“The more a man knows the more he forgives.” – Catherine The Great.
Is Catherine attempting to help us understand the human condition? She admits she married her husband because of his crown. She was unfaithful. Her husband was unfaithful. Her oldest son may have been illegitimate, her additional three children were illegitimate. Did she need forgiveness? Was she trying to forgive?
Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. A recent study at the University of Wisconsin found the more forgiving people were, the less they suffered from a wide range of illnesses. The less forgiving people reported a greater number of health problems. Illness after illness has been blamed on stress. An unforgiven offense is reportedly a top stressor.
Rather than unforgiveness, could it be the offense that makes the cardiovascular and nervous systems unsteady? Why is lack of forgiveness blamed? Does this not add insult to injury?
I was once told by a marriage counselor concerning my husband’s affair, “If you can forgive, you can save your marriage”. Now, twenty years later I think about that statement and the counselor’s followup, “Don’t bring up the past or your marriage won’t work”. I was assigned a double burden, “forgive and forget”.
I wonder, what is forgiveness? Does it mean we forget? Can we simply choose to forgive? Are some things too horrendous or hurtful or evil to forgive? Could it be some things only God can forgive? If we do not wish harm or retribution is that forgiveness? Does forgiveness remove the stress or pain caused by the offense?
I have talked to lots of people about forgiveness. I frequently meet people who struggle with aftermath of failed marriages. They are trying to recover from decades of stressors that may have included physical or emotional abuse, neglect, alcoholism, lies, infidelity, or financial ruin. They face dilemmas over children’s emotional issues and custody battles, health and medical insurance, support payments and division of properties, loss of security, friends, customs and traditions. Not only are they sad, hurt, bitter, scared or angry, they are pressured to forgive almost immediately. The scare tactics used against the non-forgiving add to the pain of recovery and finding a new normal.
I tread lightly when talking about forgiveness in support groups. Are we commanded to forgive? Yes. Did Jesus forgive? Yes. Are we as perfect as Jesus? No. Do studies show forgiveness is healthy? Yes. So, I go back to “What Is Forgiveness?”
Could it be forgiveness means letting it go, not dwelling on the past, and not wishing harm or unhappiness to the offender? That is about the best I can do. There are no warm fuzzy feelings. I am not fool enough to maintain friendship or trust with an offender who clearly does not change behavior, acknowledge wrong, or ask for forgiveness.
I do not need scientific studies to tell me my health is as risk because I can’t forgive. My health was more at risk when I spent 20 years continually forgiving an offender that showed no remorse. Today, I’m a whole lot more gentle with myself. I do not stress over forgiving. With God we have no secrets. If we are open to his guidance…we will get where we need to be.