I see very often on various social media platforms, or hear from people in conversation, “I’ll never forgive him/her for what was done! They don’t deserve forgiveness!”And I will admit, I’ve said similar things in the past.
But I have learned, through bitter experience and from my mentors, that failing to forgive someone is only going to harm me in the long run. Oh, sure, we may treat them badly and hurt their feelings with our lack of forgiveness, but that is much less damage than we do to ourselves if we choose to hold a grudge.
In 1711, Alexander Pope wrote these famous words, “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Perhaps nothing we can do expresses our own connection to divinity, like the power to forgive those who have hurt us, betrayed us, offended us, or left us.
This is not just my own opinion, nor Alexander Pope’s. Both modern medicine and traditional medicine speak of the healing power of forgiveness and of being forgiven.
The mental and emotional burden of carrying a grudge is one of the most devastating and destructive things a person can do to himself or herself. Dr. Karen Swartz, of Johns Hopkins, says it this way: “If someone is stuck in an angry state, what they’re essentially doing is being in a state of adrenaline. And some of the negative health consequences of not forgiving or being stuck there are high blood pressure, anxiety, depression, and not having a good immune response.”
Adrenaline is necessary at times: when you need to fight physically, when you need to run or respond in a great hurry. But continual adrenaline production produces a lot of negative consequences, because the human body is not designed to constantly be in a state of stress and heightened response.
And along with adrenaline, that same state of heightened tension and response causes the production of excess cortisol — a chemical that causes weight gain, messes up glucose regulation, and interferes with your body’s ability to heal, as well as causing mood swings and depression.
There is other evidence as well. Studies have shown that people who DO forgive those who have wronged them have lower mortality rates, lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and even better sleep.
From all this, we can see that forgiveness is not something we do just for the other person; rather, it is something we do for ourselves as well.
Please understand, though: I am not saying “Forgive and forget.” Sometimes, that simply isn’t possible. And I’m not saying, “Forgive and invite them over for Thanksgiving dinner.” It is not about rationalizing or justifying someone else’s actions to hurt you or erasing the past as though it never happened. It is about releasing and getting rid of the negative energy and negative effects that the grudge is having on your body, your mind, your emotions, and your life. It is about putting down the burden of anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.
In June of 2015, Dylann Roof entered a black church in South Carolina, asked to be part of the Bible study, and sat down. An hour later, he stood up and with a .45-caliber handgun and murdered nine church members in cold blood. His stated desire was to ignite a race war, and it could have happened. But something remarkable and more beautiful happened: forgiveness.
Within three days after the shooting, family members and relatives of those murdered, stood up and publicly forgave Roof for his actions, calling upon him to repent what he had done — but NOT calling for revenge in any way. The cooling waters of forgiveness were poured out upon the smoldering coals of racial conflict, and Roof’s stated goal — a race war — was averted.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Roof got away with his crime. He was tried, sentenced to death and at this time is awaiting execution. But those who forgave him at least freed themselves from the burden of carrying the grudge, and by forgiving him so publicly, helped to avert further bloodshed in a racial conflict.
Nelson Mandela was unjustly imprisoned by the South African government for 27 years, yet emerged without hatred for his captors. He said, “As I walked out the door toward my freedom, I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind, I would still be in prison.”
Someone once said, “Holding a grudge is like taking poison into your own body, to make the other person die.”
This is true in the emotional sense, but as medical science is proving, in the physical sense as well. Don’t poison yourself by holding back on forgiveness for those who have wronged you. Forgive, even if you cannot bring yourself to condone what was done.