When Paul and I are working with people who are ill, we often hear them say that they improved on the Hallelujah Diet—but just to a point. Then, they no longer found improvement. From there, we talk about their dental health, whether they are truthful in their amount of juicing and then we discuss another key component: Their emotional health. When God created our bodies he didn’t put any barriers between the brain and the heart. Those two communicate perfectly and are truly best of friends. Therefore, when the brain and heart exhibit feelings, whether they are happy or sad, guilt or grief, the entire body reacts either positively or negatively.
When you have resentment, grievance, and hostile feelings towards anyone or if you have any of the other toxic emotions like guilt, shame, depression or fear, these emotions release hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones have effects on the cardiovascular system and on the immune system. Your immune system becomes compromised, even your platelets get jittery with the high levels of adrenaline and they start the process that leads to cardiovascular illnesses, heart attacks, stroke and cancer. On the other hand when you forgive and let go the burden of judgment, everything settles down and your body starts to return to homeostasis, which means it is self-regulated.
In study after study, results indicate that people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illnesses—including depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer. It has even been linked to a longer lifespan. Why? “Because not forgiving—nursing a grudge—is so caustic,” says Fred Luskin, PhD, a health psychologist at Stanford University and author of Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness (Harper Collins 2002). “It raises your blood pressure, depletes immune function, makes you more depressed, and possibly, impairs neurological function and memory while causing enormous physical stress to the whole body.”
A second way forgiveness works is more subtle, as shown in studies indicating that people with strong social networks—friends, neighbors and family— tend to be healthier than loners. According to psychologists, someone who is angry and remembers every slight is likely to lose relationships during the course of a lifetime, while people who are forgiving are more likely to attract and keep a strong social support system—to the benefit of their own health.
The attitude of forgiveness—fully accepting that a negative circumstance has occurred and relinquishing negative feelings surrounding the event—can be learned and can lead us to experience better mental, emotional and physical health. The Stanford Forgiveness Project trained 260 adults in forgiveness in a 6-week course.
- 70% reported a decrease in their feelings of hurt
- 13% experienced reduced anger
- 27% experienced fewer physical complaints (for example, pain, gastrointestinal upset, dizziness, etc.)
With more than 1,200 published studies, forgiveness research is a relatively new and exciting field that is encouraging a fundamental shift away from treatment of disease to focusing on the positive aspects of human nature as a basis for healing.
Some people just seem so resilient during challenging times. Dr. Andrew Weil describes resilience as being like a rubber band—no matter how far a resilient person is stretched or pulled by negative emotions; he or she has the ability to bounce back to his or her original state. Resilient people are able to experience tough emotions like pain, sorrow, frustration, and grief without falling apart—in fact, some people are able to look at challenging times with optimism and hope, knowing that their hardships will lead to personal growth and an expanded outlook on life.
“Unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.”
Resilient people do not deny the pain or suffering they are experiencing; rather, they retain a sense of positivity that helps them overcome the negative effects of their situation. Positive emotions have a scientific purpose—to help the body recover from the ill effects of negative emotions. Thus cultivating positivity over time can help us become more resilient in the face of crisis or stress.
Most really don’t understand that holding on to grudges and internalizing anger are serious threats to their physical well-being. Author, researcher and forgiveness expert Dr. Michael Barry believes negative emotions are a serious business that must be addressed. In his book, The Forgiveness Project: The Startling Discovery of How to Overcome Cancer, Find Health, and Achieve Peace, Barry writes about his research into how forgiveness impacts our health and can affect the treatment of serious illnesses such as cancer.
According to the review for The Forgiveness Project on Amazon.com, “All religions value forgiveness…Internalizing anger is destructive to our spiritual health and can destroy families, marriages and even churches. But what about our physical health? Is there a relationship between a spirit of unforgiveness and cancer? Between forgiveness and healing? How do you really forgive?”
After thorough medical, theological, and sociological research, coupled with clinical experience at Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA), Barry has discovered what several like-minded health care practitioners have: that the immune system and forgiveness are very much connected. Through the inspiring stories of five cancer patients, Barry helps people identify—and overcome—the barriers that prevent healing and peace.”
“Cancer is a terrible disease and difficult to overcome,” Barry says. “But we can do so much for ourselves by allowing our minds and hearts to heal through forgiveness so our bodies can follow suit. ‘The Forgiveness Project’ reveals that unforgiveness is a form of cancer that can spread into every part of our lives. It saps our joy, robs us of vitality in our relationships, reduces the quality of our life, and can lead to destructive behavior of all sorts—including the most destructive behavior: suicide.”
He tells the stories of Jayne, a breast cancer patient who experienced spiritual and physical renewal when she learned to forgive; Cathy, whose story illustrates how forgiveness can positively change relationships; Sharon, who saw spontaneous remission during her treatment. With each true story, people can begin to find peace with their past, relief from their hatefulness and hope for their healing.
Often the person hardest to forgive is ourselves. We punish ourselves for the things we did and the things we didn’t do. The mistakes haunt us and keep us from being at peace with others and ourselves.
Many books address forgiveness, but few tie together forgiveness and physical health or offer forgiveness as a specific step toward healing from cancer. Our recent release Unravel the Mystery offers even more evidence of the dangers of Unforgiveness.
If you, or a loved one have not found the healing you believe you are capable of while following the principles of the Hallelujah Diet, you may have to take some time to look within. You may find that while your body has been enjoying consistent, highly nutrient dense food, your emotions and mental health may require their own form of detoxification and replacement of negative thinking with positive, life-gaining thoughts. The greatest place to find this type of spiritual nourishment is in your Bible, the greatest health book ever written.
Forgiveness is the last sacrament Christ gave in his physical body before he “died”. He forgave everyone of everything.
If we believe that Jesus died to forgive us of our sins and give us everlasting life, then, that knowledge alone can be the catalyst from which we stand firm and positive during times of distress.
Other excellent resources that provide deeply nourishing words are in books from Max Lucado, Dr. David Jeremiah, Joni Erickson-Tata and others who have experienced their own despairs but have risen above them fueled with the grace, faith and hope that their lives have been called to further the Kingdom but cannot complete this important mission with hearts that have been tainted with doubt, fear and anger. So the next time you go on a “cleansing detox program”, remember to include your “spiritual cleanse” as well.