Is there someone that you hold a grudge against? Do you constantly think about how to avoid the person who has angered or humiliated you? How free are you when you have unresolved conflict?
Cherie Carter-Scott said, ‘Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were.’ [i]
What happens to you when you practice a lifestyle of forgiveness? Doctor Fred Luskin has broadly studied and wrote on the topic of forgiveness.
In three separate studies, including one with Catholics and Protestants from Northern Ireland whose family members were murdered in the political violence, he found that people who are taught how to forgive become less angry, feel less hurt, are more optimistic, become more forgiving in a variety of situations, and become more compassionate and self-confident. His studies show a reduction in experience of stress, physical manifestations of stress, and an increase in vitality.[ii]
In an ideal world, the church would be a place where everyone gets along in sweet accord. In reality, a church can be a difficult place for power struggles, treachery and hurt feelings.
A couple years ago New Song Church experienced a difficult season that culminated in disciplinary action against one of our members. Without revealing the details, it is fair to say that many of us learned to walk daily in forgiveness and humility. I gained great respect for the value of guiding principles and a team in conflict resolution.
I still pray for the person and all who were affected by the conflict. At the end of the day, I learned a life-size lesson in the power of forgiving. While a church may not be a perfect utopia of harmonious relationship, it is a great laboratory for breeding love and reconciliation.
Over the years as a pastor, chaplain and family member, there have been many situations in which I have acted as a mediator. There are still people willing to compromise and reach agreement. Others are not ready. Each instance of mediation reinforces my beliefs:
- I believe in the Savior who asked God to forgive his own abusers.
- I believe in the Kingdom of God where lions and lambs can rest next to each other.
- I believe it is better to remove a millstone necklace than to push its wearer off the dock.
And I believe that prayer opens us to God’s help in resolving matters of the heart. In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us once again about this Divine-human partnership in building peace. The New International Reader’s Version says it well.
[ii] Fred Luskin, Ph.D. Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (Harper, 2002)