funeral. Our friend was a Sister of Mercy and her funeral was at Our Lady of Mercy Church. The unavoidable theme of the Mass was her devotion to mercy. I decided to let go of my anger and resentments at the altar that day and I was finally at ease. I realized that my lack of forgiveness served no purpose, except to block me from receiving the Lord’s mercy and cause me more stress. There was no formal reconciliation, just a decision to relate to this person in love. Yet a simple decision predisposed me to be merciful; to let go and let God lead the way into the healing power of forgiveness. Since that day, I no longer feel the stress filled feelings of anger and resentment towards this person. We even followed up by going to dinner with him and staying in touch from time to time.
I went to the funeral in faith and openness to receive the gift of life. My decisions and actions initiated forgiveness. I vented my frustration to the Lord and finally experienced the ease of forgiveness. I needed God’s mercy to forgive. I found not only mercy but peace in spirit, soul and body. Forgiveness is not just a spiritual mandate. When we choose to forgive, we free not only the person who offended us; we free our souls and strengthen our body, mind and spirit. Forgiveness is a key to a healthy and happy life.
Eileen Benthal has a B.A. in theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer, speaker and wellness coach at 40DaysToFocus.com and NOFO Wellness Center. She works with clients locally and around the U.S. who are excited about balancing their health in body, mind and spirit.
Eileen and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, 16-year-old Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org andfacebook.com/40DaysToFocus.