Patti Armstrong is an award-winning author and was the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press’ bestselling Amazing Grace series. Her latest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories From Everyday Families and Dear God, You Can’t Be Serious. She has a B.A. in social work and an M.A. in public administration and worked in both those fields before staying home to work as a freelance writer. Patti and her husband live in North Dakota, where they are still raising the tail end of their 10 children.
When someone hurts us, the words “…as we forgive those who trespass against us…” stick in our throats. But according to science, we hurt ourselves even more if we don’t forgive them. It’s not it’s easy, just necessary to follow God’s command, and for our good health.
Recent studies reveal that unconditional forgiveness leads to higher levels of well-being and less health problems. The studies also show that people who believe God has forgiven them throughout their life, find it easier to forgive others. Yet, forgiveness is anything but easy.
Look Up, Not Around
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with malice. be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you, (Ephesians 4:31-32).
The struggle with forgiveness is common, according to Linda Rose Ingrisano, author of Strength for Your Journey. Throughout the past 36 years working as a singer/evangelist and retreat master, and serving in a healing apostolate, she often works helps people to forgive.
“Forgiveness is hard, yet it is commanded to follow Jesus,” Ingrisano said. “Otherwise, we hurt and destroy ourselves and each other by our hatefulness, and refusal to forgive, and I am sure that we also hurt our Lord.” She acknowledged that often we are innocent victims but still, we have the power to respond to God’s command to forgive although it may take perseverance and an act of the will.
“I often say to people: ‘I know it wasn’t right what that person did to you, but that’s between them and God,’” she said. “Keep repeating those words out of love and obedience to God and God will, in His time, fill you with that grace to forgive.”
Ingrisano noted that many people have gone through devastating circumstances, some as innocent victims., yet said we can use our judgments, pride, or shame to be stuck in unforgiveness rather than surrendering to God. My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your way, (Isaiah 55:8).
“Unforgiveness is a block to our well-being,” according to Ingrisano. “I can’t tell you the number of people that are physically ill with migraines, back issues, cancer…the list goes on. They are miserable in their lives all because they will not forgive.”
She quoted Corrie Ten Boom who helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust: “Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
As a mom with many hardships along her own journey Ingrisano understands what it is like to feel betrayed and hurt. She points to Jesus’ death on the cross as God’s example to us and the words of Jesus from the cross: Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing. Luke 23:34
Unforgiveness Shows up in Marriage
Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, a psychiatrist trained at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center, and the director of the Institute for Marital Healing outside Philadelphia has worked as a marriage therapist for 40 years. In his co-authored book: Forgiveness Therapy: An Empirical Guide for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope, and his writings at MaritalHealing.com, he helps people confront unforgiveness from childhood that often shows up in marriages.
In an email interview, Dr. Fitzgibbons said, “Unresolved anger can unconsciously interfere with a person’s ability to love their spouse and children and can also be misdirected at them,” he said.
“When a spouse progresses in forgiveness he often experiences a decreased feeling of anger, a lessening of anxiety, a feeling of compassion for a spouse or those who have inflicted the hurt, and a greater acceptance of one's past hurts,” according to Dr. Fitzgibbons. “As the past has less and less control over the present, there is greater trust and love in the marital relationship.”
If the work of forgiveness is difficult, Dr. Fitzgibbons tells his patients they can also give their anger towards a parent for instance, to God by asking God to forgive that parent. He encourages Catholic spouses who have had difficult father relationships to work with a spiritual director on a relationship with God the Father or St. Joseph as another loving and strong father. Similarly, he explained that a good director could help those who entered marriage with loneliness for mother love by growing in their relationship with the Blessed Mother.
“A strong spiritual life will help with the work of forgiveness,” Fitzgibbons explained. “It facilitates growth in the theological virtues of faith, hope and love and in the cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude and justice, all of which can protect a person from overreacting in anger in marriage and family life.”
According to him, many Catholics report a diminishment in their anger by forgiving daily and by meditating upon becoming another Christ to their spouse. “They can also be helped through the graces they experience in the sacraments of their marriage, reconciliation and of the Eucharist,” he said.
“The process of forgiving can be very challenging, and at times may need the help of a therapist,” Fitzgibbons said. “But the benefits, are freedom from the control of the past, a more stable marriage and family life, and improved confidence.”