Many people think forgiveness has no concrete impact; it’s merely a polite social gesture to keeps things running smoothly, akin to saying “please” and “thank-you.” Others regard it as the cowardly choice of those too timid to take real action. Both views are wrong. Forgiveness is a tool with literal power, and far from being an easy cop-out, it can require a lot of courage to do.
Time and again, Graf Stress Management clients have demonstrated that true forgiveness is unparalleled at eliminating stress and opening the door to power that can actually heal minds and bodies. Forgiveness can remove our subconscious need to use illness to punish ourselves, escape from situations, or justify negative feelings. This, in turn, can free our intelligence to do what it does best: run a healthy body.
The following story illustrates the peace and recovery that come from forgiveness.
Years ago, a client came to see Jan Graf with a life-threatening disease for which he had received the recommended medical treatment without improvement. The Stress Evaluation revealed that someone had deeply offended this man fifteen years earlier and he needed to forgive this person.
Graf asked, “ Can you think of anyone who offended you fifteen years ago?”
At first the man couldn’t. Then it dawned on him. “Oh yes, how could I forget him?” Graf informed his client that he needed to forgive this man, but the client, “I sure do, and someday I might, but I’m not about to forgive him today.” [Note the mistaken belief that forgiveness is an act of kindness extended on behalf of someone else. In this case, it was the client who would have benefited by forgiving but believed that he was "getting even" with the offender by hanging onto his resentment. Meanwhile, the offender was completely unaffected by the hard feelings.]
Graf reminded the man that he didn’t have a lot of ‘somedays’ left at the rate his health was deteriorating. The client countered that given the way he felt about this man, forgiveness would be nothing more than lip service. Then he told the story of this “friend” who had talked him into investing in a sure deal which would yield a fantastic return in a matter of a few months. So the client borrowed several hundred thousand dollars, all the money that he could produce on his signature, and then mortgaged his home and business against his wife’s better judgment.
When it came time for the fantastic return to materialize, the friend informed him that the deal hadn’t worked out and he’d lost all the money. The friend felt bad about it but said that was the way the investment business worked: you win some, you lose some.
Subsequently, the bank foreclosed on the client’s home and business. His wife was so upset that she took the children and went to live with her parents. In his desperation, he got inappropriately involved with another woman, thus losing his membership in his church. Thanks to this “friend,” he ended up declaring bankruptcy and losing everything of value to him, including his family.
“And you ask me to forgive him?,” he questioned Graf.
Graf told him to go ahead anyway. It would be a start. He finally agreed to give the lip service. He stammered out, “I forgive…” but with his bottled up anger, he struggled for about three minutes, unable to get the words out. “I can’t do it,” he said. “I can’t even say it!”
“Try it from the heart now, “ Graf suggested.
The man began to sob. For almost ten minutes he cried, then finally said, “I forgive [friend's name] for causing me to lose my family, my home, my business, my membership in my church, my money, and his friendship.”
Graf reminded him that he also needed to forgive himself for his own contribution to these problems, which the man did. As he finished, he remarked that he felt a tremendous weight lifted from his body. He had no idea what a heavy burden he’d been carrying. Graf suggested that he ask his family to forgive him, and if possible, it would be good for him to ask the friend to forgive him for carrying the bitterness toward him all these years.
Another suggestion Graf gave him was to consider going back to his church after all these years and finding the Lord, whom he also needed to forgive since he blamed Him for allowing this terrible thing to happen in the first place.
After working through many other stresses in his life, he left the office. The receptionist asked Graf whether or not he thought the man would overcome the life-threatening illness. He responded that he didn’t know, it was up to the man, but even if he didn’t he’d be much more at peace when he met his maker than he was before forgiving.
Three years went by. and one day the receptionist informed Graf that this same man was returning in to see him. Graf had visions of a man being wheeled in on a gurney, barely alive. Instead, he was shocked at the healthy man walking into the office. He informed Graf that he’d made a complete recovery within six months of the visit and was only returning to thank him and to find out whom he needed to forgive because his shoulder had been sore for a month or so.
This client has returned several times over the years, each time marveling about how good life is and that he is still alive to enjoy it, all because of forgiveness. Graf said, “I do not share this story to give the idea that I can heal any health problem, for I certainly cannot. However, this man was able to heal himself when he no longer needed the disease to [manifest] his anger or punish himself.”