Friday, May 27, 2016

To Live Longer Healthy Happier, Learn to Forgive

"Bitterness is a poison you swallow hoping someone else gets sick."

I don't know who said this, but it's true. When you hold onto hurt — when you refuse to forgive — you are the one you are hurting. This has been a spiritual truth for millennia. More recently it has become a scientifically demonstrated truth, as well.

A study entitled, "Forgive to Live," published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine involving 1,500 adults ages 66 or over demonstrated that those who practiced "conditional forgiveness" — meaning that they would not forgive others until they apologized or promised not to do it again — died earlier than those who scored low on the conditional forgiveness scale. This is consistent with a growing body of research demonstrating positive mental and physical health effects associated with forgiveness.

"But, what about...?"

Nope. No buts. "But" is a conditional forgiveness word that apparently can decrease your lifespan. Before you throw in the towel and resign yourself to an early death because of what someone said or did to you, let's tease apart the general idea of forgiveness into two components: forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness and reconciliation are often thought of together because they often happen together. But they are two different steps. 

Reconciliation is about restoring the broken relationship between the people involved. And, most importantly for our discussion, reconciliation depends on the willingness and ability of everyone involved. There's the rub. Sometimes reconciliation is not possible. The other person may need more time. The other person may neither desire nor care about reconciling. The other person may have died (this happens especially with parents). In many cases, reconciliation simply is not an option. That's why it is important to see forgiveness as a separate issue. 

The difference is this: reconciliation is about "us" while forgiveness is about "me." Separating forgiveness and reconciliation in your mind will free you to forgive in ways and times you may never have thought possible.

Merriam-Webster's first definition of forgiveness is not so helpful: "to stop feeling anger toward someone." Have you ever tried to just stop being angry? How'd that work out? Not so hot, eh? Yeah, me, neither.

Here is the best definition of forgiveness I have ever read: "give up your right to get even." 

Retribution is so natural to the human condition. If you say something hurtful, I say something hurtful back. If you hit me, I hit you. If you break something of mine, I break something of yours. It even seems like justice. But the research indicates that retribution and withholding forgiveness until reconciliation can be achieved is bad for you.

The good news is that "give up your right to get even" is something you can do choose to do. If you've been hurt deeply, it will likely be a choice you have to make over and over. But, unlike "stop being angry," "give up your right to get even" is a choice you can make. 

It's also a general attitude you can cultivate that will significantly decrease negative emotions in your life. Imagine the day when someone wrongs you and your natural response is to wonder what is going on with them rather than thinking about how to get back at them. This may seem far-fetched, but the more you live into the notion that forgiveness is only about you and how you relate to others, the more natural it will become.

The Mayo Clinic, in an article entitled, "Forgiveness: Letting go of grudges and bitterness," (jump to May Clinic article) asserts that forgiveness can lead to:
  • Healthier relationships
  • Greater spiritual and psychological well-being
  • Less anxiety, stress and hostility
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Fewer symptoms of depression
  • Stronger immune system
  • Improved heart health
  • Higher self-esteem
WebMD also has a great article (jump to WebMD article).

Forgiving does not mean forgetting. Who could actually forget some of the really major hurts of their life?

Forgiving does not mean pretending nothing happened (nor does reconciling). Quite the opposite. When you make the decision to forgive, the underlying presupposition of that decision is that you have been hurt and need to consciously decide to forgive.

Forgiving does not necessarily mean no consequences for the other person. Full reconciliation often includes compensation for wrongs done. You might choose to release the other person from the consequences, but that is a separate issue from forgiveness.

Forgiving is simply giving up your right to get even. You can choose forgiveness with regard to individual situations. You can develop forgiveness as a life attitude that flows from you as a natural reaction. And forgiveness will even contribute to a healthier, longer life.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Dig Deeper into Jesus' Parables that End in Judgment

For the church I pastor, I do these weekly "Dig Deeper" Bible studies as a way for people to dig more deeply into the topic of the Sunday sermon.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Free, Scientifically Proven Way to Be Physically Healthier and Feel Better about Life

There is a scenario tossed around occasionally about scientists doggedly slugging their way up the mountain of reality by experimentation on testable hypotheses only to find, when they reach the top, the theologians are sitting up there having tea.

That's certainly not going to happen with every religious belief or practice. However, an increasing body of scientific evidence is pointing to the mental and physical health benefits of an ancient practice that is found in many of the world's religions: meditation.

Stop! Don't leave! I'm not suggesting you wear beads and sit cross-legged in the forest chanting, "Om." Give me another moment to present the evidence and explain the practice before you reject this blog as hazy unrealistic spiritualism.

Depending on your faith or worldview, there might be specific ways for you to practice meditation, but the basic practice of meditation is available to everyone from Atheists to Zoroastrians. At the end of this blog I will give you a link to a powerful, simple, free resource to help you get started if you are willing to at least give it a shot. Somewhat ironically, it is a cell phone app (they also have a web site version).

My personal experience is that when I have taken time to meditate, my outlook on my whole day... really my whole life... is subtly changed for the better. I find myself living with a calmer spirit, an increased sense of gratitude, greater hopefulness and a positive feeling of being able to handle the challenges life throws my way.

Setting the religious elements aside, meditation is essentially about practicing mental focus. Our minds are active travelers through time and space. We spend time reliving the past and rehearsing various possible futures. We think about what is going on in places we are not. The Mayo Clinic (might as well start with the big guns!) describes meditation as a time when "you focus your attention and eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that may be crowding your mind and causing stress. This process may result in enhanced physical and emotional well-being." (This article on their web site is a good overview.)

Obviously there is a ton of information available in the internet so, beyond my personal testimony and the endorsement of the Mayo Clinic, I'm going to give you a short bullet list of the benefits of meditation with each item linked to its source. Note that these are all practical, evidence-based, non-religious/spiritual web sites.

  • physically changes your brain in positive ways, including reducing depression and anxiety. (Click here for article on
  • builds resilience, boosts emotional intelligence, enhances creativity, improves relationships, increases focus. (Click here for article in Harvard Business Review)
  • can help relieve the symptoms of chronic pain. (Click here for article in Massachusetts Institute of Technology News)
  • may reduce the degradation of our telomeres (the end caps of DNA) that happens with age and can be accelerated by chronic stress. (Click here for video on
  • boosts your health, happiness, social life, self-control, and productivity along with keeping you real and making you wiser. (Click here for article in Psychology Today, with links)
Wow! That's quite a list! And meditation can produce the great effects listed above without the side-effects of pharmaceuticals. (Drugs, of course, have their place. I won't be trying to meditate my way through a root canal!)

So, if you are game, here's the free app. It's called, "Calm." It is available for both Android and iOS. Their web site is and works just like their apps. They have a paid subscription that unlocks more content, but you don't need it.

In the most basic form of meditation, the meditator sits in a comfortable but alert posture (think sitting up straight in a chair with the hands resting in the lap), closes her eyes and breathes in a slow, steady, natural way. Then meditator focuses her mind simply on the sensations associated with the breathe moving in and out of her body. When the mind wanders, the meditator gently and nonjudgmentally returns the focus of the mind to the breath. It's important to use some kind of timer so you don't end up worrying about how much time you are spending meditating. :) 

The advantage of using the app/web site over simply trying to meditate on your own is that the app/web site offers background sounds and guided meditations of various types. This can be extraordinarily helpful for beginners. It was for me (and still is). The app/web site lets you to select from a variety of guided meditations (none oriented to a specific faith or worldview) and background audio (including nature sounds and soft music). You can also use just the background audio with the timer function without the peaceful voice guidance.

I sometimes repeat a short mantra that focuses me on life as I think God is calling me to live it according to my Christian faith: "I am here. I am now. I am loved. And I love." I say these phrases silently in slow rhythm as I breathe in and out, focusing on being just where I am at that moment in space and time.

I offer you both my personal testimony and the scientific evidence for the power of meditation to positively affect your life in both mind and body. I hope you'll try it.

NOTE: I am not affiliated with Calm in any way. I don't receive any compensation for recommending the app other than the intangible benefits of helping other people by recommending something that has made a difference in my life.

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