04 December 2004


Hours ago, my friend Bayi sent me this.

Forgive Your Enemies

The Sunday sermon was, Forgive Your Enemies, and toward the end of the service, the preacher asked his congregation," How many of you have forgiven their enemies?"

About half held up their hands.

He then repeated his question. As it was past lunchtime, this time about 80 percent held up their hands. He then repeated his question again. All responded, except one small elderly lady.

"Mrs. Jones?" inquired the preacher, "Aren't you willing to forgive your enemies?"

"I don't have any," she replied, smiling sweetly.

"Mrs. Jones, that is very unusual. How old are you?"

"Ninety-three." she replied.

"Oh, Mrs. Jones, what a blessing and a lesson to us all you are. Would you please come down in front of this congregation and tell us all how a person can live 93 years and not have an enemy in the world?"

The little sweetheart of a lady tottered down the aisle, faced the congregation, and said:

"Well, they all died and I outlived them all!"

Thank you Bayi, for sending me some form of levity this week.

While we are at it, do you know that forgiving can be good for your health?

The physical and mental benefits of forgiveness have become a serious subject of study for health researchers. But like many supposedly "new" discoveries, religion had advocated it long before science came around. The wisdom of forgiveness is mentioned throughout ancient Christian, Jewish and Islamic literature. However, research has shown that forgiving can be accomplished on either a spiritual or secular basis.

The benefits are more than just a matter of a temporary mood shift. Researchers at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research found that forgiveness was linked with better self-reported mental and physical health, especially for adults over 45. Respondents reporting higher levels of forgiveness were more satisfied with their lives and less likely to experience symptoms of psychological distress, such as nervousness, restlessness and sadness.

Psychological distress has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure, so it's no surprise that a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin found another good reason to let go of anger --- it can be very forgiving on the cardiovascular system.

[Forgiveness Can Be Healthy]

In an article sometime September this year, Newsweek said that forgiveness is so crucial as a health factor that it is now considered as "one of the hottest fields of research in clinical psychology today, with more than 1,200 published studies, up from just 58 as recently as 1997."

Research suggests that forgiveness works in at least two ways. One is by reducing the stress of the state of unforgiveness, a potent mixture of bitterness, anger, hostility, hatred, resentment and fear (of being hurt or humiliated again). These have specific physiologic consequences ---such as increased blood pressure and hormonal changes --- linked to cardiovascular disease, immune suppression and, possibly, impaired neurological function and memory.

The other benefit of forgiveness is more subtle; it relates to research showing that people with strong social networks --- of friends, neighbors and family --- tend to be healthier than loners. Someone who nurses grudges and keeps track of every slight is obviously going to shed some relationships over the course of a lifetime. Forgiveness, says Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, a researcher at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, should be incorporated into one's personality, a way of life, not merely a response to specific insults.

[Newsweek's Forgive and Let Live]

In practice, I have always observed that those who suffer from illnesses like hypertension and heart diseases often have some bitterness and loneliness in their hearts. Most of them have a friend or a family relative who has turned into a bitter enemy, and the patient continues to harbor a grudge against the said person(s). Sometimes, it makes me wonder if the heart ailment or the high blood pressure are mere manifestations of long-standing feelings of anger, hate, and loneliness.

Of course, in the field of evidence-based medicine this might be difficult to prove. But I'm glad that researchers are looking at forgiveness' possible potential to be a healing factor.

Surfing, I was surprised to find websites on forgiveness like this one, this one and this one.

I know, I know. Another case of easier-said-than-done, huh? But hey, if we don't start today, WHEN will we start?

As Christmas approaches, learn to forgive your enemies. If you can't do it for him or her, do it for yourself.

Forgive. Forget. Begin a new life. Begin a new life of health and peace.

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