Forgiveness as Healing
Extending the Olive Branch
The following is an excerpt from Forgiveness of Healing: Extending the Olive Branch workbook written by Sharon Platt-McDonald with Sandra Dawes. The resource includes a presenter's guide and participant workbook, coming soon. Platt-McDonald carries multiple roles for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Great Britain, including director of Women's Ministries and Health Ministries.
The olive branch symbolizes peace.
Historically, the phrase ‘to extend the olive branch’ is a reference to extending a peace offering as a sign that one wants to end an existing conflict. It is this concept that comes to mind when I think of forgiveness.
There is however another notable element to the olive branch. Scientific research has produced data which attests to the healing properties of the olive leaf.
Current research on the olive leaf extract has identified that the bitter substance in the olive leaf called oleuropein is responsible for its therapeutic properties. (www.herbwisdom.com) Classified as an antioxidant, the reported benefits of olive leaf extract range from promoting increased energy and healthy blood pressure, to treating infections and supporting the cardiovascular and immune system.
It is ironic that the bitter leaves of the olive have been used to bring about healing. The concept of the bitter making you better is an interesting one.
In this workbook we use the principle of the ‘bitter,’ bringing healing. Bitter life experiences that has caused us pain and embittered our lives can be used to heal the very experience that brought us pain. There are many challenging life experiences which individuals go through which they described as a ‘bitter pill to swallow’. Yet with the passage of time, reflecting on the journey from what was, to what now is, many are able to conclude that in spite of it all, the learning and growth that ensued has made them a better person and that they are now stronger as a result. However not all experiences are like that. Things sometimes turn out badly and the issue of forgiveness is one that they have to grapple with.
Reflecting on the olive branch as a symbol of peace and healing, the same can be said of forgiveness when it is extended to others. Forgiveness can bring peace to conflict situations and both the recipient and the one offering forgiveness can attest to the healing that commences as a result, and in some cases, reconciliation.
Throughout this workbook, references are made to the research in the area of forgiveness and its impact on wellbeing. Contemplate the tips and suggested advice and reflect on your own forgiveness journey. As you do so I trust it will inspire you to think again about the power of forgiveness.
As you review the case studies and share in the accounts of individuals who have been challenged to forgive in spite of the traumatic experiences they have encountered, take time to go through the associated reflection points. Recall a bitter life experience that you have encountered and think about how you can extend the olive branch in that situation to bring healing, wholeness and hope.
What forgiveness is and what it isn’t
Most people will acknowledge that forgiveness is easier to talk about but more difficult to practice.
C.S. Lewis said "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea until they have something to forgive."
Forgiveness is generally defined as the resignation of resentment, anger or hurt resulting from a perceived offence against you and ceasing to demand punishment or restitution.
Forgiveness is usually reserved for serious betrayals and wrongs which, in the view of the one injured, are not acceptable and not justifiable. It is distinguished from excusing, which applies to less serious injuries or irritations. It is also distinguished from pardoning, which simply releases the injurer from punishment. Forgiving is not the same as accepting or understanding the wrong done.
Medical science highlights the benefits of forgiveness and the positive physiological and emotional changes which occur as a result. It is clear that forgiveness is a powerful tool.
It is important to note though that forgiveness is a journey and as such it takes time for the healing to occur.
Why Should I Forgive?
In answering this question the following pointers may be helpful:
- With every forgiveness story there is a victim and a perpetrator. A closer look at the issues involved and at our lives in general, will highlight that at some time or other we have all been perpetrators in some way. The bible states “…all have sinned and come short of the glory of God…”
- If God can and is able to forgive each of us for our transgressions we can also forgive others of theirs
- The greatest power you have over anyone who hurt you is the power of forgiveness
- When you say to the person who has hurt you “I forgive you and no longer hold it against you” you have loosened the negative bond that exists between you
- Forgiveness could be referred to as the elimination of all desire for revenge toward the person/people who have deeply hurt us
- This elimination usually brings an inner peace and freedom of not having our lives defined by the injuries we have suffered
- You free yourself from the “burden” of being the “offended one”. It liberates both parties
- Forgiveness allows you to live in the present and leave the past behind
- When we don’t forgive those who have wounded us we constantly carry them in our thoughts, or worse still we carry them like a millstone around our neck
- When you nurse a hurt you feed it, you make it grow, until it preoccupies your thoughts and impacts your life in a negative way
- Forgiveness changes the way we remember. We recall the event from a different perspective
Many people are trapped in the bondage of un-forgiveness. Think about the following in regards to harbouring an unforgiving attitude.
I cannot forgive him/her?
If you tell yourself you are unable to forgive you are in effect causing the following to happen:
- By not forgiving someone the hurt they have caused you is like picking up a burden each day that weighs you down and carrying it around with you everywhere you go.
- By carrying a grudge you enable the offender to keep hurting you.
- The negative feelings we harbour when we fail to forgive will eventually lead to negative behaviour which is reflected in our thoughts, words and actions.
- When we hold on to unforgiveness it leads to unresolved negative emotions. It can also present as a physiological ailment such as raised blood pressure, increased heart rate, tensed muscles and other stress related illnesses.
- Scientific studies point to the detrimental physiological, emotional, social and spiritual effects a lack of forgiveness can have.
Do I have to Forgive and Forget?
- It is impossible to truly forget wrongs that have been committed against us because we cannot selectively "delete" events from our memory.
- The brain is like a computer - it absorbs data put into it and stores it on the hard drive which technically is the computer’s memory.
- Forgiveness does not necessarily involve a literal forgetting. Forgetting may not be a realistic or desirable goal. Forgiveness involves remembering in a different way. This happens when you recall the incident but the associated pain is no longer there in the same intense way as before.
- Despite the familiar cliché, 'forgive and forget,' most of us find forgetting nearly impossible." Although we forgive someone, the memory of what they did, may stay with us for a long time.
- However by ‘reframing’ or packaging the experience differently, you recall the memory from a different perspective which enables you to see the whole picture and not just the act of what was done to you. Therefore we remember ‘differently’ and the act of remembering becomes more wholesome.
- I would say forgive and ‘forget’ (leave behind) the desire for revenge, the entitlement to be right and the relentless pursuing to ensure that the perpetrator will get their just reward.
How Do I Cultivate Forgiveness?
As you contemplate this question and the possible responses, take time to analyse the following:
- You can create conditions where forgiveness is more likely to occur. Begin by changing your mindset
- Remember that because of our imperfect nature every one of us at some point in our lives has caused hurt to others whether it was intentional or not and as such we too need forgiveness
- Refusing to replay the hurtful incident over and over again helps you to move on from the past
- However forgiveness does not mean condoning wrong behaviour, going into denial, or pretending the wrong did not happen
- We forgive by acknowledging the wrong that has been done to us
- We forgive when we acknowledge that we are also perpetrators
- We forgive by forfeiting our ‘injury story’ and the self pity we attach to it. This enables us to get a more objective and healthy perspective which enables us to move on from the hurt
- We forgive others as we have been forgiven by God
- We forgive unconditionally when we remember God’s unconditional love for us and His forgiveness of our sins on a daily basis
- We forgive in full or not at all.
In contemplating your decision to forgive and the practical steps you will take to achieve this, it is useful to bear the following points in mind:
- Begin by telling yourself that forgiveness is possible.
- Accept that your decision to forgive may not result in a major change in the other person.
- Understand that when you forgive, the pain may not go away entirely. It is the desire for revenge that is no longer there.
- Ask God to heal your hurts.
- Change your injury story. This will enable you to move from being a victim and appear more like a survivor who is hopeful.
- The ultimate goal, however, is emotional healing in which negative emotions such as resentment, bitterness, hostility, hatred, anger, and fear are replaced with love, compassion, sympathy, and empathy.
- You can tell yourself, “I am not going to seek revenge’
- Reflecting on the olive branch as a symbol of peace and healing, the same can be said of forgiveness when it is extended to others. Forgiveness can bring peace to conflict situations and both the recipient and the one offering forgiveness can attest to the healing that commences as a result, and in some cases, reconciliation.
- Access useful resources on forgiveness to assist you such as Dr Tibbet’s Forgive To Live programme.
Having gone through each section of ‘What forgiveness is and what it isn’t’, were there aspects of forgiveness that you currently find challenging? If so what are they? Document the areas for development that you need to work on.