This week, I have been remembering the winter of 2005-2006. It wasn’t my finest hour. I was living in a stuffy basement apartment, caring for my newly-arrived second baby, and filling my mind with negativity and anger via daily involvement with pessimistic politics on the Internet.
Eventually, I found that I was rarely going to church. I did become ill repeatedly, but I also didn’t want to go to church. With so much anger in my heart, I found myself getting annoyed and critical toward virtually all the people around me (most of whom didn’t share the political views I was embracing at that time). The illnesses just made my religious inactivity “legitimate.” From the time my baby was born in October until the following March, I had cold after cold, the stomach flu, the influenza flu, and then finally kidney stones. I was a mess.
Yesterday I taught the lesson in Young Women about forgiveness. We started out by discussing reasons why we should forgive others. One of the reasons we spent more time focusing on was how anger and bitterness impact our health. When we harbor ill feelings toward others, we are literally hurting ourselves. I did a little research last week, and I found lots of studies showing the negative consequences of anger.
What does anger do to our bodies?
Anger is especially bad for the heart. Probably not a coincidence. I was shocked to read Chris Aiken, MD‘s words: “In the two hours after an angry outburst, the chance of having a heart attack doubles.”
Not surprisingly, forgiveness has the opposite effect. Fourteen years ago, in General Conference, President Monson said, “It doesn’t really matter what the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to injure. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals.” His words are, actually, quite literal. Anger actually injures our bodies. Anger actually makes our wounds take longer to heal. But forgiveness is “powerful spiritual medicine” as Boyd K. Packer has said.
What does forgiveness do to our bodies?
I have no doubt that the anger and bitterness filling my heart ten years ago was a huge contributor to my repeated illnesses. As I listened to the April 2006 General Conference, I was called to repentance by Elder Robert S. Wood in his address, “Instruments of the Lord’s Peace.” His words sliced through the cloud of anger and negativity in my soul and woke me up. He said:
Whether they be false friends or unrighteous teachers, artists or entertainers, commentators or letter writers to local newspapers, seekers of power or wealth, beware of those who stir us up to such anger that calm reflection and charitable feelings are suppressed. . .
Have we who have taken upon us the name of Christ slipped unknowingly into patterns of slander, evil speaking, and bitter stereotyping? Have personal or partisan or business or religious differences been translated into a kind of demonizing of those of different views? Do we pause to understand the seemingly different positions of others and seek, where possible, common ground? . . .
President George Albert Smith observed, “There is nothing in the world more deleterious or harmful to the human family than hatred, prejudice, suspicion, and the attitude that some people have toward their fellows, of unkindness.” In matters of politics, he warned, “Whenever your politics cause you to speak unkindly of your brethren, know this, that you are upon dangerous ground.”
As I listened to those words, I knew that I was on that “dangerous ground” President George Albert Smith spoke of. I needed to change my attitude quickly. So I stopped focusing on the negative, unsubscribed from several e-newsletter subscriptions (this was before blogging/facebook were everywhere), and began to fill my mind and heart with light and positivity.
In that week after Conference, I stumbled on a Dan Zanes c.d. at our local library. The pure joy and beauty of that music was a healing balm for my heart. In his version of “What a Wonderful World,” the end of the song has some lyrics not found in the original—a lullabye interspersed with Spanish phrases. I loved how the song made me feel. I especially loved the Spanish phrase: “Buscando la luz en este mundo.” It basically means, “Seeking the light in this world.” The song and that phrase was exactly the mantra I needed at that time in my life. Seeking the light in this world. That’s what I tried to do, and that’s what I’m still trying to do.
When I see all the anger, bitterness, and negativity out there (particularly during election years), I have flashbacks to my own period of bitterness, and I feel sick to my stomach. Yes, there is a lot wrong with this world. Yes, there are many things that need to change. But we can’t squelch out darkness with the “dark side of the force.” Instead, we must tell this world over and over, “I know there is still good in you.” And shine a light on that goodness until it takes over and the darkness can no longer be felt or seen.
I’ve had a scripture stuck in my head over the past week. Probably not a bad thing to have stuck in my head. It’s this one:
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. -John 15:13
But the Spirit taught me a beautiful lesson when I felt prompted to change the words a bit. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his anger for his friends. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his anger for his enemies. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down all his negativity toward everyone.
That’s the kind of love I want to possess.