Why is it so hard to have a clean heart and a light conscience?

It is natural for us to lash out and defend ourselves when being wronged, hurt or threatened. Nobody wants to be taken advantage of, but when it does happen, we do everything in our power to not let it happen again. While learning from bad experiences is a good thing, holding on to anger and resentment is damaging to our health and spiritual wellbeing.

Nobody is immune to the feeling of resentment, and even movie stars have fallen victim to it. Most recently, Brad Pitt reportedly did not show up to the Baftas in order to spend some time with his estranged son, Maddox. They had had a bad relationship for a few years, but the strain on their relationship intensified when Maddox tried to defend his mother, Angelina Jolie, during an argument with Brad who had been drinking, which ended in an aggressive manner. Now, a source close to Brad has said that Maddox decided to put the incident behind him after giving his father a chance to talk. Hopefully, he has found the strength to forgive his father.

Unfortunately, there are still many people who find it extremely difficult to let go of the harm they suffered in the past. Many people are familiar with the saying, ‘Resentment is like swallowing poison and waiting for the other person to die’. The problem is that we are hardwired with a sense of justice, and when we are wronged, we want to ‘get even’, as if a debt has to be paid back. That is when we fall victim to grudges and resentment.

Numerous medical studies have shown that these feelings can lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, anxiety, depression and even heighten feelings of physical pain. Holding a grudge also keeps the victim stuck in the past, impeding them from progressing into a happy and stress-free future.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9)

The first step towards finding strength to forgive is understanding that forgiveness is not a feeling. Nobody ever feels like forgiving, but we can grow tired of nourishing hateful feelings and decide to forgive. This power comes from our minds even if our hearts are reluctant to comply. This decision does not condone or support the offender’s actions but demonstrates that the past no longer has the power to affect us. It will not erase what happened, but the effects of forgiveness are immediate on our emotional state and set us free to start a new chapter in our lives.

Deciding to forgive has several health benefits:

• Healthier relationships
• Improved mental health
• Less anxiety, stress and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• A stronger immune system
• Improved heart health
• Improved self-esteem

‘Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.”’ (Matthew 18:22)

In addition to the health benefits, there are also spiritual achievements in the act of forgiving. Praying for our offenders is the most direct form. It mends the hurt and dissipates the pain by wishing our offenders well. Not only is it good for our spiritual wellbeing, it is also a prerequisite to be eligible for salvation: ‘So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.’ (Matthew 18:23)

Being unforgiving keeps us bound to the wounds of the past so that we no longer enjoy our present. It takes away our happiness, our health and essentially our lives. By letting go of what happened, you set yourself free to pursue newer and healthier memories. It is a win–win situation, and the power always rests within us and not within those who do us wrong.