Forgiveness can be both utterly painful and gutsy but carries with the opportunity to be completely freeing. I see so many patients with complex problems, which present to me as a physical or psychological pain. After I have listened intently to their story and the subtle things they reveal or omit, we explore together the possible reasons for their condition.
Once we have excluded any obvious causes through history, examination and tests (where required), we meet again and probe a bit deeper. Time and again I have found in such situations where there is no obvious medical cause, that that there was some kind of hurt caused to them, which they have never been able to forgive. Many times they don’t want to forgive and sometimes they don’t know how to.
Choosing not to forgive someone always has its benefit to us, in some way, otherwise we simply would not hold on to grudges. It can be that which let’s us feel superior or something which justifies our own feelings or patterns of behaviour. But the cost of unforgiveness can be absolutely crippling, leaving a root of bitterness in our lives which can manifest itself in physical, psychological, relational and emotional pain.
I never put this idea onto someone, but have been amazed as I ask an open question to a person about what they think the root of their problem might be, how often this issue of (un)forgiveness rears its head. They have become stuck in a moment and they can’t get out of it. (U2)!
Over the past few years I have been astounded to watch people make the brave decision to revisit past hurts and memories. Some of the memories have been so traumatic and horrific that being with them in the process has been both heart-wrenching and humbling.
But the change I have seen in people’s lives as they have chosen to forgive, to be forgiven, to restore and to be restored has been extraordinary. There are so many things that the science of medicine cannot explain. We are so uniquely knit together – mind, body and spirit and the complex intertwining relationship of these is not to be underestimated. I have seen major changes in the symptoms of MS, Chronic Fatigue, Back Pain, Unexplained Numbness, Depression, Anxiety, Addiction and Abdominal Pain (to name just a few) as people have forgiven the “unforgivable” behaviour of others or even of themselves.
James Thwaites defines health as being in right and true relationship with others, with the creation and with God, rather than necessarily the absence or presence of disease or infirmity. If he is right, and I certainly tend to agree with him on this, then the forgiveness of ourselves and others has the ability to heal us of deep pain and shame and helps us to find a beautiful healing, wellbeing and wholeness.