If you are depressed or under stress, does the mention of forgiveness sound like old news? Do you think, yeah I did that, and I still feel under siege? Well, what we all sometimes forget is that forgiveness is not a onetime remedy. One good bout of forgiving our past does not inoculate us against becoming hurt, angry, or annoyed or building new resentments all over again. To beat our stress and depression, forgiveness needs to become a habit, whether we are forgiving others or forgiving ourselves.
Forgiveness can transform us
Forgiveness is basically a choice. Am I going to let this situation tie me up inside, raise my blood pressure and stress hormones, or am I going to decide not to feel wounded, and simply let it go? Oddly enough, we often get just as upset over tiny disruptions as we do to major conflicts. And since we are likely to have far more little upsets in a day than big ones, the more automatic our ability to slough off minor irritations, the better we will feel.
Clearly some of us are far better at this letting go than others. Author Ted Dekker wrote recently that for the most of us, “our lives are run by grievance.” If we are anxious, he explained, we feel a grievance toward the uncertainty of the future. If we are unhappy with how we look or feel, we can become ill and depressed, because we have a grievance against ourselves. We cling to our grievances, it’s true, but learning to forgive and let go, Dekker says, can cause radical transformations. Letting go of all these grievances is what forgiveness is all about.
Give us this day.
The idea of continual forgiveness is certainly nothing new. Christians pray “give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us…as we forgive.” If we say the words too fast, or without thinking, we could miss that the forgiving part is in the same sentence as our daily bread. The thoughts are linked. Forgiveness must be a daily need, just like having enough to eat. After all, every day we make new mistakes, and we need others to overlook our faults, and also to be willing to cut everyone, and ourselves, some slack.
Practice makes perfect.
Whenever we forgive, we reap health benefits that grow over time. As soon as we let go, we can breathe easier, and feel the weight of resentment slipping away. Our mood lifts, and we feel more at peace. With daily practice, we get better at forgiveness, and the feelings of wellbeing continue to increase. More time forgiving means less time dwelling on stressful situations, and less time beating ourselves up for not living up to arbitrary ideals.
Being a more forgiving person also makes us much nicer to be around. What may feel to us like a perfectly justified rant about some perceived injustice to our egos, probably just strikes others as a tantrum. No one likes to be around a grouch.
Tips to practice
Thinking thoughts of forgiveness during meditation can be a very effective tool. Not all our grievances are toward people who have harmed or slighted us, or simply invaded our space. We may feel aggrieved at life in general for not turning out how we wanted it to. Or we may feel bitter at institutions, our government, or even weather that upsets our plans.
Let yourself be aware of things that bother you then release the hold they have over your emotions. You might even imagine yourself being set free.
As you go through your day, if you drop something or make a mistake, don’t call yourself clumsy or deride yourself. Remind yourself that mistakes happen, and minor spills and mishaps are a part of normal life. Find humor in life’s minor pitfalls, and find joy in the people who share your life.
The more you work toward making forgiveness a habit, the less you will feel stress from your imagined grievances, and the more your depression can lift away.
To read Ted Dekker’s entire post about forgiveness, and his new novel Water Walker, visit www.teddekker.com.
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