Written by Kathy @ Simple Clean Living, Contributing Writer
As humans, we at some time will find ourselves in a situation where through words or actions, someone in our lives will hurt us. It may be as simple as a loved one saying something that makes us feel bad, or it may be as large as an unspeakable act of betrayal that breaks our heart and wounds us to the very core of our being. No matter how someone has hurt us, as Christians we are called to forgive those who have caused us pain.
This is certainly not easy for most of us. Often, we would rather hold onto the feelings of anger, hurt and resentment as a way to protect ourselves from being hurt again. But holding on to these negative feelings not only does damage to our spiritual health but does damage to our physical and emotional health as well.
Unforgiveness and Stress
When we are unwilling to forgive others, we are making the choice to hold onto negative emotions, which creates physical stress throughout our body. After awhile, this stress becomes chronic and can result in physical injury and disease. Stress is the number one contributor to the chronic illnesses that are so prevalent today…whether that stress is emotional, mental, physical, environmental or spiritual. Unforgiveness is a form of mental and emotional stress.
Symptoms of Stress
As you continue to hold onto negative emotions for long periods of time, you will begin to experience health issues throughout the body such as: headaches, chronic pain, digestive problems, skin issues, sleep disturbances, heart related problems (such as high blood pressure and palpitations), decreased immunity and even obesity.
Emotionally, the lack of forgiveness begins to appear as anxiety, depression, irritability, resentment, lack of concentration, lack of organization, overwhelm, hopelessness, worthlessness and can even be as extreme as thoughts of suicide.
For the spiritual effects of chronic stress due to unforgiveness, we look to the eight fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5: 22-23. The fruits of the spirit are love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. When we are wrapped up in a spirit of unforgiveness, it is nearly impossible to express most of these to the person who has betrayed or wronged us. And we certainly do not feel a sense of peace about the situation.
Unfortunately, this can also carry through to other relationships in our lives as we allow the negative to be our focus. It seems natural for us to continue holding onto resentment and holding onto our grudge. When we withhold forgiveness from others, it also keeps us separated from God and damages our precious relationship with Him. The bible clearly states that we must forgive others in order to experience the Father’s forgiveness (Matthew 6: 14-15), and so as long as we allow ourselves to keep a grasp of the negative things that we feel towards the one who wronged us, we will continue to be out of favor with God and will not be able to experience His grace and mercy.
How You Can Begin to Forgive
- Prayer! God has called us to forgive others, so if you are struggling with letting go of resentment towards someone, ask God to intervene. Prayer is the most powerful way to begin changing your heart, reducing the stress of unforgiveness and helping to lead you toward the path of peace by opening your heart to God’s guidance.
- Gratitude. Practicing gratitude every day can redirect our focus away from dwelling on the anger we feel for someone who has hurt us and help us to focus on the wonderful things that are going on in our life. If you have been wronged by a family member, spouse, child or close friend then begin to focus on things that you are grateful for about that person. It could be memories of times when they did something good for you, or even gratitude for lessons that you have learned by going through a difficult time with your loved one.
- Meditation. Meditating is a powerful way to reduce stress, boost your immune system and clear your mind of negative emotions and to reduce the power of negative events in your life. Meditating for 15-20 minutes daily can stop your body from producing stress related chemicals such as cortisol, lower blood pressure, bring more vital oxygen into your blood stream and help you to feel far more relaxed and positive.
When you forgive someone, you actually set yourself free…free from the stress of the negative emotions that you have held onto. This can help you to avoid stress related illnesses and allow you to live with a greater sense of joy and peace. So making the choice to embrace forgiveness is the greatest act of love that you can give…to yourself.