After nearly 30 years of counseling people of all ages, and in a variety of circumstances, I am convinced that this “F” word is the most powerful word in the English language – the word “Forgiveness.” Depending on the severity of the hurt or abuse, rejection or betrayal endured at the hands of others, the whole idea of forgiveness can seem like the most undesirable and insurmountable mountain that we could ever face in life. I have had people literally scream and run out of my counseling office when I have mentioned this “F” word out loud to them.
Forgiveness is powerful, and stands in stark contrast to unforgiveness.
Forgiveness was born 3,800 years ago in Egypt. The first written account of true forgiveness – not just setting aside anger or revenge, but true forgiveness – is recorded in the book of Genesis with the account of Joseph and his brothers who had previously rejected, abused, and betrayed Joseph into slavery. Since then forgiveness has been a fundamental teaching of Judaism, and is the central concept of Christianity. It has been studied and considered by people all over the world, and today some major universities, such as Stanford University and Vanderbuilt University, have “Forgiveness Projects” where the effects of forgiveness or unforgiveness are being researched and carefully studied for their impact on health, relationships, business productivity, and more.
According to researchers at Stanford University, unforgiveness leads to bitterness, anger, higher high blood pressure, higher levels of stress, lowered immune system effectiveness, and cardiovascular problems. Experience tells us that when people carry around the pain of rejection, abuse, or betrayal for long periods of time that they feel badly about themselves (“I deserved it!”), perform more poorly at home and at work, and can become anxious, sullen, or become depressed.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ spoke of the Devil as the enemy of the human race, describing him as the “thief” who has come to “steal, kill, and destroy.” This is a perfect description of the results of a person carrying around the burden of unforgiveness year after year. Unforgiveness steals from our happiness, kills our relationships, and destroys our sense of wellbeing and even our health. In this sense, unforgiveness brings about the “will of hell” in our lives.
But what about forgiveness? Am I suggesting that forgiveness brings the “will of Heaven” into our lives? Absolutely.
First, as the Stanford research has shown, forgiveness has set people free to enjoy life to a higher degree, be happier, become more productive at work, have higher functioning immune systems, and stronger cardiovascular systems. People who have gone through their eight-week forgiveness program have improved stress levels, better recovery rates after surgery, and higher levels of optimism in life.
Other researchers and psychologists have shown that people who have purposefully practiced forgiveness toward those who have hurt them in life experience reductions in levels of chronic pain, less symptoms of depression, and experience more joy, peace, and freedom in life.
Other ancient sages knew this principle. The apostle Paul wrote this prescription to friends in the region of Turkey, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger… and slander. Get rid of every form of malice toward someone else. Instead be kind, and compassionate other others – forgiving each other in the exact same way that God has forgiven you in Christ. Imitate God – because you are His dearly loved children, and live a life of love…” It is a powerful thought to “live a life of love.”
Forgiveness is not easy. It may be the hardest thing that someone ever does in his or her life. But it is the most “heavenly” thing that a person will ever do.
In my handout that I give to my clients on the “Ten Steps to Forgiveness” I point out that there are two very different types of forgiveness. The first type of forgiveness comes when the offender has “repented” from their offense against you, has truly “renounced” their actions, and has changed from the inside out to the point where they would never again do what they did to you – or to anyone else. This kind of forgiveness is so powerful that it can lead to healing in marriages, families, and even nations.
There is a second “type” of forgiveness which is much more difficult.
How do you forgive someone who has wounded you so deeply – but doesn’t care at all about what they did to you. They may, in fact, feel totally justified in what they did. They may feel that you deserved what you got from them. Or they may feel that they were carrying out “the will of God” by hurting you. What do you do then? How do you forgive this?
You can, and you must, if you ever want the freedom that comes from forgiveness – the freedom from the hurt, anger, and bitterness. Sometimes we can forgive it, and sometimes we have to “consecrate” it as an offering to God. But either way we can have freedom. This is explained in more detail in the free handout.
I am happy to give you a free copy of the very same handout that I give to my clients titled, “Ten Steps to Forgiveness” so that you can begin the journey of freedom from unforgiveness and bitterness today. Please read it through slowly and carefully. The principles included may just be the key to freedom for you and your family. Simply visit our website at DouglasCowan.me/forgiveness and follow the links to the PDF copy of the handout, or send an email to forgiveness@DouglasCowan.me and I would be happy to email you a copy.
Dr. Douglas Cowan is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (M24381) who has provided counseling to children, teens, and adults helping them to overcome ADHD, find relief for depression or anxiety, and solve other problems in life since 1989. As the editor of the ADHD Information Library at http://newideas.net/ his ADHD Newsletter goes out to over 9,300 families each week. Dr. Cowan can be a valuable resource to you as a mentor or consultant, psychotherapist and Christian counselor in Bear Valley Springs or via Skype or Facetime.