For most people, the most difficult aspect of Jesus’s teaching is that which relates to the requirement that we must forgive those who have hurt or offended us. This seems to be related to the fact that most of us think that by forgiving someone, we are extending to them a favour or a grace that they do not deserve, given the pain and hurt that they have caused us.
This is certainly how I used to think.
It was only after I discovered how much freedom comes from forgiving another person that I discovered the deeper spiritual reasons for Jesus challenging us to forgive others in the same way that we desire to be forgiven by Him.
Think about it. If you are angry with someone, the thought of what they have done to hurt you can have the power to ruin your day every single time you think about them or the event that hurt you. As you think about them, or the hurt they caused you, your entire heart and soul can turn bitter and be consumed with rage. It does not matter what you are doing when you think about this hurt. It can be a beautiful day, you can be with friends and family; and yet the thought of what they did to hurt you can ruin everything.
At the same time, while the thought of what another person did to hurt you can ruin your day, the person who hurt you may not even know that you are mad at them. While you are angry at them, the person who hurt you may be out having a great day. They are not even thinking about you. They may not even care that you are angry with them. In fact, the thought of their happiness might even contribute to you becoming angrier.
In reality, when I remain angry at someone, I am choosing to allow them to continue to have power over me. I am giving permission for the event which took place a month, or a year, or even twenty years ago, to continue to have power over me and my heart. As the first reading from the book of Sirach alludes to this Sunday, we can all have the tendency to “hold on to” vengeance and wrath. By holding on to vengeance and wrath, the person or event that hurt us and made us angry is given power over our hearts in the present moment and we allow it to continue to exercise a destructive power over our lives and happiness.
When we forgive someone, we are setting ourselves free. Forgiving someone who has hurt us is the biggest favour that we can extend to ourselves. By doing this, we are saying that we will no longer allow this event, pain, or person to have the power to take our happiness and destroy our peace of mind. Forgiveness opens our own hearts to receive the love which Christ offers us in our relationship with Himself and others.
Forgiveness should not be mistaken as giving someone permission to hurt us again or turning a blind eye to the past. If a person is going to continue to hurt us or take advantage of us, we should avoid them or learn to have healthy and lifegiving relationships. Forgiveness is not about letting a person continue to do wrong or harm us. Forgiveness is about releasing our hearts from the toxic effects of their past behavior. It is about refusing to allow an event or person to destroy our ability to be at peace and to love God and neighbour freely.
Personally, I am convinced that the reason why Jesus asks us to forgive is so that our own hearts might be free to welcome Him and to love Him and our neighbour in a joyful and lifegiving manner. It is difficult for us to allow Christ to dwell in our hearts and to know His peace, or even to really love others, when we are consumed with vengeance or anger towards another. This is one of the reasons why the sign of peace takes place immediately before we receive the Eucharist. In order for Christ to dwell in our hearts, our hearts must be free of anger or resentment. St. John of the Cross emphasizes this in his writings as he states that the infinite God cannot dwell in a heart that is cluttered with envy, hatred and the desire for vengeance. However, to a finite heart that has been emptied of these, the infinite God is capable of dwelling and bringing infinite joy.
The reality that a heart that cannot forgive is closed to God’s forgiveness and love is a point that Jesus is making in this Sunday’s Gospel.
In the Gospel, Peter asks Jesus how many times he must forgive a brother or sister who has sinned against him. Peter suggests that seven times might be the limit. However, Jesus says not seven, but seven times seven is how many times a person must be forgiven. As seven is a biblical number that symbolizes completeness, this seven times seven represents as many times as is necessary. But as the parable goes on to show, the reason for forgiving as many times as is necessary, is not in order that we might do the other person a favour. The reason for forgiving is so that our own hearts may be open to receive the forgiveness that God offers us.
In the parable, a servant comes to his master and asks to be forgiven a great deal. The master hears his pleas and forgives the debt. Yet, as the servant leaves the presence of his master, he encounters another person who owes him much less than he has been forgiven. His heart has not been open to comprehend what his master has done for him, and out of envy for what is owed him, he demands that his fellow servant pay him the much smaller debt that he is owed. As a result, Jesus tells us, the man did not receive the greater forgiveness that he had been offered.
This parable calls you and I to understand how much God has done for each of us by sending His Son into the world to redeem us and forgive our sins. God is pure love and mercy. Everything that we have is a gift from Him. On top of giving us life, and all that we have and are, God has also offered us salvation and redemption through the life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus. Thanksgiving is the only response that we can have to God’s love for us. From the freedom that God’s forgiveness has won for us, we are called to have the freedom to forgive others. The real challenge that comes with accepting God’s forgiveness and love for us is that it is impossible to really receive it if we hold on to vengeance and resentment towards another. As St. John of the Cross writes, the infinite love and mercy of God cannot enter a heart that is cluttered with envy, pride, resentment and hatred. In order for God’s love and mercy to enter our hearts, we must clear out those things which are not compatible.
For the Christian to possess the peace, joy and forgiveness that Christ has come to offer us, forgiveness of those who have hurt and offended us is not an option. Forgiveness is how we let go of those things, persons and events which are obstacles to Christ dwelling in our hearts and offering us His peace. When we forgive another, we are refusing to allow them to have power over us and inviting Christ and His freedom to have power over us. Forgiveness is something we offer to another person so that we can be free and the love of Christ may dwell in our hearts.
So strongly does Jesus desire that our hearts be free to receive His love and peace that He asks us to pray every day that we might be able to forgive others and receive His forgiveness and peace. This is why in the “Our Father,” Jesus has taught us to pray: “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” In this sentence, the word “as” has the significance of forgive us “in the same way” that we forgive others. As the parable is attempting to tell us, unless we let go of the anger and hatred in our hearts, our hearts cannot receive the love and peace that Christ desires them to know through also knowing His forgiveness.
It is because Jesus knows that forgiving someone who has hurt is not easy that He has asked us to pray to be able to forgive every day in the “Our Father.” And yet, while forgiving someone who has hurt us can be difficult, there is nothing more freeing then letting go of the hatred and vengeance that can hold us hostage when they bind us. When we finally learn how to let go of anger and resentment, it can be like escaping from a prison in which we have condemned ourselves. When we forgive someone, we free ourselves from the power that they or a past event have exercised over us. We claim the peace that Jesus desires us to know and free ourselves to be happy again.
Jesus has come that all of us might know His peace and love. Christ has died to free us from the power of the sins that bind us. By calling us to forgive others, Jesus is calling us to be free not only from our own sins, but from the harm that the sins of others have exerted upon us. Forgiving another person is the most wonderful favour we can grant unto ourselves. By doing so, we release ourselves from the power they exercise over us and become free to allow Christ to fill our hearts with a joy that only He can give us. The servant who was forgiven much was too foolish to forgive and thus was unable to enjoy the forgiveness that was offered to him. May none of us be so foolish to turn down what is offered to us in the forgiveness of Christ, by refusing to offer it to others.
May we pray, each and every day: “Dear Jesus, most loving and merciful Savior, forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
What Are The Benefits Of Forgiveness?
What is forgiveness and why is it important? What are the benefits of forgiveness? Why should we forgive someone for something that hurt us deeply? Does forgiveness mean that you fall right back into a trap you just got out of?
Have you ever asked yourself any of those questions? Forgiveness can be a touchy topic, but it is an important one. It can be uncomfortable to talk about forgiveness because it usually means revisiting things that you would rather leave forgotten, especially if it’s rooted around a traumatic event in your life.
What is forgiveness in simple words?
When we look at the benefits of something, it’s a good idea to start with the definition first. That way we know we are on the same page. The definition of forgive is “to cease to feel resentment against (an offender)”
In plain language, the meaning of forgiveness is that you stop feeling resentful towards someone. You can easily see how this carries huge benefits of forgiveness for the person that’s forgiving!
I once heard it described by my former pastor with this story: He was down in the woods and was cutting some trees, and doing some clearing work. The chainsaw slipped and instead of cutting wood, he cut deeply into his leg. He was able to get out and get help, but till the day he died, he had a scar on his leg from the accident.
“Forgiveness is like that,” he told us. “It hurt a lot at the time. But now all that’s left is a scar and it don’t hurt no more. I still remember it, but it doesn’t hurt.”
Why are the benefits of forgiveness so powerful?
Forgiveness sets us free. It lifts an invisible load off our shoulders. That is, perhaps, the most powerful benefit of forgiveness. When someone hurts us deeply, our first reaction is to often lash back at them. Bitterness and grudges are a way that we try to do that. The problem is that those grudges and that bitterness don’t hurt the person who wronged us. They hurt us, slowly poisoning our thoughts, feelings, and other relationships.
Grudges and bitterness poison our hearts. Forgiveness is the antidote.
7 Benefits of Forgiveness:
Benefit of Forgiveness #1: It heals a wound in your heart.
Just like my former pastor that had a chainsaw accident, things in our lives can certainly leave scars. The wound in his leg healed up. It left a scar, but gave him no further trouble. My friend, when you experience a deep hurt, forgiveness is what heals that wound.
Benefit of Forgiveness #2: It Brings You Peace
When we forgive someone, it may feel like we are doing it for them. By holding on to that hurt that you just can’t let go of, it may feel like you are getting revenge and hurting them back. But the person that you are forgiving may never know that you are still thinking of how they wronged you. The person that is hurting the most is you. One of the biggest benefits of forgiveness is the peace that it will bring to your heart.
Benefit of Forgiveness #3: It Helps Your Other Relationships
It’s hard to have other good healthy relationships with you are holding a grudge or walking around with bitterness in your heart. Those things poison our other relationships. Not forgiving plants a seed of doubt in our loved ones’ minds of “What if I ever mess up so badly that they never forgive me?”
When you forgive others it helps you love people better, especially those close to you. That’s a huge benefit of forgiveness!
Benefit of Forgiveness #4: It Stops Victimhood Mentality
When someone has wronged you, it’s easy to think that they destroyed your life. You might even think that they ruined your entire future and you’ll never be happy with your life. That’s a lot of pain to live with.
The other problem with this mindset is that it paints you as the innocent victim and puts you in a position where you feel like you can’t do anything about it. That’s called victimhood mentality.
When you forgive someone you take back control of your life. You acknowledge the hurt and the results of what happened, but you also give yourself permission and the freedom to move on. You move from the position of being bounce around in the back of a covered wagon to sitting in the driver’s seat and holding the reins. It puts you back in charge of your own life.
Benefit of Forgiveness #5: Improved Mental Health
As you can imagine, improved mental health is a huge benefit of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we also let go of guilt towards ourselves. We no longer let bitterness and anger poison our other relationships and that space can be filled with love instead.
Benefit of Forgiveness #6: Stress Reduction
Just as forgiveness improves our mental health, it also releases stress on us. That stress causes physical symptoms in our bodies, none of which are good long-term. I’ll go more into the physical health benefits in a minute, but the more studies are done on forgiveness, the more we learn about how good for us it actually is!
Benefit of Forgiveness #7: Sets a Good Example for Others
I’ve messed up more than my fair share of times. There are times that I mess up. I lose my temper, I yell at my kids, I have good intentions and try to intervene in a situation but instead of making it better, I make a terrible mess. I hurt feelings when I don’t mean to. I need forgiveness from time to time.
When I forgive others, it sets a good example.
Can the benefits of forgiveness include physical healing?
It’s no accident that sites such as Berkley, Mayo Clinic, Harvard Health, Healthline, Mind Body Green, and John Hopkins Medicine all have articles on forgiveness. From a scientific perspective, some health benefits of forgiveness are:
- Lowering the risk of heart attack
- Lowering blood pressure
- reducing stress
- improving cholesterol levels
- reducing pain
- reducing levels of anxiety, depression and stress
How does forgiveness heal?
In my own opinion, forgiveness heals because it is of God.
An undeniable connection exists between our brains and our bodies. Science has not completely unlocked all of its mysteries. We do know that there is a connection between certain brain chemicals and our emotions. Many of these have to do with our stress responses.
There have been some scientific studies starting in the 1980s that try to figure out exactly how forgiveness heals and explore some of the benefits of forgiveness. It’s even mentioned in “The Handbook for Positive Psychology” put out in 2002 by the Oxford press. I have not found exactly how forgiveness heals from a scientific standpoint.
But if you have ever struggled with forgiving a deep hurt, and then succeeded, you have felt in your heart how a weight is lifted off you. Sometimes the “how” is not as important as just knowing and feeling that it does.
What is true forgiveness?
Forgiveness is learning from your mistakes but letting go of the guilt that holds you back. That’s a huge benefit of forgiveness! However, true forgiveness does not mean there will be reconciliation and you will make up with whoever hurt you.
True forgiveness is dealing with the consequences of what happened to you, taking the lesson, and moving on. It’s releasing the pent-up anger and bitterness so that it doesn’t poison your good relationships.
True forgiveness is a scar of something that once hurt, but doesn’t give you pain any more. You have let it go and moved on, but kept the lesson.
How can I practice forgiveness?
The first step in forgiving is mostly a decision. Then comes the hard part – sorting out the emotions. Be patient with yourself on this part. It will take your heart time to heal. If the steps explained below are not enough, I have listed some additional resources on the benefits of forgiveness and the steps to do so at the very bottom of this post. forgiveness is hard, but the benefits of forgiveness make it worth the effort!
1. Decide to forgive the person.
This is the easiest step in the whole process to me because it’s intellectual. You decide that you are going to forgive someone that wronged you. This does not mean that you have to reconcile with the other person. It means that you decide to not hold hate and bitterness in your heart.
Or this person that you need to forgive might even be yourself. If that’s the case, then yes, you do have to live with yourself and reconcile. No getting around that if it’s you. We are often very hard on ourselves through our inner critics.
Related: The Best Advice for Silencing The Inner Critic
2. Think about the person that you have decided to forgive.
I know, this step is hard and often stirs up strong feelings. Pain, anger, resentment, bitterness, helplessness, and any number of other emotions. You just ripped the bandaid off an old wound. All that hurt, pain, anger, resentment, and bitterness – that’s what needs to heal.
3. Acknowledge You Feelings
All too often we make the mistake of trying not to feel anything, or stuffing negative emotions away. We just sweep them under a figurative rug and hope they will go away. That may work for a time, but at some point, someone will unknowingly lift that rug up or bump it and they will all come flooding out.
It’s ok to feel sad, angry, etc. As my mom used to tell me “Feelings are ok. Some actions are not.” Acknowledge them and bundle them up, because in the next step we’re about to take them all up to someone that can handle them better than we can.
Related: How to Avoid Overthinking
How to Stop Taking Things Personally
How to Respond and Not React When You Get Mad
This is a step that you will not find in any scientific mental health guide to forgiveness, but I believe it is a vital step. God forgives his children of their sins, so we should forgive others. He is the Great Physician. There is no one better to fix your broken heart than the one that made you in the first place. He knows your hurt, your anger, your bitterness, and your tears. He knows the anguish of your heart. Give all that to Him. Ask Him to help you forgive.
Say to yourself or to God “I forgive….”
(Perhaps another benefit of forgiveness is that it will bring you closer to God. Forgiveness is a hard thing. You will be praying about it many times as you go through this process.)
5. Empathize and Reflect
After you have said that you forgive someone, this is where the process part comes in. Just as it takes time for a physical wound to heal, it also takes time for emotional wounds to heal. By saying that you forgive someone and working on those feelings you have started a process that may take some time.
Think about the situation with empathy or sympathy. Reflect on what you have learned or how the experience has strengthened you. The person might have been acting out of their own fear or likely dealing with their own issues. How people treat other people is largely a reflection of how they feel about themselves.
Why is forgiveness so hard?
Forgiveness is hard because it involves dealing with very strong emotions. It doesn’t make any sense in the natural world. Forgiveness is a way that we show God’s love in us.
That unconditional love business sounds easy on paper, but sometimes it’s hard to put into practice! Remember a time when it was you on the other end, though. Was there ever a time that you messed up and needed forgiveness?
Is forgiveness an action?
Yes. Forgiveness is an action. It’s not one that can be seen, only felt in your own heart. You forgive for yourself because that’s the one that’s really hurting when you don’t. It frees you. It’s not an action that can be readily seen, but it is an action, nonetheless.
Is reconciliation always a benefit of forgiveness?
No, forgiveness does not always mean reconciliation. The two are often associated with one another but they are different. Forgiveness means that no longer let feelings of bitterness and hurt chain your heart and hold you captive. Reconciliation means that you make up with the other person.
Reconciliation can be a benefit of forgiveness, but it’s not guaranteed. It’s great when you can reconcile, and it’s the ideal situation. But we know that life does not always hand us the ideal situation.
Does forgiveness mean no consequences?
There are always consequences for choices. Forgiveness does not mean that we go right back to the person that hurt us and let them do the same thing again. We still need to take the lesson.
My personal story with forgiveness:
In college, I thought one of my roommates was my best friend. I later realized that she used me and manipulated me to get me to do things for her. It came out that she was a pathological liar (her description) and that she had always had a problem with it. I felt betrayed and deeply hurt.
I prayed about it – a lot. Then, I went through all the steps of forgiveness I listed above and asked God if I should stay roommates with her or if I should go. Three different people came to me in the next few days seemingly out of the blue and told me to get out. Staying would not have helped either of us.
There were Still Consequences
I separated myself from her. She found a new roommate and moved out. I went by her new room and bumped into her and asked how she was doing. She was doing to the new roommate the same thing that she did to me. Taking her into confidence, telling her she was her best friend. Doing things and going places with her.
At that point, I was willing to still be friends with her. Until she lied to me again for no good reason. This time, I knew it was a lie. I could see it more clearly. What also became clear to me was that she was going to keep lying to me no matter what.
She was one of the first toxic people I had to cut out of my life. It hurt, but it would have hurt both of us more to stay. She needed to learn not to take advantage of people’s trust. And that there were consequences for her actions.
The experience helped us both
Years later, she found me on social media and sent me a private message. She told me that when I had left it had been a defining moment in her life and that had taught her a valuable lesson. She thanked me for that and told me that even if were never friends again, she wanted me to know I had made a difference in her life.
Walking away was painful because giving up on people does not come easy, but if my walking away helped her to have better trusting relationships with others, then it was worth it. In this case, there were benefits of forgiveness for both of us.
Was it really forgiveness since I walked away?
You might be asking if I forgave her, then why did I walk away? Was that really forgiveness?
I do forgive her and hold no ill will towards her. When I heard that she was married and became a teacher, I rejoiced for her. She went wild caving with her husband once. She always did have a sense of adventure and a smile on her face.
I no longer cry as I think about what happened. Just like my pastor that had the chainsaw accident, the scar on my heart is still there, but it doesn’t hurt anymore. In many ways, I am grateful to her for teaching me some life lessons that I desperately needed to learn.
Some huge benefits of forgiveness for me include being able to smile when I think of her and being able to remember the good times, her good qualities, and sometimes her quirky sayings. (She hated getting up early. She would often refer to the “butt crack of dawn.”)
Bible Verses about Forgiveness
One of the benefits of forgiveness that I did not list above is that it makes for some beautiful and heartfelt reading in the Bible. Here are a few verses to get you started. All verses are from the KJV.
- “And be ye kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiven one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” – Eph. 4:32
- “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any, even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. And above all these things, put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” Col 3: 12-14
- “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus said unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times; but, Until seventy times seven.” Matt 18:21-22
- “To whom ye forgive any thing, I forgive also; for if I forgave any thing to whom I forgave it, for your sakes forgave I it in the person of Christ; Lest Satan should get an advantage of us: for we are not ignorant of his devices.” – II Cor 2:10-11
- “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name’s sake.” – I John 2:12
- “But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Matthew 6:15 (KJV)
- “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared.” -Psalms 130:3-4
- Forgiveness is to pardon people for their offenses. In other words, you let go when people wrong you. Beloved, the benefit of this attitude is that your heart becomes the heart of love that God can flow through to accomplish His purpose. It also opens the opportunity for you to be blessed by God. On the other hand, unforgiveness hinders the power of God to also forgive you, and this prevents your prayers from being heard of the Father (Mark 11:25–26).
- Beloved, holding people’s offenses against them will lead to anger and bitterness. Anger and bitterness then become an open door for the enemy to impart sicknesses, failure, resentment, and disappointment into your life. Dear beloved, choose to forgive and stay healthy for the Lord. Remember that human beings are fallible, and you will also need others to forgive you when you step on their toes or offend them. Therefore, do not find it too strange when people wrong you. Develop the heart of forgiveness and easily forgive people their sin or wrong. Forgiveness is an aspect of love that covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
Having this kind of heart will draw God closer to you and use you to heal many hearts to enhance fellowship among the brethren in God’s kingdom. Praise the Lord! Be an overcomer!
Prayer Point: Dear heavenly Father, thank You for admonishing me about forgiveness. Please help me develop a forgiving heart so that I can find it very easy to let go when people wrong me. Let me not harbor pain or bitterness against anybody so that You can use me to strengthen fellowship among my brethren in Jesus’ name. Amen! source
The last word on why should we forgive those who hurt us and the benefits of forgiveness
There are many more benefits of forgiveness than what I am able to mention here. But for one, it helps us to live happier lives. It helps our current relationships to be more loving, and it sets our hearts free from shackles of bitterness and hurt. It helps reduce our stress level and has mental and physical health benefits. It’s also the right thing to do and part of living a good life.
It stops the victimhood mentality and helps us set a good example for when we are the ones that need to be forgiven. That’s all of us from time to time! forgiveness is an action, and it does not always mean reconciliation. It means that like a scar, it is the mark on our hearts of something that once hurt us, but no longer gives us pain.
My wonderful one, there is not an adult heart that will escape this life without a few scars. This life has many ups and downs, and lessons along the way. Let us learn and grow as we go. Do you have any advice for someone struggling to forgive or do you know some more benefits of forgiveness? Leave me a comment below! source