Three little words were drilled into my head as a boy: “I forgive you.”
My encouraging parents made sure that after any fight I had with my little brother, the instigator would say, “I’m sorry” while the victim would follow with, “I forgive you.” All too often, it was hard to determine who the instigator was and who was the victim, so more often than not, we both would end up saying both things to each other.
I give much credit to my parents for instilling this essential element of relational growth, maintenance and success into the both of us from a young age, contributing to the close relationship he and I have today.
The idea of forgiveness extends through the ages, grounded firmly as a prime pillar of Christianity.
Christ commands of us to extend forgiveness to one another, regardless if it is requested or not. Regardless of our inner-self’s occasional reluctance to do so, forgiveness is a core principle of living out that faith sacrificially.
Showing Jesus Christ to an unbelieving world through this sacrifice—because we are also pardoned for our earthly transgressions—is essential to why this extension of forgiveness is necessary.
Forgiveness—after being explored through its biblical context and foundation first and foremost—can be examined through both scientific and psychological lenses; shedding light on the power of forgiveness for the soul, mind and body.
For instance, much research has been completed on the personal benefits of forgiveness and the detriments of blatant unforgiveness. That is, studies show that people unwilling to extend forgiveness to someone who has done them harm will often withdraw from social relationships and tend to experience deep loneliness.
Additionally, a loss of trust occurs more often than not, discouraging them from developing future close relationships. Depression and anxiety are often leading reasons, but one particular motivation often overlooked is deeply rooted in stress.
One study of many, linking stress with an unwillingness to forgive compared the immediate emotional and physiological effects when participants recalled hurtful memories and harbored resentments to when they nurtured empathic viewpoint taking and perceived extending forgiveness toward real-life wrongdoers.
Results indicate unforgiving feelings encouraged more aversive emotion, significantly higher electromyogram (EMG), skin conductance, heart rate and blood pressure. With physical deterioration comes the emotional and mental decline as well. Take adultery for instance.
Through much of my own research, I’ve explored the thoughts, motives and feelings of both instigators as well as victims of marital infidelity. Though each participant’s response was respectively unique to each situation, one common theme arose: extending forgiveness was essential to personal healing.
In all of these cases, although exercising complete forgiveness was sometimes a process for them, when forgiveness was finally extended, these individuals received emotional satisfaction and an intrinsic desire to progress forward with their lives regardless of whether or not reconciliation would happen. The participants indicated they would have otherwise felt justified to hold resentment and bitterness against their spouses for those offenses.
You may have been wronged by someone in a way that goes beyond the bounds of human comprehension. There’s no guarantee that the person will ask, “Will you forgive me?” But you can choose to say, “I forgive you” regardless if they hear you say it or not.
We act selfishly when we say, “They’ve wronged me too badly” or “They’ve wronged me too many times.” But we exercise selflessness and grace when we respond, “I forgive you, as Christ has forgiven me.” A large degree of your happiness depends on it. It’s essential to your relational progression. Your health is even at risk because of it. And your walk with Jesus is strengthened by exercising it.
Forgiveness: a simple word instilled in many of us from childhood, though an essential ingredient to personal and relational fulfillment in this life, running hand-in-hand with grace and selflessness.
is an assistant professor of communication at Taylor University. His teaching and research efforts are conducted through the lens of social psychology. He focuses primarily on marriage fidelity, relationship development/management, the self, nonverbal communication, persuasion, social influence and social media. He lives in Indiana with his beautiful wife, Stacey.