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The Cost of Unforgiveness

It is better to forgive than to hold a grudge

by Janice Ross

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To consider the effects of an unforgiving heart.

Preparation and materials

  • A selection of the following abbreviations displayed:
    • ADHD - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, a behaviour disorder
    • PTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an illness caused by traumatic events
    • COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, a lung disease making it difficult to breathe
    • SAD - Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression during seasons with little light
    • MS - Multiple Sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system
    • OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, a type of anxiety disorder
    • TB – Tuberculosis, an infection of the lungs
    • PTED - Post Traumatic Embitterment Disorder, see assembly outline
  • A bottle marked 'POISON'
  • A reader for Section 3 below
  • The means to display the poem for the Time of Reflection
  • Optional: The question in Section 2 displayed


1. Display a selection of the abbreviations listed above. Ask the question: What do these abbreviations stand for and what are the effects of the disorder?

Listen to a range of responses.

Point out that the last abbreviation has not yet been recognized by the Medical Council, but Michael Linden, Head of Psychiatric Clinic at Free University of Berlin, states that 'bitterness is actually a medical disorder and should be categorized as PTED'.

The Daily Mail of 7 October 2015 quotes Professor Carsten Wrosch, from Montreal’s Concordia University Department of Psychology and a member of the Centre for Research in Human Development, who suggests harbouring feelings of bitterness 'increases the likelihood of physical disease'.

2. Show bottle marked POISON.
Read the quote by Buddha: 'Holding on to anger [a grudge] is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.'

Ask the pupils if they think this quote could be right. Ask the question: Are we prone to bitterness and not letting things go?

To find the answer, we can consider the following questions:
Do I find myself holding grudges?
Do I want to get even with those who have caused me pain?
Do I think of ways to get even with those who hurt me, to pay them back?
Do I erupt in anger or boil inside?
Do I pity myself?
Do I carry bitterness and anger toward those who have wronged me?
Do I retreat from others?
Do I decide to no longer be open with others?
Do the words of Robbie Burns, I ‘nurse my wrath to keep it warm', seem true for me?
Do I do not readily forgive and forget?

If you answered 'Yes' to four or more of these questions, you may be prone to PTED!

3. Another quote from Professor Wrosch states: 'In order to deal with bitter emotions there may need to be something else required to enable a person to overcome the negative emotion - that something is forgiveness.'
Let's consider forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a decision to release the person, group or organisation who hurt or betrayed us.
Forgiveness can take time.
Forgiveness is not a feeling or emotion, and it is not based on what is fair.
Forgiveness is not about excusing wrongs done to you.
Forgiveness is not based on what a person deserves.

So why should we forgive?
The Bible gives us some reasons.

Reader 1: Matthew 6.12 says 'forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors'.
We should forgive because we ourselves need forgiveness for many things.

Reader 2: Hebrews 12.15 says ‘Be vigilant . . . lest any root of bitterness spring up to trouble you.'
We should forgive because the anger we hold inside damages us, nobody else.

Time for reflection

Show the poem below on the whiteboard.

Under no circumstances,
Neither today nor tomorrow, will I allow
Feelings of hurt and disappointment
Of anger and ill will, produce anything but
Relentless resentment on my part.
Grim grudges, gripes and grievances!
I prefer to continue a
Venomous vendetta of vengeance
Enjoying holding on to
Negative, nasty feelings
Embitterment and ill will
Sarcasm, spite and scorn
Sadly leading only to harming myself.

Pray using the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6.9-13.

Publication date: January 2016   (Vol.18 No.1)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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