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How do I forgive?

Everett Worthington, Jr., author of The Handbook of Forgiveness, has developed a useful acrostic for navigating the process of forgiveness. It is known as R-E-A-C-H:


Recall the Hurt

  • It is difficult, but necessary to recall the hurt.

  • Don't minimize or deny the person's pain.

  • Don't make excuses for the offender.

  • Recalling your hurt is not for the purpose of finger-pointing, but a means to objectively review what has occurred.

  • Journaling is a great way to work through anger and hurt. It organizes your thoughts and helps you acknowledge the truth in clear black and white.

  • Sometimes writing a letter to the offender is helpful, but don't mail the letter.


Empathize with the Person

  • Write a letter as if you were the offender. You should write about thoughts, feelings, insights, and pressures. Make this a letter of apology. How difficult is it to do this?

  • By placing yourself in the shoes of the person who transgressed, you can begin to understand why the person did what he or she did.

  • This does not remove blame from the individual, but does serve to show that people who hurt are often hurting deeply themselves.


Altruistic Gift of Forgiveness

  • Think about the "giving" of forgiveness. Think of a time when you did something wrong and were forgiven. Reflect on the wrongdoing and guilt you felt. How did it feel to be forgiven? Would you like to give that gift of forgiveness to the person who hurt you?

  • Write a blank check of forgiveness. Write in your journal that this day you have released the offender from the debt he or she owes you.

  • You may want to write down the offenses the person has done and then write "Canceled" or "Paid in Full" over them.

  • Through this step, also recall the great mercy and grace of God towards you.


Commit Publicly to Forgive

  • Write a certificate or letter of forgiveness stating that you will not ruminate on the wrongs done to you anymore, but don't send it.

  • By participating in some outward expression of forgiveness, such as writing a letter, you will be more prone to remember that you have forgiven and are thus freed from the plague of “unforgiveness.”

  • Tell your family and/or your friends about your decision to forgive. By disclosing your forgiveness to others, you will be held accountable to your decision to forgive the transgressor.


Hold on to Forgiveness

  • Hold on to forgiveness when doubts arise.

  • There is a difference between remembering a transgression and lacking forgiveness.

  • Make "Stones of Remembrance."  After God parted the Jordan River so the Israelites could go through on dry land, God told Joshua to have each tribe choose a stone to be piled up as a memorial to what great things God had done that day. Those stones served as a remembrance for the people and their children in times to come (Joshua 4).  It is good to have something “concrete” to help you remember the day you set your offender free.

  • Remember to forget! Corrie ten Boom was reminded of an offense someone had done to her, she responded, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.” Though you may never really forget, you can remember that you forgave.

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