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The Value of Forgiveness

I’m not proud of it, but let me make a confession to you. There is one person I’ve truly hated in my entire life. Let me explain. Many years ago I was a struggling graduate student with a wife and three children. I found it necessary to work just to make ends meet. I worked nights as a personal trainer at a local health spa. It was fun but, the hours were killer and I needed to make more paint_brush_tool_picmoney.

I found a job as a house painter for another grad student who told me he would pay me $10 an hour. He bid the jobs, and I did the work. It was hard, dirty work, but our little family needed the money. All went well for the first couple of jobs, but after the third house, he gave me a check for only half the amount he owed me. I was confused and when I asked him about it, he snickered and said that his bid had been a little low and he hadn’t made as much as he wanted on the job. I said that was a shame, but I worked for him, not the homeowner, and had done all the work he asked. He chuckled again and said, “Well that’s all I can spare.”

I fumed all the way home. I felt so cheated and betrayed. I was being penalized for his blunder. I called and asked him to reconsider, and he just said that he needed to make his money too. My disgust quickly turned to hate. I called him back and quit.

I nursed my grudge and found that everywhere I went, every time I turned around, there was Joe (let’s call him), in my face. It was like he was chained to me, and I was so miserable.

Finally one day when I ran into Joe, I knew I had to release my toxic feelings for good. I said, “Joe, I want you to know that I forgive you, and ask that you forgive me.” He looked puzzled and said, “You forgive me; forgive me for what?” I could tell he wasn’t even aware of the hurt he had caused me. Oh well.

But something strange, almost magical happened. I felt freer, lighter, happier; it was as if the chain had been cut. Interestingly after that, I almost never ran into Joe, and when I did it was just with a pleasant greeting. I got my life back. I learned a great deal from that experience.

The person who offends you often doesn’t even know or care.

hand_handshake_male_picYou’re the one who suffers from a grudge and is freed by forgiving. Some people love nursing a grudge, being a victim, and even wallowing in self-pity. It’s just part of their identity. Buddha said, “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”

Forgiving doesn’t just make you feel better, it’s actually good for your health. A number of research studies, including one from Duke University Medical Center, have found that people who let go of a grudge and forgive experienced a decrease in anxiety, depression, hostility, blood pressure, back pain, stomach problems, headaches, and even a lower risk of substance abuse. They also found that forgivers had healthier relationships and even tend to live longer.

I will be the first to acknowledge that forgiving is easier said than done. Famous philosopher C. S. Lewis accurately noted that, “Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive.” From my personal experience it requires an actual decision, without any conditions, to not dwell on injustices, to let go of resentment and desires for revenge. Forgive others—you’ll be healthier, happier, and possibly even live longer.

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