Forgiveness part 1: why bother to forgive?

Posted by Karen M. Wyatt on February 3, 2012 at 5:00 PM

Finding a way to forgive a person who has caused harm can be one of the most difficult tasks in life to undertake, but also one of the most important. This 4-part series examines why forgiveness is necessary, how to reach a state of forgiveness, rituals that support forgiveness, and the consequences of unforgiveness.

Jason Hotchkiss of Durango, Colorado experienced the challenge to forgive after a head-on car collision resulted in the death of his 30-year-old wife and left his son, age 12, unable to walk. A young driver who fell asleep at the wheel caused the crash, which took place on a remote road on tribal reservation land.

In an article he wrote for Guidepost Magazine, Jason described the depth of his despair over the death of his wife and the injury to his son that resulted from the terrible accident. He was forced to face his emotions of anger and resentment when the tribal prosecutor handling the case asked him to help determine the legal sentence imposed on the 19-year-old man responsible for the crash.

In the midst of his tragedy Jason was given the choice to act out his anger and seek revenge or to find a different path. Imagine having the power to name the punishment for someone who has hurt you. It might seem like a good opportunity to get repaid for your loss, but Jason struggled deeply over his decision.

To the rational mind, which views life in black-or-white terms, revenge and punishment are natural consequences for doing harm. The act of forgiveness does not make sense because it allows the wrongdoer to get “off the hook” and be released from blame.

So why should we even consider trying to forgive others when it doesn’t come to us naturally? Why is it important to work through our feelings of anger, betrayal and resentment to find peace and reconciliation?

For starters, practicing forgiveness is good for our physical health, as numerous studies have shown. Mastering the art of forgiveness has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure, improve immune system response, improve sleep and increase energy. In addition, the emotional benefits of forgiveness include reduced stress, improved self-esteem, increased peace of mind, and reduced anxiety and depression.

But beyond the physical and emotional benefits of forgiveness, there are also spiritual reasons why we should forgive others. When we hold onto negativity and resentment, we keep our own precious life energy tied up in unhappy memories of the past, constantly inflicting us with pain and misery. Less energy is available to us for creativity and inspiration when we are tangled inside with knots of resentment that stifle our spiritual growth.

As Jason Hotchkiss learns in the story mentioned above, grief cannot be healed without forgiveness. In addition we cannot make forward progress in life or experience a peaceful death without forgiveness. There are many compelling reasons for learning to forgive, even though it is a challenging and deeply emotional task.

But the difficulty lies in learning how to actually carry out the act of forgiving others. Since it doesn’t come naturally to us we must work at the process in order to discover our own way to the peacefulness brought about by forgiveness. The path undertaken by Jason to find forgiveness will be the focus of part 2 of this series as we consider how to forgive others.

Read more about forgiveness:

Part 2: How to forgive using the 4-view process

Part 3: The forgiveness garden and other rituals for letting go of resentment

Part 4: The weight of unforgiveness

Categories: Forgiveness, Relationships, Spiritual Practice

Copyright ©2010 Karen Wyatt, MD

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