Believe Big Podcast

Summer Replay-14-Rev. Dr. Michael Barry - Forgiveness

August 15, 2023 Ivelisse Page with Rev. Dr. Michael Barry
Believe Big Podcast
Summer Replay-14-Rev. Dr. Michael Barry - Forgiveness
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Healing is hard work and so is forgiveness; and we all struggle with forgiveness.   

Did you know there is a direct correlation between forgiveness and healing?   Whether you need to find peace with yourself, peace with someone else or peace with God, this episode is for you.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry shares his experience with cancer patients learning how to forgive and find peace in their circumstances to help their bodies heal.  This episode is packed full of helpful information for ANYONE wanting to learn how and why a lifestyle of forgiveness is so important for our health.

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Ivelisse Page:

Hi, I'm Ivelisse Page, and thanks for listening to the believe big podcast, the show where we take deep dive into your healing with health experts, integrative practitioners, biblical faith leaders and cancer thrivers from around the globe. Welcome to today's episode on the Believe Big podcast. My name is Ivelisse Page, and it's an honor to spend this time with you. We all know that internalizing anger is destructive to our spiritual health and can destroy families and marriages. But what about our physical health? Is there a relationship between a spirit of unforgiveness and disease? Is there a difference between forgiveness and healing? On today's episode, you will hear from our guest, Dr. Michael Barry on this very topic. A little bit about Dr. Barry, he received his Master's of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. He served as the Director of Pastoral Care at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Philadelphia, where he specialized in the connection between spirituality and health. He is the author of several books, including the one we'll be discussing today, The Forgiveness Project. Welcome Dr. Barry to the show.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Thanks for having me. It's great to be with you.

Ivelisse Page:

Our listeners are always interested in discovering what our guests favorite health tip. Can you share yours with us?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Yes, I can. In fact, I knew you were gonna ask that and I've been giving it a lot of thought. And I think before I give you my health tip, I'd like to have some clarity in terms of what we mean by the word health. It's terribly important word, and, and I think it's gonna help us to have some sort of context to help my tip make sense. If you look at the World Health Organization and how they define health, they define it very holistically. Health can only be understood within the context of body, mind, and spirit. I think too often when we think about health, we, we think about something related to something physical. I asked a physician friend yesterday, how he would answer that question, a health tip. And he says exercise daily. Well, clearly that physician is thinking about the physical aspects of it. But my 10 years that I spent as a Director of Pastoral Care at uh, CTCA helped me become much, much more holistic in how I think about health. For example, we had seven chaplains in a 30 bed unit. We had nutritionist, we had massage therapist, we had mind body medicine. We had everything that you could think of and every conceivable modality to help effect true healing within our patients to help give them the best chance to be able to meet their disease. So in my talking about a health tip, I'm thinking very holistically about it. And my health tip would, would be simply do your best to try and develop a lifestyle of forgiveness. Because to the extent that you're successful in doing that, you're gonna find that you have greater peace with God, greater peace with yourself and greater peace with others in a very holistic way. And so that would be my health tip. Do your best to develop a lifestyle of forgiveness every day forgiveness.

Ivelisse Page:

I love that because sometimes we think about just the big moments in our lives, the large traumas. And we don't think about the small ways that we can daily ask for forgiveness and have that lifestyle that you're talking about.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

If you don't have a forgiveness issue today, by this time tomorrow, you might.

Ivelisse Page:

Yes.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

So being equipped to be able to handle not only the wounds you've experienced in the past, but to become proactive, to be able to help cope with them in the days to come, which we will all have opportunities to access.

Ivelisse Page:

Yes. So let's talk a little more about that. How did The Forgiveness Project get started?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

So I did some volunteer work at CTCA before I became a full-time Director of Pastoral Care, and most of my ministry was just visiting with patients and caregivers, and it seemed as though every question that was asked of me had to do with helping them make peace with God, peace with themselves or peace with other people. And the more I thought about that, the more I realized that any way you slice that it's a forgiveness related issue. I also realized that eight years of formal theologic education at some of the, I would consider nation's top theological seminaries, had not equipped me to be able to help people learn how to forgive. You know, it's something that we would tell our parishioners to do every week in some form or fashion, but helping people learn how to do it is an entirely different dynamic. And so I was given the opportunity at the hospital that I worked at to explore forgiveness, of course being a part of a hospital, they wanted to have it be evidenced based. And so I hired a colleague Dr. Loren Toussaint from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa helped mentor me through some of the research on it so that we could show that forgiveness actually did have some very predictable health consequences. Then as I began to work with my patients and they began to experience true forgiveness I began to just compile the information and wrote my book about not only their testimonies, but then some of the how-tos of actually helping people learn how to do it.

Ivelisse Page:

So tell us, in a basic sense, I know it's in the book and I'll have a link to it in the notes for people to get themselves. How did you teach patients about forgiveness? What are some practical things that an individual can do? What's that process?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Before I wrote my book actually, before I even did my research and I was just considering writing a book about forgiveness. I contacted Dr. Fred Luskin from Stanford University, who was one of our cultures gurus about forgiveness from a secular standpoint. And I was asking him about, write about my writing a book. He says, Mike, there doesn't need to be any more books written about forgiveness. There's tons of'em out there. What needs to be written is a book, motivating people to want to forgive. And the more I thought about that, of course, of my own practical experience in pastoral counseling and so forth, I realized that he was exactly right. What can I do to help motivate people to want to forgive? What I learned is that as a Christian, you would think that our primary motivation, if not, our only motivation would be our faith. We certainly understand that the cross and its implications through the lens of forgiveness, but also came to realize that there are other motivators that I kind of neatly refer to as being biology, sociology, and theology as being the primary of the motivators. Some people are motivated because of the health benefits of it. Others are, and by the health, I mean, physical health, others are motivated for sociological reasons. It's because they realize that the hatred that they have has isolated them from people perhaps at a time when they need social support as much or more than ever. And then of course the theology you know, Christianity is forgiveness is not unique to Christianity. All of the world's religions value forgiveness. We might debate the conditions under which it might be offered and so forth, but certainly as Christians, we recognize that it's something that we could and should be doing. So in working with patients, what I would try and do is not assume that their primary motivation was theology. You know, being a pastor, you might assume that that that was the case, but I had the opportunity to teach my patients kind of the breadth of the spectrum of why they should be willing to engage in a conversation about forgiveness. And again, some of it was just because they wanted to feel better. They wanted to do whatever they could do to increase the likelihood of them surviving their disease. Others, it was because they had a horrible family, a crisis that, that had diminished the quality of their life at a time when they needed to have as much hope and, and a desire to wanna live as any. And then of course the other would be the theological component to it. So that was the primary conversation that I had was because my challenge was to try and get people motivated to want to forgive. And it wasn't really that hard, frankly, because I worked quite often with late stage cancer patients. And it seemed like almost to the person that they were looking for peace. Sometimes that peace was with God. Sometimes it was with a family member or friend or other, you know, person that And, and sometimes it was just themselves. They were angry at themselves. For example, there's no end to the pain that breast cancer patients have and the way they beat themselves up for not getting a breast exam or so on and so forth. So helping people just find that internal peace from that standpoint was important. So the conversation began with motivation, then once I got them motivated and began to start them on a path to forgive. Then I had to develop a strategy to help them actually find the forgiveness that they were seeking.

Ivelisse Page:

Wow. That is so powerful because you are right. There are many different ways that people are trying to be motivated in order to want to forgive and I, you know, peace with God, peace with other people and peace with themselves. We sometimes think of it as outward focus, but you're right. Sometimes people need to forgive themselves. And so I'm really thankful for, for what you shared about that. I know that there are many misconceptions about what forgiveness is and what forgiveness isn't. Can you share with us, the real meaning of forgiveness and how it's a gift we can give ourselves as you share in the book?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Well, one of the things that, it, just makes sense to me. from an integrity standpoint, that if we're gonna talk about forgiveness, we need to have some sense of what forgiveness looks like or feels like once we finally experienced it. I once had a young woman ask me, how will she know she's forgiven? I said, well, let me ask you, have you ever fallen in love? And she goes, oh yes, I've fallen in love. I said, did you need, have anybody tell you that you had fallen in love? And she says, no, no. I knew. I said, well, well, listen, when you forgive, you fall out of hatred and you're not gonna have to ask anyone if that's taken place. I think trying to help people come to grips in terms of what forgiveness, the emotion that we're really trying to tame. No one has helped if I throw a cocktail of various emotions and say, we need to tame anger and a desire to wanna seek revenge. There's all kinds of guilt and shame and a wide range of emotions. The real emotion that we're trying to tame, I think certainly as Christians, is hatred and along with hatred, it's a desire to cause harm in some form or fashion to the perpetrator of whoever it is that's hurt you. So I try to frame it within the context of finding hatred and doing what we can do through forgiveness to tame that. You can't say you love God and hate your enemy. The challenge is to try and neutralize that hatred with forgiveness.

Ivelisse Page:

I like that you said also in the book that it's not about you being their best friend, explain that once you've forgiven them.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Well, there's a confusion and, and you'd asked me earlier about various barriers to forgiveness and misconceptions. You know, forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You can, you can forgive someone. And it may be that it is not in your best interest to maintain a relationship with them. Just because you have forgiven them and you have released this hatred toward them, even to the point of not wishing anything negative befall them that doesn't necessarily mean they have earned the right to be back into a relationship with you. And not only that, I mean, you can forgive someone who's been dead for 10 years. You're never going to be in a relationship with them, but that doesn't mean that you don't still harbor those negative feelings toward them, even though they perhaps are long gone. Forgiveness and, and reconciliation are two different things. I think in order to be reconciled, forgiveness will be the first step in order for that to happen. But I think the Bible pretty clearly holds those two as a separate transaction.

Ivelisse Page:

Yes. And, you also share in your book, that though God can and does miraculously heal people, both physically and spiritually. We shouldn't live our lives waiting passively for God to reach down and touch us. There are things we can do, postures of the heart, that we can adopt that will help open our lives to the work of God, like soil being softened. What are some of those things that help to soften that soil of the heart that you talk about in the book?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Well, I think, I think one of the things that I try and do is just identify the lies, the misconceptions. I think they are what keeps us trapped in pain. And so I think trying to shine a light on things that are not true is the first step in trying to help people reach a better place. Let me give you an example. Before I was in the chaplaincy, I was a pastor of a church and there was a young woman who came into my office. She wasn't a member of the church. I didn't know her. She just needed counseling. Her situation is, is that she got into an argument with her father. He became violent. He did something that humiliated her. She ran away from home. She hadn't seen him for five years, been homeless living in the back of her car and so forth. And she came into my office and she was just sobbing. You know, sometimes we pastors just hold people's buckets. Well, I held her bucket for about 20 minutes. And after that I said, let me ask you something. Have you ever thought about forgiving your father? You know what she said? I forgave him a long time ago. I don't think that lines up with Jesus's teaching in Matthew 18 about forgiveness from the heart. I think quite often when we think about forgiveness, it's just a mental exercise. We say we've forgiven, but in reality, we are as angry at people now as we were years earlier and sometimes even greater. There's this concept called psychological kindling. Sometimes anger can start out very small and over a period of time, it grows and grows and grows and gets bigger and bigger. Well, that's what had happened with her. She hated her father more in my office and she did the minute she ran out. The tragedy is that even though I don't think she had forgiven her father. At the time, I didn't have the capacity or the ability or the skill sets to be able to help her actually find it. So that's one of the sad parts of my life, but clearly she had confused a mental consent of forgiving with actually having a transformation in her heart. Forgiveness from the heart in Matthew 18 is I think what we're held to strive for as Christians.

Ivelisse Page:

Yeah. And I think a, a good example of that if for those who have kids is how many times did siblings do something to hurt the other one? You're like, tell them you're sorry. And they'll be like, I'm sorry. And then they'll walk off. Sorry. But are they so sorry?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Exactly.

Ivelisse Page:

I love how you share figuratively when someone hurts us emotionally, our hearts are wounded. Forgiveness allows the wounds to heal, but there will be scars. Though, the wounds will heal, the memory remains. Forgiveness then is the healing of the memory.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

You know? It's funny, you should mention that reference to a scar because out of everything I have taught over the last 15 years, and my wife has been very much a part of the conversation, that's the one thing that has stuck with her and that she reminds me to bring up whenever I am speaking. I think it's helpful because when people talk about forgiveness, inevitably memories come back and they're gonna remember what happened. And because they can remember what happened in the past. They often believe that they haven't actually forgiven because they can still remember this whole forgive and forget thing. I mean, it's nonsense. I mean, when someone hurts us, it goes into the hard drive of our emotion and it's a wound. It's there. But there's a difference between having a cut on your arm, and have it be bleeding and painful, and it's quite another for, you know, years later to revisit that. There's no longer any pain associated with that wound. But you can look at your arm and remember exactly where you were when you scraped it and the events around it so you can tap on it and it doesn't hurt anymore. Well, that's what happens with forgiveness. We remember what happened. But there's no longer any pain associated with that memory.

Ivelisse Page:

That is so true. I mean, even my own scar from my liver surgery, I remember for a while after it was healed, I would look at it and I'm like, oh, it's so ugly. It's like an eight inch scar around my abdomen. And I remember my sister-in-law, said to me, she goes Ivelisse, you can't see it as something that is ugly. You need to see it as something that God allowed you to overcome. And so it's a, it's a warrior scar. Sometimes even with our emotions that we can't see those physical scars, it's a constant battle of our mind to say, wow, look what God has made us overcome. Our challenges now many times become part of our ways that we can encourage others because of the pain that we endured, we understand and can then encourage someone else along the journey. So sometimes we see scars as a negative thing, but like you said, once they're healed, it's a reminder, but they don't have to hold that painful memory any longer. We have to kind of switch how we see it.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

You know, the word medicine has as it root word, N E D. Which is the English equivalent of its Latin derivative, M I D from which we get word middle. So the whole idea behind medicine is we're out of balance and we need medicine to help us bring back to normal or some sort of equilibrium, emotional or otherwise. What happens Ivelisse is with a lot of people is that they're out of balance and they had become accustomed to feeling that out of balance. They would say, you know, if you were to say, how you doing? They say, oh, I'm fine. When the reality is, it's been so long since you've been happy, you don't even remember what it looks like. Then the challenge is to try and help them realize that they've only accommodated to the pain. They haven't actually tried to deal with it, to bring them back to what we might consider to be some level of true happiness. And so, there's a lot of people who get stuck in their pain and they don't actually deal with it.

Ivelisse Page:

Do you think that's why some people, and I didn't realize the correlation of this, even until I read your book and others that, they said there's an interesting aspect of unforgiveness that, their inability to cry and its connection to a heart and heart. Can you talk about that? After my father died and that trauma of losing him to cancer for many years I couldn't cry. I had a hard time crying. Even things that I should be until after I went through my emotional healing through my cancer journey. Now I see a hallmark commercial and I cry. So can you share that correlation and why that happens?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Well, the response to trauma is either, or, or to a negative situation is either fight or flee. The third one is freeze. And I think a lot of people freeze. They don't know what to do, they don't know how to respond, they're they're so hurt, they're so angry. There's no place to run and they're not big enough to win a fight. And so they just end up freezing. And I think that so often those emotional wounds are just frozen in us. We don't know what to do with it. And if you live long enough with it, as I said, you become accustomed to it and become feeling normal. You have this emotional tumor as it were. That's just ruining your life in so many different ways. But it doesn't occur to you to help get some help to try and, thaw it out or cope, more effectively with it.

Ivelisse Page:

Some people are even unaware of the need to forgive, you know, and, and the need to let go of all those negative emotions that they keep bottled in inside. So how did you teach or direct patients to do that?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Well, it, it was sad to me, but there's a lot of people who call themselves Christian, who really didn't sense any particular need to forgive. And I just think that's a misunderstanding of the gospel. In, in Matthew 6, Jesus says, forgive, and you will be forgiven. This is right after the Lord's prayer, which we all know. But two verses after that, I think in about verse 17, Jesus says forgive, you will be forgiven, but if you do not forgive your Heavenly Father will not forgive you of your sins. Well, you know, you can get your pastor to help, explain it a little bit better than that, but it seems to me that Jesus is at least saying, if not explicitly, that unforgiveness is unforgivable. There is an expectation that his disciples are gonna be a forgiving people. I, I don't think that people understand that the essence of our faith, let me put it this way. If there is a God and I believe there is. If that God took flesh in Jesus. If Christmas is true, if the incarnation of God in Christ is true, the question is, is why, why did God do that? Why would this invisible God choose to incarnate and be in this crazy world in which we live? The answer to that question is given to his earthly father, Joseph in a, his dream, when the angel said, and his name should be called Jesus. For, he will save his people from their sin. The question is how does he save this people from their sin? The answer is through his sacrificial death on the cross, my body broken, my blood shed for the forgiveness of your sin. So the word Jesus equates to forgiveness.

Ivelisse Page:

Hmm.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

And it gets so lost on people. That is what Christ came to do. That our sins notwithstanding nevertheless he loves us, has, I think quite clearly, elucidated that his disciples are to be models of that behavior.

Ivelisse Page:

Yes. there's that verse that say, why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye when you have a plank in your own? And if Jesus took our sin, who are we not to forgive those who have hurt us? And so, you know, as part of the Lord's prayer, even. That's really powerful what you said about even the name of Jesus.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Well, the most common issue Ivelisse that I have in, most common wound in working with cancer patients is what I call a parent wound. It's it's unfinished business with mom and dad. I mean, that's the most common.

Ivelisse Page:

Hmm.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

But the most common barrier to forgiveness is self righteousness. It's morally superior to someone who has hurt you as though somehow or another, you are just better than they are. Granted, you may not have done to someone else exactly what someone had done to you. But at the end of the day, I think in all fairness, we have to admit that part of the human condition is understanding that we are all perpetrators and we were all victims. We have all been hurt by other people, but at the same time, and again, not maybe in the same way, we've also been perpetrators of harm. Sometimes by what we have done. And sometimes it's been, you know, sins of omission, but none of us escape, I think that reality. And I think learning to accept the fact that I've hurt people too, gives me a little bit permission then to be able to extend grace to the people who perhaps have wounded me.

Ivelisse Page:

That humility of heart. In our last few minutes, I can't believe time's already come upon us, can you share with us the relationship between cancer and unforgiveness that you've discovered?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

It's the biology is very, very plain. Unforgiveness creates a state of chronic anxiety. Chronic anxiety produces very predictably hormones that deplete the body natural killer cells, which is your primary foot soldier in the fight against cancer. So therefore, it's incumbent, to try and do whatever we can do. If what we want is our best chance to survive any disease like cancer is to do what we can do to neutralize anything that's keeping us, our body from fully unleashing the these cancer fighting enzymes. And so that's why we think it's important to help people deal with emotional and spiritual issues, which are often quite related. Again, the biology is very clear. If you understand that unforgiveness translates into a state of chronic anxiety, chronic anxiety affects your heart. It affects your digestive system. It affects virtually all of our body's functions in some form or fashion. And then of course not the least of which is our immune system, which is critically important to your audience and those who I served over many years.

Ivelisse Page:

So simply for those who aren't a part of a church or who aren't familiar with the act of forgiveness, is it as simple as saying, I forgive so and so for this, like, is there, simple steps that someone could take today that may not be familiar with it to forgive someone or even themselves in their lives that you would share?

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Oh, that's a whole another long conversation in terms of actually how to do it. But let me just tell your audience this, that I would invite them to resist the temptation to thinking that they're, that forgiveness is a step program where there's seven steps, 10 steps, whatever. For you, it could be just one step. It may be, it may be just making people aware of the importance of it is enough to allow them to give them permission to actually do it. You know, there's, it's, a journey. It could be a very short journey. It can be a very long journey. It's not the same for everyone. But if I had to give one bit of advice or encouragement for people who want to forgive, but aren't quite sure what to do. I would say pray. Pray for your enemies, ask God to help you find forgiveness. Now that's good I think spiritual advice, good biblical advice. But the research that's come out of Canada suggests that people who are willing to pray for their enemies, just one time dramatically increase the likelihood of them being able to forgive.

Ivelisse Page:

Wow.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

So if there was one, one bit of advice, one step that I would encourage people to do, start there, and see what God might do in your heart to be able to allow you to go through the door fully.

Ivelisse Page:

That's great advice. And in closing, I wanted to share something that you shared in the book. And you say that, you know you're not going to make it to live 158 years of age and neither will we. Death awaits us all, but that you are committed to enjoying your life until your final breath. You are determined to drink the last drop from the cup of life. And if you should find yourself trudging through an emotional tar pit of anger and hatred, you will do whatever you can to free yourself from the mess so that you can live life, the joyful life that God intends for you to live. One thing you decided is that you will refuse to be angry at others, including God. Forgiveness is the key that unlocks that door. I hope that those listening today will take key to your very wise words and look inside of themselves today to pursue a life of forgiveness. And so, Dr. Barry, I just wanted to thank you so much for your wisdom and, and taking the time with share with us today.

Rev. Dr. Michael Barry:

Oh my pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.

Ivelisse Page:

If you enjoyed this episode and you'd like to help support our podcast, please subscribe and share it with others. Be sure to visit believebig.org to access, the show notes and discover our bonus content. Thanks again, and keep believing big.

What is your favorite health tip?
How did The Forgiveness Project get started?
How did you teach patients about forgiveness? What are some practical things people can do to forgive?
What is the real meaning of forgiveness?
Once you forgive, you do not have to be that person's best friend. Can you explain that?
What are some of the things that help "soften the soil"of the heart?
Forgiveness is the healing of the memory.
Correlation between forgiveness and the ability to cry.
How do you teach or direct patients to be aware of their needs to forgive?
What is the relationship between cancer and unforgiveness?
For someone who is not part of a church, what is your advice for them?
Ivelisse closes with a quote from Rev. Dr. Barry's book.