Are you the forgiving type?
Written by Lillian Daniel
February - March 2006
March 1, 2006

'Resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other guy to die'

Each year my in-laws give us the magazine Cooking Light as a Christmas present. If you saw how much pasta our family consumes, you would see why. While I can't claim that the magazine has turned me into much of an expert in the "cooking" part, or the "light" part, I do enjoy reading the magazine each month and an article in the health section caught my eye with some enlightening news indeed.

Apparently, a 2003 study at the University of Tennessee looked at 107 students to see if they had forgiving personalities, and fitted them all with blood pressure monitors. Then they asked the students to think about times when another person had betrayed them. Can you guess what happened? The forgiving types experienced a short spike in blood pressure but then it returned to normal quickly. But those who held grudges also held onto that high blood pressure for longer. The researcher also determined that people who hold onto grudges suffer more illnesses, fatigue, depression and sleep problems.

Remember the old saying: "Resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other guy to die." When we don't forgive, we generally end up hurting ourselves more than the person from whom we are withholding forgiveness. But when we do forgive, we can experience a feeling of release and freedom.

Christians should not need a medical research study to remind us that the practice of forgiveness is central to the life of faith. Each week in the Lord's Prayer, we say "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Being forgiven by other people is connected to our own ability to forgive others. When we forgive, we are reminded that at some point, given that no one is perfect, we have needed the forgiveness of someone else.

Furthermore, for Christians, forgiveness is not all about us. It's not just a human problem with a human solution. In our tradition we understand that Christ died to save us from sin. Christ did not die for those imaginary perfect people but for all humanity, as fl awed as our behavior may be. There may be things that other human beings will not forgive, but when we make our prayer of confession to Christ, we receive release from our debts from the one who took them upon himself in love. Given that divine generosity, our lives can be transformed into something more beautiful and gracious than we human beings could ever construct on our own.

I may not be much good at cooking light, but living light is within my reach. As a disciple of Jesus, I don't have to keep carrying around my own dead weight. When my yoke is heavy, there is one who will make it light. Forgiving others is a way to lighten our loads and walk in God's light. So pass the pasta. I'm feeling lighter already.

The Rev. Lillian Daniel, United Church News' 2006 contributing spirituality columnist, is senior minister of First Congregational UCC in Glen Ellyn, Ill., and the author of the new book "Tell It Like It Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony." 

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