Give the Gift of Forgiveness to Others This Season
Byline: Jane Oppermann
The holidays are a perfect time to practice the divine - and sometimes really hard - work of forgiveness.
That's because, along with the cards, brightly wrapped gifts and elaborate meal, the holidays can also bring an assortment of not- so-peace-filled past issues and hurts among family members.
Sometimes even more important than mom's marvelous mashed potatoes for Christmas dinner is a good helping of forgiveness. Turns out forgiving others is a gift we give ourselves that is good for our health, too.
While we've all heard and been awed by the grace-filled forgiveness offered to killers by their victims' families, there are less dramatic opportunities for forgiveness. Research has shown that those niggling hurts simmering away can lead to a plethora of physical and emotional problems. Studies in 2001 and 2003 reported that dwelling on hurtful memories increases the stress response, raising heart rate and blood pressure. When subjects were encouraged to think forgiving thoughts, the stress response decreased.
"Heart problems, headaches, sleep disturbances, neck stress, stomach disorders, depression can all be the result of unresolved resentment and anger," said Karen L. Maudlin, a licensed clinical psychologist in Wheaton who specializes in marriage and family therapy. "Holding onto that hurt makes a huge impact on the body because you're carrying it around with you."
Susan Myoyu Andersen, spiritual director of Great Plains Zen Center in Palatine, presents one-day forgiveness workshops. She has firsthand experience in the hard, but uplifting, work of forgiving. She cites one of the last loving acts she did for her father as the first step toward forgiving him.
As 90-year-old Hambleton Palmer lay dying, Andersen massaged his hand and fingers to honor one of his final wishes - to remove his wedding ring from his swollen finger so he could give it to his wife, Andersen's stepmother. An occupational therapist as well as a practicing Zen teacher, Andersen frequently provided lymphedema massage to patients to reduce swelling.
"I was able to get the swelling down so he could remove his wedding band and in that instant, I was able to use those skills for him and he was able to acknowledge my skills."
It wasn't always so. There certainly was no dramatic, unsavory story of abuse or injustice in this Maryland family. But there were times when Andersen felt she didn't receive the emotional nurturing that would have been helpful as she matured.
One could hardly blame Palmer - a World War II veteran, successful mechanical engineer and well-respected sailing enthusiast - for not understanding his only daughter's lifestyle. …