“Forbearing one another and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.” Colossians 3:13.
A wealthy, well educated, but deeply depressed woman sought counsel. She suffered from recurrent headaches, ulcers, and obesity. “I’m bloated with fat,” she complained.
“He did it to me,” she sobbed. Her husband, a respected politician, had had an affair. “I hate him for it, and I hate the woman even more. See what she’s done to me? She’s ruined my life.”
The affair had occurred thirteen years before, yet the woman remained obsessed with her bitterness and anger.
What can we do for people who can’t forget, who refuse to allow past pains to be healed?
We could ask, What does their hatred do for them? Why do they allow the hurts of the past to make a mockery of their lives today?
They need to know about the healing option. A painful memory is a mental wound, and they must let it heal. They must stop picking at the scab. They can’t afford to keep an emotional scrapbook of their painful memories, because this is what imprisons them.
As the woman began to understand these principles, she realized how wrong it was to mortgage her present by clinging to her past. She needed to let the dead past bury its dead. She found comfort in the apostle Paul’s testimony in Philippians 3:13, 14: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul knew that the present was what mattered, and he lived the present with zeal.
It’s been said that our attitude toward the past is far more important than the past itself. Attitude involves choice. What do we let life do with us, with its unfairness and its hurts? Make us bitter? Or make us better?
Bitter or Better
Once a scientist watched a moth struggling to get out of its cocoon. Seemingly, it just could not force its way through such a small opening. After watching awhile, he “helped” the moth by enlarging the hole. The moth emerged with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never flew. It needed that struggle through the small opening to force the fluid into its still-developing wings. Like the moth, we too must struggle through our cocoon of bitterness to emerge as a better person, or we will be trapped in a mindset that can destroy us.
Do we actually need Hardships?
This world is a university of hard knocks. We owe it to ourselves not to get bitter. Bitterness shrivels the spirit, causing spiritual atherosclerosis. Just as too much of the wrong kind of food hardens our arteries, nurturing the wrong kinds of emotions can harden our attitudes. Troubles, difficulties, and disappointments can push us to grow—in insight, understanding, and finding new directions for our lives.
Our depressed woman began to realize that she had to move away from her “poor me, pity me” attitude, begin to tackle her problems, and learn to solve them.
“The moment I started to hate that woman,” she reflected, “I began to be her slave. For thirteen years she has had a tyrannical grasp on my mind and my body. No more! I know now that I can learn something positive from the most desperate situation. That woman will not steal my joy for even one more day of my life.”
A Change in Attitude can Make the Difference
Here is another “attitude” story. A high-society woman periodically checked into a luxurious suite of a New York hotel. She sought a quiet time to rest, to think, and to regain perspective. One time she heard a piano playing next door. Furious, she expressed her feelings in no uncertain terms. The manager apologized profusely for putting Anton Rubenstein in the suite next door. Rubenstein? The great one? The woman’s attitude changed. She listened. She loved the music and treasured every day the renowned pianist was there. What had been noise before was now heavenly music!
But aren’t there some people who do such horrible things that we shouldn’t forgive them, much less try to love them?
The Bible reminds us that it is easy to love the lovely people; what’s hard is to love the unlovely. For example, Mrs. Hannah’s only child was raped and murdered by a man who was subsequently put in prison for life. Mrs. Hannah hated this man intensely and prayed that every day of his life would be more miserable than hers.
One day “Gideon” (a man who supplied Gideon Bibles to hotels, motels, and other public places) came to her home and asked if she would care to write on a Bible for this murderer. She angrily refused. Mrs. Hannah struggled on for weeks and months. She finally realized she was trapped in her own prison of misery. There was no focus to her life, no joy, no triumph.
Finally, Mrs. Hannah knelt down and pleaded with God to forgive her feelings of bitterness and hatred. Then the burden lifted, and she experienced peace. She called Gideon back and asked him to bring back the Bible. She was ready to sign it.
She opened the Bible and wrote, “Mrs. Hannah loves you.” When the prisoner read this message, tears poured down his cheeks. He’d grown up an orphan. Never had he been told that anyone loved him. That one sentence changed his life. He trained to become a prison chaplain and spent the rest of his life ministering to other prisoners.
On that very day, the old, bitter, hateful Mrs. Hannah died, and a new Mrs. Hannah took her place. She realized that she, too, had been imprisoned. It took forgiveness to set her free.
At best, we have a limited number of days in our lives. Isn’t each day too precious to be marred by unforgiving thoughts?
Do we really want to inflict the pain and misery on ourselves that we feel when we’re not willing to forgive?
We need to ask ourselves, Are there people I need to forgive? Do I need to forgive myself?
People who learn to forgive suffer less anxiety and depression and have higher self-worth. They also enjoy better health. Love is more important than being right.
While being crucified by his tormentors, Jesus Christ prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34. The moment we make the choice to forgive, we open our way to healing.
Adapted from Health Power: Health by Choice Not Chance, by Aileen Ludington, MD and Hans Diehl, DrHSc, MPH. Used by permission from the authors.