If you are a Christian like me, you are no doubt familiar with the Lord’s Prayer – “Our Father who art in Heaven…,” as Christ taught us to pray. If you are prayerful, you may repeat the Lord’s Prayer at least once a day or several times, maybe out of habit or because you truly believe and reflect on it’s powerful message. If you are like me whose two main lifelines – my housekeeper and cook – use the Lord’s Prayer as their phone ring tones, you have to endure hearing it many times a day, as that is how often I call them. And as if they have conspired to ensure anyone calling them hears the prayer, they hardly pick up a call on the first or second ring, indeed they wait until the prayer is over. I am not complaining. So, why am I talking to you about the Lord’s Prayer? Recently while I was having my breakfast and meditating on God’s word, as I usually do in the morning, I got a call from a friend asking me to forgive her for something she had done to me. I told her, though she had upset me, I had long forgiven her and forgotten the matter. But had I actually forgiven her? You see, I have this personal happiness seeking resolve that if you cross my line and you are not that important in my life, I cut you out completely and live like you don’t exist. That way I am able to forget you and what you did to me and move on. I never have sleepless nights thinking about you and your actions. Is that really forgiveness? When my friend called me I had my Bible in hand and was about to say my morning prayer, which I ordinarily conclude with the Lord’s Prayer, and this made me search myself.
“…Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us…” I say this religiously everyday, not once, but many times, but do I always forgive those who trespass against me? Not always and I know I am not alone in this because forgiveness is a most difficult thing to do. How do you forgive someone who has hurt you badly? Even if you forgive, do you still continue with the relationship? Is it worth it? These are the issues you have to deal with when someone hurts you and they come to you seeking forgiveness. Indeed, they don’t have to come to you because God’s Word mandates us to always forgive.
While it is important to let go of past hurts, perhaps that really is not forgiveness but simply finding a way to live beyond the hurt. How good are you at forgiving people? Do you truly forgive others when they ask you to, or do you continue to hold a grudge? Do you become offensive and attacking when you have been wronged? Do you take the ‘eye for an eye’ route or are you able to forgive, forget and move on? Even though we may be inclined to forgive because our faith tells us so, there is more reason to forgive. A lot of evidence from research shows that holding on to grudges and bitterness results in long-term health problems and denies you the much-desired happiness.
When you live with a grudge you carry a very heavy load on your shoulders. Forgiveness does not only give you peace of mind that leads to greater happiness, healthier relationships and psychological wellbeing, it also boosts your physical health. When you let go of hurts you get a long list of health benefits including lower blood pressure, less stress, a lower heart rate, boost to the immune system by reducing production of the stress hormone – cortisol, fewer depression and anxiety symptoms and a reduction in chronic pain.
Forgiveness is not easy but it is a process you should go through for your own sake as it helps you heal from the hurt you have experienced and gives you greater happiness.
But most people find when they are wronged, rage and anger often feel better in the short term, and this is only fair to expect as long as you don’t live with these feelings forever.
Forgiveness doesn’t have to mean forgetting about the wrong done, or pretending it never happened. It’s about reaching for a more productive state of being that will make you healthier and happier in the long run.
Learning to forgive…
In his book, Forgiveness and Reconciliation, psychologist and author, Dr. Everett Worthington, gives a five-step process, which he calls REACH, that can help you achieve forgiveness.
R stands for recall. He advises you to recall the event that hurt you as objectively as possible and not see the person as evil. He also asks you not to wallow in self-pity.
E stands for empathise. He advises you to step into the perpetrator’s shoes. This is not easy, but just imagine the story the person would tell if they had to explain their actions.
A stands for altruistic – altruistic gift of forgiveness. He asks you to recall a time you messed up and were forgiven, and how it made you feel. He advises you to rise above hurt and vengeance and give this gift to the person who has wronged you.
C stands for commit to it. He advises you to write a letter of forgiveness to the offender in your diary or in your mind stating clearly you have forgiven them. He asks you to share this forgiveness achievement with your trusted friends.
H stands for hold – as in holding on to forgiveness. This is a challenging step, as in doing so, memories of the event may occur. He advises you not to dwell on the memory, but remind yourself you are committed to forgiving.
Lastly, and from me, say the Lord’s Prayer believing in it and practicing it.