How Much Does Forgiveness Cost?

Under fluorescent lights, I realized forgiveness is priceless, but bitterness and resentment are costly to my well-being.

As I paced the isles of our local Staples store, all I could think about was what my husband had just confessed.

“You WHAT? You DIDN”T!”

Was my first reaction to the news that he’d borrowed (without asking) – and then lost – my Bose quiet comfort headphones (not cheap and a gift from my husband), along with my iPod (with a lot of personal stuff on it), for a recent business trip. How could he leave them out of his sight at the airport terminal? Unthinkable! Add to that no travel insurance.

So now I was facing a sheepish husband in the Staples store while I added up the damage. That’s when I eeked out a prayer and heard: “How much does forgiveness cost?”

Wow! You did have to say that, God. In that moment, under fluorescent lights, I realized forgiveness is priceless, but bitterness and resentment are costly to my well-being–not to mention my marriage. Relief washed over me as I decided to leave this incident behind and tell my husband I was OK now.

He was so relieved. He told me he’d been on the phone with airport authorities all week to recover the missing items – everyone, down to the pilot on the plane, knew how much he cared about finding them again. He’d even been planning to replace them before I ever missed them. Since my name and contact info was on both items, we both decided to join in prayer together to forgive the person who had taken them.

Jesus told us to forgive not seven times, but 70 times seven! That’s nearly 500 times. And I really don’t think most of us have to forgive that many times in a lifetime. So it’s pretty much saying we have to forgive all the time. No exceptions.

I’ve had bigger things to forgive in my life, but I know my experience pales in comparison to a story like the Amish parents who immediately forgave the man who murdered their children in a Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania school house six years ago. The world was inspired–and perhaps not a little surprised–when news carried that the Amish had donated money to the killer’s widow and her three young children, and they even attended his burial service at the cemetery. For the Amish, forgiveness is a community-wide response.

Jonas Beiler, an Amish man and family therapist who works with Amish families, said that “. . . because the Amish can express that forgiveness, and because they hold no grudges, they are better able to concentrate on the work of their own healing.” (Amish Forgive School Shooter, Struggle with Grief.)

(An interesting side-note: Beiler's wife is "Auntie Annie" -- you know those amazing pretzels in the Natick Mall that your kids always beg for? She started selling them to support her husband's career in family therapy after they suffered the loss of their young daughter. Little did they know her effort would turn into a franchise!)

To me, forgiveness really comes down to our thoughts. How much are we concentrating on healing thoughts vs. unproductive, hurtful ones?  There are plenty of studies that show how holding onto past wrongs negatively affects health–from high blood pressure to anxiety and depression. (Mayo Clinic: Forgiveness–Letting go of grudges and bitterness).

I’ve found that beyond the health benefits, when I practice forgiveness I feel more flexible, less “my way or the highway,” and more able to resort to kindness as a rule of thumb. And it’s my practice of daily prayer that gives me the inspiration and strength to keep the healthy thoughts growing and prevent the unhealthy ones from taking root.

Dr. Fred Luskin, co-founder and director of the Stanford Forgiveness Project, has been studying forgiveness for over 20 years. He has this to say: “Forgiveness is the experience of being at peace right now, no matter what’s occurred 5 minutes ago or 5 years ago. It’s the creation of peace in the present. We are the ones who created the lack of peace, so we’re the only ones who can remedy that situation. ”

Forgiveness really only costs our own consent. And that’s free to all.

Ingrid lives in Framingham where she and her husband manage three busy kids, a Lab who's sniffed every trail at Callahan and a ragdoll cat. She blogs on spirituality and health and is also a Christian Science practitioner. You can see more on her website "Breaking Bread" at masshealthblog.com.

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