The spiritual reasons for choosing to forgive are powerful. For those fasting, which entails praying for forgiveness of sins and for God’s favour, it may be an exercise in futility if they themselves refuse to forgive.
The scriptures is clear and emphatic on this: “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
People must have asked for God’s forgiveness repeatedly during the fasting season and that leaves them with no justification for refusing to forgive others who have offended them.
Forgiving people who have hurt you badly is not an easy thing to do, but if it stands between you and God’s blessing there may be no options for you.
So one good favour individuals can do for themselves this fasting season is to forgive all who have offended them unconditionally. It is not just a demand from God; scientists have discovered that it is good for health and general well-being.
Forgiveness is replacing the bitter, angry feelings of vengefulness often resulting from a hurt, with positive feelings of goodwill toward the offender, according to researchers.
Interestingly, many people didn’t know all that until recently. Some 26 years ago when Dr. Robert Enright, first got interested in forgiveness, his colleagues thought he’d lost his mind. “They said, ‘How can a scientist study something so fluffy?’”
Enright, who is now a professor of educational psychology, sees forgiveness as a moral imperative first (turn the other cheek because it’s the right thing to do) and a practical matter second (and, oh yes, doing so will probably make your life better).
According to Dr. Glen Mack Harnden of the University of Kansas, “It not only heightens the potential for reconciliation, but also releases the offended from prolonged anger, rage, and stress that have been linked to physiological problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure and other psychosomatic illnesses.”
Author and seminary professor emeritus Lewis Smedes writes: “human forgiveness had been seen as a religious obligation of love that we owe to the person who has offended us. The discovery that I made was the important benefit that forgiving is to the forgiver.”
What forgiveness involves
One expert says: “Forgiveness involves a sense of loving detachment, which is the ability to show compassion without trying to control outcomes. In the same way that letting go requires opening one’s hands, practicing forgiveness requires opening one’s heart. Just as it is only with an open heart that we are able to forgive, it is only with a forgiving heart that we are able to love completely.”
It is “a shift in thinking and feeling” toward someone who has wronged you, “such that your desire to harm that person has decreased and your desire to do him good (or to benefit your relationship) has increased.
Hard as it seems to do, even before we are rewarded with the open gates of heaven, there is a whole lot to benefit from forgiveness here on earth.
Forgiveness does more for the victim than anyone else because it liberates the individual from negativity, making him or her move on with life. It releases the individual from the trap of endless revenge into a world of increased joy and connection.
Experts have discovered that several things occur once the forgiveness process is complete. First, our negative feelings disappear. We do not feel the same way when we run into the people who hurt us.
Harsh feeling is replaced by concern, pity, or empathy, but not resentment.
Second, we find it much easier to accept the people who have hurt us without feeling the need to change them. We are willing to take them just the way they are. Once the blinders of resentment have been removed from our eyes, we will have a new appreciation of their situation and motivation.
Third, concern about our offenders’ needs will outweigh concern about what they did to us.
Instead of concentrating only on ourselves, we will be able to see that the individuals who have hurt us are people with legitimate needs of their own.
Forgiveness and health
Perhaps more urgently, it has been discovered that the victim’s health depends on the forgiveness, perhaps more than the offender’s.
Investigating the relationship between forgiveness and psychological and physiological indices in cardiac patients, Friedberg, Friedberg and Srinivas discovered that forgiveness is associated with better psychological and physical health and in particular cardiovascular functioning.
The findings show that the psychological correlates of forgiveness are similar in cardiac patients and healthy individuals. Also, among cardiac patients, forgiveness may be associated with reduced risk for future cardiovascular events.
Also, from the growing body of research on forgiveness are discoveries that people who forgive are more likely than the general population to have:
Fewer episodes of depression
Lower blood pressure
Fewer stress-related health issues
Better immune system function
Lower rates of heart disease
Forgiveness is intertwined with many emotions – resentment, grief, rage, sadness, hurt, betrayal, vulnerability, anger and fear are often part of the experience.
The consequences of unforgiveness are grave. Apart from blocking prayers, it eats the individual up physically and psychologically. There are even unimaginable consequences like this one shared by Pastor Enoch Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. “A woman came to us at the church in Ebute-Metta, Lagos, in the early 80’s. Out of fear, she had lived in 22 houses in Lagos before coming to us for prayers.
“What happened? She had had a quarrel with her husband and decided she would never forgive him in spite of all the pleas. And so God handed her over to the spirit of fear.
“She was always afraid that someone was going to kill her. She therefore suspected most of the people she came in contact with were planning to kill her. She kept on running from house to house until she came to the church. “She said to us, ‘I’m sure I’m safe here in this mission house; nobody can touch me here.’
“Then one morning she woke up and took a good look at the Assistant General Overseer and said, “This is the leader of those who want to kill me.” From that we knew something was seriously wrong. We appealed to her to forgive her husband, but she refused. She kept on running from house to house and never found any peace.”
“If you want progress, prosperity, forgiveness and mercy, forgive those who offend you. Release them from your heart.”