Is Forgiveness Good for Your Health?

“Then Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they cast lots to divide his clothing”— Luke 23:34 (NRSV).

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Good Friday has passed, but Jesus’ prayer on that fateful day should be taken to heart. One take-away from the day Jesus was crucified was His willingness to forgive those who persecuted Him.

Looking down from the cross on the Roman soldiers who were gambling for His clothing, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

But it wasn’t just the Roman soldiers He referred to during this distressing time. On either side of Jesus were two criminals who belittled Him. As the religious leaders mocked Him and the crowd jeered at Him, what did Jesus do? He prayed for them—a prayer of unmatched mercy and redeeming love. Even in His agony, Jesus’ concern was not for Himself but for the forgiveness of His enemies.

Is there someone you need to forgive?

Did you know withholding forgiveness from someone who has wronged you does more harm to you than the one you refuse to forgive? Refusing to forgive not only weighs down the spirit, it can also affect your physical health. Whether it’s a minor spat or long-held resentment toward another, unresolved conflict can go deeper than most realize, especially if it’s a family member or friend.

Refusing to forgive ups your risk of high blood pressure, the risk of heart attack, sleep problems, increased pain and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. As we age, research reveals a greater increase in the connection to forgiveness and our health.

“There is an enormous physical burden to being hurt and disappointed,” says Karen Swartz, M.D., director of the Mood Disorders Adult Consultation Clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Chronic anger puts you into a fight-or-flight mode, which results in numerous changes in heart rate, blood pressure and immune response. Those changes, then, increase the risk of depression, heart disease and diabetes, among other conditions. Forgiveness, however, calms stress levels, leading to improved health.”

We’ve all faced the decision to forgive someone who has wronged us. Almost 10 years ago, I had a choice to forgive a close family member who had hurt me. While I thought I had forgiven this individual, as the years passed, the incident returned to haunt me, rearing its ugly head just as I believed I could move forward in the relationship.

One evening, I realized I could not let go without the help of my Heavenly Father. As I prepared for bed, I recalled the hateful words exchanged during the interaction. The anger and hurt returned. My heart beat faster, threatening to jump out of my chest. I couldn’t continue this pattern of letting go and taking it back. Dropping to my knees beside my bed, I cried out, “God, I can’t do this without your help. Help me to forgive her as your Son forgave His persecutors.”

Immediately, I was filled with an indescribable peace, a peace only found in the arms of Jesus. What about you? Is there someone you need to forgive?

I always love hearing from my readers. Please feel free to leave a comment below or email me at carol@carolaround.com.

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