I have to admit that Joni and I are not teary eyed to see 2006 slip into history. It has been a hard year. Don’t most of us see next Monday (New Years Day) as a fresh start? Don’t most of us hope and pray that the New Year will be better? We make steadfast resolutions of how we are going to do better next year. The reality is that January 1st is just another day. We could just as easily resolve on May 18th or August 3rd that we are going to change how we live. But there is something psychologically powerful about the New Year. January is named after the Roman god Janus. He was unique because he had two faces…one to look into the past and one to look into the future. Today Janus the two faced would be a very successful politician. Someone once accused me of being two faced and I won the debate by asking this question. If I were two-faced do you think I would be using this one?
On this January 1st I am sure many of you have made resolutions for the New Year. The most cited resolutions generally include things like exercising more, saving more money, getting out of debt, quitting smoking, and reading the Bible all the way through without getting bogged down in Leviticus and skipping to the Psalms. But the most popular resolution year after year is…losing weight. There are a dizzying array of diets and hundreds of weight loss books. It is overwhelming to try and decide which diet to read or which plan to try. But even the best plans don’t address the really tough questions like these…
- Why do brain cells come and go but fat cells last forever?
- What happens when you hang something in your closet that makes it shrink 2 sizes?
Comedian Rita Rudner notes that “inside many of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but she can be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake”. A forgotten Beatitude is “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for they are sticking to their diet”. (Note to the increasingly prevalent theological hall monitors: That is humor. I know that quote is not a biblical truth)
So today I thought I would be doing a real service if I gave you God’s Guaranteed Weight Loss Plan to take into 2007. This weight loss plan will make you healthier, reduce stress, give you more joy, and cause you to grow in your relationship with the Lord. Get out your pencils and paper and I will outline God’s Guaranteed Weight Loss Plan in the coming days. By following this no subscription, no monthly dues plan you can lose the weight of bitterness and anger caused from lack of forgiveness. If you are carrying around an unforgiving spirit it is weighing you down spiritually and emotionally. Researchers are discovering the physical effects of holding bitterness and grudges.
Readers Digest published a story about the Power of Forgiving. Dr Fred Luskin of Stanford University Forgiveness Project says that letting go of a grudge can reduce your stress level up to 50%. Volunteers in the study have shown improvements in energy, mood, sleep quality, and overall physical vitality. An article in USA Today tantalizingly titled “Psychologists Now Know What Makes Us Happy” reported the findings of University of Michigan professor Christopher Peterson. (For this Ohio State Buckeye fan to agree with a Michigan prof shows the potential of grace in our lives.) Peterson stated that forgiveness is the behavior most strongly linked to happiness. Regular readers of the New Testament will not be surprised. The professor correctly noted, “It’s the queen of all virtues, and probably the hardest to come by.”
We are wired by God to treat any tension producing event…an accident or a feud with another person…as a crisis. Our bodies respond by releasing stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, prompting our hearts to accelerate, breath to quicken and our minds to race. Sugar is released to rev up muscles and clotting factors surge in the blood. All of those things vital to our well being and harmless if the scare is brief….imagine you are nearly in an accident on the highway. But anger and bitterness are like accidents that don’t end…and those ongoing feelings turn hormones into toxins.
Another study at Rockefeller University in NYC found that the continuing effect of Cortisol wears down the brain, leading to cell atrophy and memory loss. That is a side effect I cannot afford. This same hormone can raise blood pressure, harden the arteries and lead to heart disease. But people that learn to forgive stop the negative flow of these hormones. Another study in Holland found that when volunteers were hooked to sensors and then asked to imagine forgiving offenders their blood pressure went down two and a half time lower than when they thought about holding a grudge. The conclusion of the study presented in 2001…it appears that forgiveness could be a powerful antidote to anger, with chronically elevated blood pressure and increased risk for heart disease.
Sounds great. But exactly how do we do that? Christians have not always been noticibly better than the general populace on the forgiveness front. We should begin the new year on our knees confessing that sin. The Owner’s Manual addresses clearly the need for forgiveness and how we can shed the weight of bitterness. Day 2 of God’s Weight Loss Plan will examine the steps to shedding that burden.