A siren song of anger flashed across his face and then flooded the house as he verbally attacked me. My sailing friend for years had just pulled the rug out from underneath me with bizarre accusations and irrational remarks.
For weeks, I ruminated about this incident from sun up to sundown. This outburst took place in the mid ‘90’s and I wouldn’t see this friend again until 15 years later. It left me pondering what it really means to forgive.
The topic of forgiveness in individual lives spans millennia. For example, nineteenth century health seeker and theologian, Mary Baker Eddy, offered sound advice on the subject of grievance and forgiveness based upon her own studies and personal experience with family and friends who suddenly turned against her with irrational accusations. Eddy was able to forgive because she possessed a deep conviction of God’s goodness that allowed her to face and consciously dispel indignity of any kind.
She emphasizes in her published works, “The mental arrow shot from another’s bow is practically harmless, unless our own thought barbs it…It is our pride that makes another’s criticism rankle, our self-will that makes another’s deed offensive, our egotism that feels hurt by another’s self-assertion.”1
The veracity of her works continues today. For example, fast-forward more than a hundred years to studies by Fred Luskin, PhD, an internationally known researcher on forgiveness. Luskin’s primary focus illustrates how forgiveness is a critical component of emotional, physical, and relationship well being. His practice expands well beyond Stanford University where he studied, and includes global hotspots such as Sierra Leone and Northern Ireland. Luskin was also engaged to therapeutically assist families of people killed in the 2011 World Trade Center tragedy.
According to Luskin, whether a perpetrator or a receiver of angry outbursts, allowing raw emotions to flare up and smolder inside can wither away a meaningful life and a genuine feeling of well-being.
For a long time, my grievance thoughts about my friend were akin to what Luskin describes in a poignant aviation analogy as “grievance planes.” Imagine an overwhelmed air traffic controller working in a chaotic control tower room looking at his jam-packed computer screen of circling planes overhead. In this stressful environment, the air traffic controller still has the responsibility for safely landing each plane without incident. Luskin describes those electrifying “grievance thoughts” or dots on our mental computer screen as “grievance planes” flying uncontrollably and on a collision course in our thinking.2
Aside from the mental anguish these thoughts engender, the inability to forgive affects our health. “Study after study has found that forgiving is good for the body as well as the soul. It can lower blood pressure and heart rate and reduce levels of depression, anxiety, and anger.”3
Although time may heal wounds, forgiveness can bring about healing in more tangible ways.
In 2010, I was inspired to call my former friend to let him know that I would be in his city on a business trip. In fact, it was just after New Year’s when we spoke, a normal time for individuals to embrace healthy behaviors and practices; to approach life with a clean slate. He was happy to hear from me and we agreed to meet for dinner along with his former wife who had also been a dear friend.
We enjoyed our dinner conversation recalling numerous happy sailing adventures that my friend acknowledged were priceless. That visit was over four years ago now, and I don’t expect that we will see each other again; and that’s ok.
I can’t describe how liberating it was to take the initiative to forgive my friend. I’ll leave it to Dr. Luskin to approximate the feeling that I had, “The decision to forgive touches you to your very core, to who you are as a human being.”4
We can choose a healthier and more engaging way to respond to those stressful “grievance planes” which gnaw away at our health and wellbeing. Our “inner core” contains a reservoir of spirituality that can bless each of us without measure. Christian character, along with a resolve to forgive, will propel us through unwanted and non-productive mental turbulence. Our health and peace of mind depend on it.
Steve Drake is a self-syndicated Missouri columnist and writes regularly on the relationship between thought, spirituality and health, and trends in that field. He is also the media and legislative representative for Christian Science in Missouri.
1) Miscellaneous Writings, by Mary Baker Eddy, p. 223&224
2) Forgive for Good, by Frederic Luskin
3) How to Forgive Anyone – and why Your Health Depends on it, by Harriet Brown
4) Forgive for Good, by Frederic Luskin