Are you part of a family in which no one ever apologizes? Or do you have certain family members who refuse to apologize, even when they are egregiously wrong? I am not going to speak negatively of anyone, but I will say that I can relate to having loved ones who don’t apologize after mistreating others. Instead, they simply go on with life, acting friendly and cordial, as if the situation never happened. As a result, the offenses they committed are never addressed.
This behavior completely baffled me the first time I experienced it, especially because I tend to be vocal. Ignoring the elephant in the room is not how I operate. Since then, I have come to understand this type of behavior. The other person’s extension of an olive branch and kindness toward me is their way of communicating an apology and showing a desire to restore the relationship. This understanding makes it easier for me to forgive and move forward, even if words of apology are never expressed.
However, their response is not ideal. In situations in which forgiveness is needed, a combination of sincere words of apology and authentic actions works best. Healthy relationships include both apologies and forgiveness.
Yet I have learned that while I can’t control the behavior of others, I am responsible for my own behavior and responses, including the extension of forgiveness. Whenever there is a lack of forgiveness, a wall goes up between the parties involved. God calls us to forgive others as we have been forgiven:
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:14–15 NIV)
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32 NIV)
Unless we release our anger or bitterness against someone by truly forgiving them, we can suffer emotionally and even mentally. God doesn’t want us to hurt and suffer. We need to give our burden to Him so He can heal our heart as we forgive the other person.
To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you. —Lewis B. Smedes, author
Harboring ill feelings against someone can also have a harmful effect on our body. Negative thoughts and emotions bring about negative reactions within us. When we continually think about a wrong someone committed against us, thus permitting anger and resentment to build, our anxiety and stress levels go up. Those feelings do not foster good health.
For example, if you are angry because you found out your sister-in-law has been saying bad things about you to your neighbor, and you have allowed that negative emotion to fester for months, you are compounding the detrimental effects of that emotion. You are also keeping yourself in a place of negativity. Learn to let it go and forgive. Talk to your sister-in-law if you feel comfortable doing so. If not, then you need to move forward for the sake of your own spiritual, emotional, and physical wellness.
There are a multitude of studies that demonstrate forgiveness is good for our health. An article from Johns Hopkins Medicine entitled “Forgiveness: Your Health Depends on It” says:
Studies have found that the act of forgiveness can reap huge rewards for your health, lowering the risk of heart attack; improving cholesterol levels and sleep; and reducing pain, blood pressure, and levels of anxiety, depression and stress. And research points to an increase in the forgiveness-health connection as you age.…
One study found that people whose forgiveness came in part from understanding that no one is perfect were able to resume a normal relationship with the other person, even if that person never apologized.
This last result is huge! Research shows we need to recognize that nobody is perfect. Mistakes are part of being human. The Bible tells us this fact repeatedly. It says we all miss the mark; we are all sinners. This is exactly why we need to forgive others. How can we expect forgiveness from God and other people if we ourselves are unwilling to forgive? It is a double standard. Science and Scripture both point us toward what we should do when we are wronged in relationships. Forgiveness is in our best interests.
Professor Robert D. Enright of the University of Wisconsin developed a scientifically proven forgiveness program. His research revealed that when genuine forgiveness occurs, there is emotional healing and pain is released. Enright found that forgiveness is beneficial to both parties involved. It is not a one-sided experience. Genuine forgiveness heals the heart of the one who has hurt another and it also dissolves the pain in the person who has been hurt. Forgiveness allows both parties to regain their lives. It is essential to making a relationship whole again.
How has a lack of forgiveness affected your heart? Is there someone whom you need help forgiving? Go to God in prayer and ask for His help to forgive others who have wronged you so you can be released from hurt, anger, and bitterness.