In his ground-breaking book ‘Change your mind, change your life’, Dr Gerald Jampolsky, founder of the Centre for Attitudinal Healing in Tiburon, California, tells the story of a patient who suffered from severe chronic constipation. Dr Jampolsky discovered that the patient had an unhealed relationship with his father who had died some twenty years earlier. The patient was holding inside himself a lot of repressed anger, which in turn, had led to periodic depression.
After several sessions of counselling and therapy, the patient began to express his feelings toward his father. On one occasion he burst into tears, sobbing for more than half an hour as he released a reservoir of grief and loss. The patient began to forgive himself and his father. And interestingly enough, the chronic constipation and depression disappeared.
Western medicine — which until recently has tended to view the human body as a soul-less machine, treating the fruit while ignoring the root, addressing the symptoms while disregarding the triggers — would usually prescribe a high fibre, laxative enhanced diet as the solution for constipation. However, as this story illustrates, the cause of our physical problems often lies in the hidden realm of the soul — deep-seated grief, anger, guilt, or resentment.
By definition, constipation is a disruption in the body’s ability to rid itself of waste material; in other words, a blockage in the biological recycling system. Similarly, unforgiveness is a disruption in the soul’s ability to rid itself of toxic thoughts and feelings; a spiritual blockage that affects every aspect of one’s life.
Jesus pointed out that harbouring unforgiveness toward another human being can affect one’s relationship with God: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6.14-15). Likewise, Peter warned his readers that a failure to treat one another with love and respect may hinder their prayers from being answered (1 Pet 3.7).
And in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul warns believers not to partake of the Lord’s Table in an unworthy manner as a result of not discerning the Lord’s body. “For this reason many are weak and sick among you,” Paul says, “and many have died prematurely” (1 Cor 11.29-30). In the context of the letter, the phrase “the Lord’s body” not only refers to Christ’s physical body that was sacrificed on the cross, but also his mystical body, the church, and the acrimonious relationships that existed between the believers in Corinth (1 Cor 1.11; 3.3; 11.18).
A personal anecdote
The single greatest influence in my life during my childhood and adolescent years was my mother, Olive Gwendoline Reekie (nee Price). She was the one who inspired me to pray, who infused me with a love for the Scriptures, and taught me how to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. One of my earliest memories is of my mother, kneeling down in the lounge room of our home in Doncaster to pray, as was her daily custom. I remember on one occasion walking into the room and kneeling down beside her, just because I wanted to be in her presence as she communed with God and learn how to pray as she did. I must have been all of four years old!
My mother went home to be with Jesus in May, 2015. Delivering the eulogy at her funeral service, I described her as my Ave Maria. I said, “Everything I am, and everything I have, I owe to this lady.” At one point in her life my mother was treated rather poorly by some people who, in my opinion, should have known better. I took this offence personally, and even after her death I found it very difficult to forgive them. I knew that according to the Scriptures I should extend forgiveness to any and all who had sinned against me, but in this case I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. I was holding on to the offence because it was so deep, so hurtful, and so personal.
One day as I was praying, I heard my mother speak to me from heaven, as it were. She said, “Bruce, I have forgiven them; you must forgive them also.” I suddenly realized that in heaven, she was seeing things from a completely different perspective. She was no longer concerned about what people had said or what people had done during her time on earth. She was free of all that. After all, she was in the presence of the Lord where there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16.11). She was worshipping before the throne where there is no more death, or sorrow, or crying, or pain (Rev 21.4).
Hearing those words from heaven, a great burden rolled away from me. I no longer had to avenge my mother’s honour; I no longer had to right the wrongs that had been perpetrated against her. I cried out to the Lord, “I want to forgive, but I can’t. Please help me.” Immediately the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “I want you to say these words: ‘I forgive (so and so), and from this day I live as though it had never happened.’” I said those words over and over, and as I did, something broke within me. My mother was free, and now I was too!
“Lord, I believe; help my unbelief”
In the gospel of Mark, we read about the healing of a young boy who was afflicted with a deaf and dumb spirit and suffered regular epileptic convulsions. In desperation the father of the child said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus replied, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” With tears in his eyes, the father cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9.22-24).
The father’s faith had been shaken by the disciples’ inability to cure his son. Conscious of his doubts, he asks Jesus to strengthen his faith and remove all obstacles to his son’s deliverance: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Which is another way of saying, “I want to do what’s right, but I can’t do it on my own. I need your help!”
Perhaps we need to approach the issue of forgiveness the same way. Giving and receiving forgiveness is not an optional luxury; it is a basic necessity. Our happiness and well being depends on it. But as I pointed out in my story, sometimes the offence is just too deep, too hurtful, and too personal. That is when we need to cry out: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief,” or “Help me to forgive, as you have forgiven me.”