How Grudges Hurt Your Health
By Joanna McParland (2016)
Read the full Article

What is the Science?

Research has long suggested that if a person carries a prolonged grievance they risk adverse health effects. Now, a new study suggests that one’s determination to hold a grudge can actually increase emotional and physical pain. The study also speculates that those who hope for a “just-world” while also reconciling major grievances—through practices like forgiveness—may even increase their resilience to experiences of anxiety and physical pain.

What is the Theology?

In the Christian tradition, forgiveness and restoration are often connected (Mark 2:1-7) while holding onto grudges is often understood as self-defeating (Matt. 6:14-15). Sermons, therefore, might use this research to stress how practicing forgiveness can yield surprising effects for the one offering forgiveness. Another approach may include stressing empathy, understanding, and reconciliation for persons and communities who face great injustices, as they may subsequently experience  increased physical pain or emotional stress.

The hope is that in years to come, we can use these insights to reduce sufferers’ pain and improve their quality of life in the process. – Joanna McParland

What to Consider

  • Besides the potential for worsened physical pain, how else might withholding forgiveness have negative effects on us?
  • How might your understanding of forgiveness widen if prolonged grudges can have negative physical effects in addition to those that are emotional, relational, or spiritual?
  • Do you find yourself embodying stress, anger, or anxiety in such a way that it affects your body, such as your neck, shoulders, or back?  How can you learn to listen to your body as it tells you about your emotional state?
  • Think of a time when you were too upset to offer forgiveness. Can you recall how your body felt in that moment?

How to go Deeper

  • Look at the many stories (Luke 5:17-26, 7:36-50) in the Gospels when Jesus’ forgiveness of sins is connected to a physical and social restoration. Consider the holistic ways in which forgiving others might also be restorative for the one doing the forgiving.
  • During your worship service, have a time for a parishioner to give a testimony on experiencing injustice and journeying into forgiveness. What benefits have they found in forgiving?
  • Have a time in your worship service for communal prayer in which parishioners can ask God and their community to strengthen them toward forgiveness in difficult situations.
  • Pray for persons and communities who regularly face systemic injustices. Consider how complicated forgiveness might be for them and how their experience of oppression can lead to adverse emotional and physical health effects.

Relevant Scripture

All references in parenthesis refer to Lectionary readings. For more information on what the Lectionary is, please click here. For additional Lectionary resources click here.

Related Research

“Is Vengeance Better for Victims than Forgiveness?”

“Forgiveness”

“The Healing Power of Forgiveness”

The Power of Forgiveness at Work
Article by Brooke Deterline (2016)
Read the Full Article

May 1st, 2017|6 Comments

What is the Science? While the benefits of forgiveness are widely supported by two decades of research, a recent study seeks to demonstrate the positive impact of forgiveness within the specific context of [...]

The Three Parts of an Effective Apology
Christine Carter (2015)
Read the Full Article

February 3rd, 2017|4 Comments

What is the Science? Often the catalyst for receiving forgiveness is offering a good apology. Yet, in her article “The Three Parts of an Effective Apology,” Christine Carter suggests that all apologies are [...]

Is Vengeance Better for Victims than Forgiveness?
Article by Jason Marsh (2015)
Read the Full Article

December 16th, 2016|5 Comments

What is the Science? After victimization, many people desire vengeance. In well-publicized atrocities, such as the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing or the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting, prosecutors, the public, and victims’ families [...]

How to Overcome Barriers to Forgiveness
Article by Linda Graham (2014)
Read the Full Article

December 16th, 2016|3 Comments

What is the Science? Forgiveness is a difficult thing. It can take a great amount of time and work to arrive at a place where we can let go of hostility and [...]

Which Contributes More to Forgiveness, Sympathy or Free Will?
Article by Michael McCullough (2013)
Read the Full Article

December 14th, 2016|2 Comments

What is the Science? Psychologist Michael McCullough suggests that when humans consider forgiving others they instinctively engage in one of two distinct systems for arriving at forgiveness: sympathy or free will. McCullough argues [...]

How Grudges Hurt Your Health
By Joanna McParland (2016)
Read the full Article

September 27th, 2016|4 Comments

What is the Science? Research has long suggested that if a person carries a prolonged grievance they risk adverse health effects. Now, a new study suggests that one’s determination to hold a grudge [...]

By | 2017-07-29T21:15:19+00:00 September 27th, 2016|Forgiveness, Research|4 Comments

About the Author:

Michael Wiltshire serves as an assistant pastor at Rose City Church in Pasadena, CA. He holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (2016) and a B.S. from Cornerstone University, double majoring in Biblical Studies and Youth Ministry. While studying at Fuller Theological Seminary, he co-led the Fuller Faith and Science student group and worked in residential community. Michael is passionate about pastoral care, and is dedicated to exploring how preaching, practical theology, and organizational systems can empower churches to care well. A Michigander at heart, Michael enjoys cloudy weather and the NBA.

4 Comments

  1. JarrodCraw May 26, 2017 at 11:49 am

    This makes me think of un-confessed sin: David talks of his bones wasting away because he tried to cover up his own sins. Perhaps there’s a theological connection between seeking forgiveness in addition to giving it?

  2. aidenkang June 4, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Maybe the lament psalms knew more than we thought by crying out for justice when they felt they were being wronged.

  3. aidenkang June 4, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I’ve noticed when I’m too upset to offer forgiveness, I feel my stomach churning.

  4. marymact@gmail.com August 28, 2017 at 11:13 pm

    This is such an important topic. It’s so easy to believe that we “lose” if we choose to forgive someone, but in reality forgiveness benefits BOTH parties involved.

Leave A Comment