Forgiving isn't easy, but it is good for you. According to the Mayo Clinic, the health benefits of letting go instead of clinging to grudges include:
• Healthier relationships
• Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• Lower risk of alcohol and substance abuse
Similarly, Harvard Women's Health Watch identifies five positive health benefits of forgiving that have been scientifically studied:
• Reduced stress
• Better heart health
• Stronger relationships
• Reduced pain
• Greater happiness
Considering all of these benefits, why would we punish ourselves by failing to forgive? George Herbert, the 17th century English poet and Anglican priest, expressed it well: "He who cannot forgive breaks the bridge over which he himself must pass."
Most of us who have struggled to forgive would agree that it is not only hard, but can seem impossible. Yet its importance has been known for centuries. The Bible talks about forgiveness many times, in both the Old and New testaments. As Jesus was dying on the cross he sought divine forgiveness for those who had just put him there.
Sometimes forgiving yourself can be the hardest.
Not long ago I got a phone call from a young man in the high Sierras. He had become immobilized by a painful case of tendonitis and been told he might have to be taken out by medical helicopter. He wanted me to pray with him. In a tearful conversation, he mentioned that he had done a really bad, unforgivable and unfixable thing recently and couldn't shake the painful regret. I asked if he thought this might be a perfect time to forgive himself. He said he couldn't. I told him he owed it to himself and the group he was with to try really, really hard.
In the morning he texted me a joyful group picture taken on a high plateau overlooking a stunningly beautiful mountain scene. His text read, "Up on a mountain doing well!!" In that case, self-forgiveness had a definite healing effect.
At the risk of perhaps trivializing the amount of effort and persistence that true forgiveness can take, but mindful of the real-life benefits that can result, I've compiled a "Top 5 Ways to Forgive" list, largely from the research of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky of the University of California Riverside, Dr. Robert Enright of the University of Wisconsin and Dr. Everett Worthington of Virginia Commonwealth University.
1. Decide to forgive: This requires facing your grudge courageously rather than hiding or savoring it. Not sure you want to? Reread the benefits above.
2. Reflect on a time when you were forgiven, or imagine being forgiven for something you feel remorse about. This can help with No. 1.
3. Imagine forgiveness: Write a letter to the one who wronged you, describing how it affected you and what you wish he or she had done differently. End it by offering your forgiveness. If you have the courage, send the letter. Even better, imagine a face-to-face conversation and then go have it.
4. Commit: Emotional pain can be stubborn, but it will usually yield to persistent effort. Ask for help from a friend. Sit down and role-play the forgiveness discussion.
5. Persist: "Energy and persistence conquer all things,'' Benjamin Franklin said. Is it true? What would it hurt to find out? If you think you can't forgive now, don't give up. It can be a process that takes repeated effort. But consider that you will be a healthier person for it. And so will the person you forgive.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com.