Scientific research has shown that forgiveness is good for our psychological and physical health. Forgiveness improves life satisfaction and is associated with lower levels of anxiety and perceived stress.
Practicing forgiveness reduces depression and the physiological and psychological effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Clinicians are now using forgiveness intervention techniques for individuals who are victims of physical and emotional trauma.
Meditating on forgiveness can make forgiving thoughts neurologically real. We can actually change how the brain functions by meditating on certain thoughts on a regular basis. Meditating on forgiveness stimulates the areas of the brain that allow us to feel compassion while suppressing the areas of the brain that sense fear and anger. Meditating on forgiveness can help re-establish emotional balance following a hurtful event.
Forgiveness is an important aspect of our spiritual growth and the Christian story shares many examples of the importance of forgiveness. Jesus Christ emphasized the value of forgiveness in understanding his purpose for coming. Jesus asked us to always forgive.
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” Matthew 18:21-22
Even while he was being humiliated and tortured, Jesus was able ask God to forgive his enemies:
Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34
These remarkable passages emphasize the importance of forgiveness for our spiritual growth. We also need to practice forgiveness so that we can be on the receiving end of forgiveness when we make mistakes. Jesus told the next story to emphasize this point.
"Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
"The servant fell on his knees before him. 'Be patient with me,' he begged, 'and I will pay back everything.' The servant's master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.
"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded.
"His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.'
"But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened.
"Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." Matthew 18:23-28
When we extend forgiveness to others, we understand God's grace in our lives. This grace will transform our mind, heart, and spirit.
Research has shown that another area that is stimulated when we forgive is related to our ability to empathize with the suffering of another person. Forgiveness can restore social unity within a group and reduce suffering. Again the Christian story shows a similar perspective in this next passage from the apostle Paul. He wrote to the Corinthians:
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 2 Corinthians 2:5-7
The secular and Christian views on forgiveness suggest that forgiveness is good for our physical, psychological, and spiritual health.
Take some time during your next meditation and practice extending forgiveness to those who have hurt you in your life. Incorporate God and Jesus Christ into your meditation by asking them to extend forgiveness towards you and then ask God to help you to extend forgiveness to others.
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Douglas Crowell is interested in a contemplative Christian spiritual practice that improves quality of life.