The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Jane* was sexually, physically and emotionally abused by someone who her family considered to be a family friend. Later in life her abuser became a Christian and sort to apologized to Jane for what he had done to her.

Jane said, “I cannot forgive, the pain is too much.” Have you ever been there or are you there now? Where someone did something to you that hurts so deep that you cannot see how it is possible to forgive them?

In life, everyone goes through hurtful events caused by significant others, a deceptive friend, a betraying partner, or an unjust parent who falsely accuses. In response to painful emotions, we often react with anger, hostility, and the desire for revenge. As an alternative, we can decide to forgive the wrongdoer and relinquish resentment.

Forgiveness is a difficult decision because we often mistakenly believe if we forgive the one who caused us pain, we will be letting them go free. The reality is, forgiveness liberates us from the pain they caused. Forgiveness happens when someone who has been wronged chooses to let go of their resentment and treat themselves and the wrongdoer with kindness and compassion.

 Like fear, unforgiveness has a negative effect on psychological, physiological, spiritual, and relational health. Some of the adverse effects of unforgiveness include disruption of healthy cardiovascular activity, impoverishment, sleep deprivation, production of stress hormones, depression, chronic emotional distress, fear, and anxiety.

Listen to what Jesus said:

“If you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:23-24).

Notice in this verse that if someone has something against you, even if you don’t have something against them, you should be willing to connect with them and seek to reconcile. Forgiveness is a choice; the one who experiences offense must choose to forgive.

Keep in mind, just because you choose to forgive does not mean the other person will (or must) reciprocate. Forgiveness is not about the other person; it is to free you from the pain of the wound. After all, sometimes offenses committed against us are so disturbing that it is impossible to be in the offender’s physical presence. In that case, I recommend you spend time alone in God’s presence, reflecting on your willingness to set the offender free and free yourself from the pain.

In contrast to unforgiveness, Biblical meditation on the principle of forgiveness is linked with positive emotional states. Forgiveness activates the brain network and leads to empathy and regulation of emotion through cognition. In fact, the willingness to forgive someone has a positive impact on the precuneus, right inferior parietal regions, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, medial prefrontal cortex, cingulate gyrus, and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

Biblical meditation activates the above brain areas, thus aiding in emotional regulation, resolving anger and resentment, improving interpersonal relationships, improving self-esteem, and reducing heart rate. Research indicates that forgiveness represents a positive, “healthy” strategy for us to overcome challenges that otherwise would lead to significant psychological and neurobiological stress.

Take some time to meditate on the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6 and give specific attention to verse 6:

The Lord’s Prayer

“Our Father in heaven, who art in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors. Moreover, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Amen.”

Allow this prayer to permeate your mind and sink into your heart: “Forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.” This will create a catalyst for transformation in your brain and lead to healing and restoration. 

*Jane is a fictitious person use to express the content of this blog.