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Forgiveness: The most selfish thing you can do

October 16, 2010

When I think of selfishness, I envision a heavy-set, blond haired little boy, the proverbial toy-stealing child who will not share his trinkets with the little, frail looking girl with blue eyes and gingham dress. He gathers his treasures around him as another boy many years younger looks longingly at the pile wishing to have just one. However, the bullying child will not share.

There is an upside to selfishness. A time in which selfishness is a good thing, the right path, and the way to choose health, healing and, well, selfishness. We can choose right attitudes, actions and healthy behaviors such as forgiveness. When we choose forgiveness, we are doing the self in us a huge favor thus making selfishness a good thing for a change.

There is a physiology of forgiveness. The psalmist wisely stated that in the guilt of his sin and in the silence and covering it up, his bones wasted away. He knew then what science is just now coming to accept. Guilt, resentment, sin and silence have a physiological impact on a person. They all combine to create an emotionally and physically sick person who misses the best of life because he or she is stuck in the past that cannot be changed (Arterburn, Healing is a Choice).

Newsweek made a statement: "Persistent unforgiveness is part of human nature, but it appears to work to the detriment not just of our spiritual well being but our physical healthy, as well."

Dr. Dean Ornish has helped many people adjust their lifestyles by eating differently. He has helped people lower their cholesterol and their weight by eating better and living better. He does not just stop with what a person puts in his mouth. He also wants to help with what resides inside his heart and soul. The man who has helped people stop eating so much red meat regards anger and vengeance as red meat consumed by the soul, and forgiveness as the healthful tofu of living.

Dr. Ornish said, "In a way, the most selfish thing you can do for yourself is to forgive other people."

Knowing you need to forgive and knowing how to forgive are two different things, aren't they? I read a story decades ago, and I never forgot it. It was by a woman who had been abused by her biological father. She said she finally achieved forgiveness when she began choosing to replace the painful memories with the good ones. Instead of thinking over and over again about the painful events, she began replacing those thoughts with better ones. In her mind, she said, she could see her father ... what's he doing? "Oh, he's teaching me to ride a bike." Then, "Oh, there we are swimming in the ocean," she remembered. By replacing the painful memories with the good, she finally felt relief.

You can choose to live as a forgiver. You can choose to make your whole life work better for you by incorporating the repeated act of forgiveness into the person you are. Charlotte van Oyen Wityliet, a reseacher at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, said, "Forgiveness should be incorporated into one's personality, a way of life, not merely a response to the specific insults."

Arterburn states, "The choices to grieve and forgive and let go are powerful forces for developing a life that is completely free from the past. They are the stepping stones out of your old ways and into a future full of all sorts of possibilities and potentials."

The reason for forgiveness is not to let the other person off the hook; it is to get you unhooked. You forgive so you can move on. When you choose to forgive, you are not freeing the other person; you are freeing yourself.

Most will remember this story of the Prodigal son who took his share of his inheritance and left home and wasted it on riotous living, ended up eating out of a hog pen, and went home not knowing what to expect. However, he was greeted with open arms and a warm embrace from his father. Rembrandt depicted this story in a painting. It is a painting of the boy on his knees before the father and the father with his arms around the boy, his hands resting on the boy's back. If you look closely at the painting, you see that one of the hands is strong and full of power, obviously painted from th model of a man who was full of power and strength. If you look closely and compare it to the other hand, you discover something quite amazing. The other hand does not match perfectly - it is weaker, softer and gentler.

Rembrandt used a female to model for the second hand. That soft and gentle second hand represents the gentle grace that God possesses and shares with us. It is the hand of a God so loving that he would send his perfect son to go and suffer and die for all of his prodigal children. When we completely understand the magnitude of that, we are willing to extend that same forgiveness to others.

(Editor's note: Kimberly Short-Wolfe, MA, Contact:, or call: 304-940-9362.)



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