Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other;
just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
--Colossians 3:13 NRSV
There’s a lot to be angry about these days. Some of that anger is legitimate, because it is anger about genuine injustice faced by immigrants, Black people and Latinx people, low-income people and so on. Some of the anger is based on mass delusion fed by a media more interested in profits than telling the truth. This type of anger is based on conspiracy theories, misguided victimhood and even racism. Anger also comes when we experience loss, and we are experiencing losses of all kinds during the COVID-19 pandemic, from loss of mobility and activity to loss of health and even life. 2000,000 people dead is a significant loss. Whatever the source of the anger and resentment, however justified or misguided, the cost on our spiritual, emotional and physical health is high.
We were not created to hold grudges, stoke our anger and feed our resentments. Emotionally it makes us miserable and increases the misery of those around us. Psychologically it leads to loss of self worth, depression and self-medication via alcohol and drugs. Spiritually it takes us away from our center, which is God, and throws our whole life out of balance. Physically--well, the physical problems are perhaps easiest to track.
The Stanford Forgiveness Project occurred in 2001 and was the first university study that sought to intervene in people’s behavior when it comes to anger, resentment and forgiveness. The Stanford Forgiveness Project involved people with unresolved anger toward another person such as a cheating spouse or an overbearing parent. Participants rated their level of anger and stress. Half of the group took classes on forgiveness and learned relaxation techniques for managing anger. The other half did not. Following the classes those who had learned to forgive experienced less anger and stress than the control group. According to Dr. Frederic Luskin, who directed the project, “The study…found that by not harboring grudges the participants became less angry. ‘Their level of hopefulness for the future…significantly increased, and they…felt more spiritual’”
Data from the Forgiveness Project and other studies indicates that learning to forgive results in lower levels of anxiety and depression. Whereas harboring anger increases the risk of heart attacks and impairs the immune system, forgiveness has the opposite effect. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin found that, “the less people forgave, the more diseases they had and the more medical symptoms they reported…” [According to Wisconsin professor Robert Enright] ‘We've been surprised at how strong forgiveness can be as a healing agent for people…You can actually change a person’s well-being, their emotions, by helping them to forgive’”.
Dr. Luskin at Stanford defines forgiveness as, “…recognizing that you have been wronged, giving up resentment, and [possibly] responding to your offender with compassion. Many religions encourage forgiveness. It's at the center of Christianity. But modern society frequently embraces contradictory principles such as vengeance” He continues, “Having a grudge gives you a sense of moral superiority: This person, this group, this ex-husband, my mother-in-law, they're all lousy people. But you get a false sense of security by cutting off the legs of other people to make yourself taller.’ You also can end up with a great deal of heartache—maybe even heart problems.”
Science continues to show what all major world religions and philosophies have known for centuries: resentment, the desire for vengeance and continual anger are bad for us and forgiving, kindness and grace are good for us. Jesus couldn’t have been any clearer about this truth, yet so many Christians walk around as if they breathed rage rather than oxygen. As Anne Lamott says in her memoir Traveling Mercies, “Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die." Or as an unknown wise person once said, “To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.”
You’ll probably hear me relate this very same information about forgiveness in a sermon sometime soon, because I believe all of us need to be reminded as often as possible of the benefits of letting go of our rage, resentment and desire to get even. We just can’t hear it enough. So as you cable TV news blares at you, notifications on your smartphone squawk at you, and your Facebook/Twitter feed presents a deluge of things to be outraged about, stop, take a step back, breath and spend time finding ways to turn your anger into actions that increase your well-being and that of people around you.
Grace and Peace,
Rev. Chase Peeples
6601 Northwest 72nd Street, Kansas City, MO 64151 | 816-741-1851