Forgiveness is being discussed in some surprising places these days. No longer confined to discussions about religion and moral philosophy, forgiveness is expanding its well-established role as a virtue and taking its place as an important, maybe even essential, element of physical well-being.
“Conflict doesn’t just weigh down the spirit; it can lead to physical health issues,” the Healthy Aging page of the Johns Hopkins Medicine website tells us.
And the Healthy Lifestyle page of the Mayo Clinic website includes this: “When someone you care about hurts you, you can hold on to anger, resentment and thoughts of revenge — or embrace forgiveness and move forward. … Letting go of grudges and bitterness can make way for happiness, health and peace.”
There’s a powerful illustration of that in a recent cover story ofThe Christian Science Monitor.
The title sums it up well: “After 39 years in prison, an epic tale of innocence found and bitterness lost.”
Ricky Jackson is a living, walking example of forgiveness. He recently had a false conviction, which was based on the lie of a 12-year-old boy, overturned.
The article explains that Jackson has “had a lot on his mind since he left prison. He’s been thinking about what to do with the remainder of his life. About what to make of the lie that landed him on death row at age 18, making him the longest-serving wrongfully convicted person in American history. It’s a lie that has tested the limits of human forgiveness and resilience. A lie that forced him to not let his circumstances, however tragic, define who he is.”
Most of all, it continues, he sought to maintain a sense of humanity in a place where it was hard to find.
“I tried to be the kind of person my mother wanted me to be,” he said. “I was a guy in prison. But they were never going to make me a prisoner.”
Jackson is out of prison now and has been able to fully forgive the man who falsely accused him and whose recantation recently set him free.
How do you get to the point that you can forgive something so wrong?
Start small, Fred Luskin, Ph.D., told PBS. The director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects and senior consultant in health promotion at Stanford University was asked: “Can you incorporate forgiveness into your daily life?”
“Forgiveness can start small,” he said. “Practice on the smallest things in your life: The next time you get mad at anybody for a triviality, practice forgiving them. Make it a conscious choice to let it go and notice how good it feels. And ask yourself this question when you’re mad at somebody: ‘Is it worth it to me right now to suffer?’ If you’re confused and uncertain about it, ask someone who’s practiced forgiveness. They’ll give you a glowing report about its value in their life. Don’t just take my word for it.”
Recently, the people who chose to speak at the bond hearing for Dylann Roof, accused of fatally shooting nine people at the historic Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., offered Roof forgiveness, even as they described the pain of their losses.
Nadine Collier, whose mother was among those killed, told Roof: “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”
When forgiveness seems nearly impossible, I have found that prayer can make the difference. Sometimes I think of prayer as a two-step process: a humbling and quieting of the human mind, in which all resentment and hurt reside, and a reaching out to understand the divine as my true source of thought. If you’re like me, when you open that mental door you can literally feel the tension and pain of anger being washed away on an incoming tide of divine love.
It’s a powerful and unforgettable feeling. It restores mental and physical health. And best of all, you can come back as often as you need to.
Bob Clark is a Christian Science practitioner from Belleair. Read his blog at simplyhealthyflorida.com. Information from Times files was used in this column.
This article originally appeared in The Tampa Bay Times.