The Weight of Bitterness

According to researchers at Erasmus University carrying a grudge can weigh you down—literally. The researchers asked study participants to write about a time when they’d experienced a conflict. Some were instructed to reflect on a time when they didn’t forgive the offender, others were told to think about the time they did forgive the person, and a third group wrote about a comparatively dull social interaction.

They then asked their human guinea pigs to jump as high as they could, five times, without bending their knees. Those who had been thinking about a time when they’d forgiven jumped highest, about 11.8 inches on average; those who had written about their grudges, on the other hand, jumped 8.5 inches. There were no significant difference in the jumps of those in the non-forgiveness and neutral conditions. In another, similar experiment, people who’d been set up to think about a time they held a grudge estimated that a hill was steeper than people who were thinking about a time they forgave someone.

The results suggest that the “weight” of carrying a grudge may be more than just a metaphor. The lead researcher for the study wrote, “A state of unforgiveness is like carrying a heavy burden—a burden that victims bring with them when they navigate the physical world. Forgiveness can ‘lighten’ this burden.”

God calls on us to forgive for many reasons. The first and most important is that we have received overwhelming forgiveness from God. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the parable of the unmerciful servant. A servant owes his master a huge amount but can’t pay it so he begs for mercy. The master forgives the debt. But then the servant goes out and finds someone who owes him a debt, a debt that is minuscule compared to the debt he has just been forgiven. Even though he has received forgiveness, he refuses to give it! He has his debtor thrown into prison until he can pay the debt. When the master discovers that the servant refuses to show mercy, he is angry. This servant whose massive debt has been canceled turns around and withholds mercy from someone who debt by comparison is pocket change. So the master hands the servant over to the jailers until he can pay back all he owes. This parable is a warning against unforgiveness.

But there’s a very practical reason for forgiving. As the research above shows, refusing to forgive places a heavy weight on our shoulders. It becomes an albatross that burdens us. Max Lucado wonders if many of us spend our lives trying to collect the bills someone owes us. Someone owes us an apology, a second chance, a fresh start, an explanation, a thank you, a childhood, a marriage. “You can spend the rest of your life demanding payment, collecting bills, or you can say, ‘This is no way to live. I’m going on to other things.’”

Why not ditch the weight of bitterness in your life? You will follow the teachings of Christ and you will rid yourself of an unnecessary and onerous burden!