To forgive someone is a gift. It is not dependent on a good apology or improved behavior. Often when we think about forgiving our focus gets stuck on the person who hurt us and we are caught in a perpetual cycle of looking backwards. Our mind returns to the pain, to the actions that harmed us and bitterness can grow strong inside us. Instead of looking backwards like this, we can focus on giving the gift of forgiving out of our own choosing. It takes work, but this is good work and well worth all our efforts according to psychological research.
Ev Worthington’s REACH model of forgiveness (see below) includes the first step of recalling our hurt and taking the time to name it and accept the impact of the transgression in our lives. This first step in forgiving can then lead to the next heroic step of remembering God’s love for the offender and empathizing with them as a child of God. Sometimes we slowly recognize that we cannot know the ways the other person may have suffered, but we can see that they remain beloved by God. The third step focuses on giving the gift of forgiving and continues to help us focus on what we can do rather than on waiting for the offender to change or apologize. It’s a process in which we retain the power in choosing what we can work on within ourselves. We give up wishing the offender harm and begin to wish them well. This is a commitment that we make. We dedicate ourselves to wishing good toward those who have harmed us. It’s helpful to tell a trusted friend or spiritual director about decisions like this so that when negative feeling rise, as they often do, we can hold on to the commitment we’ve made to wish this person well. When bitterness returns, it doesn’t mean we have failed to forgive. It only means we have to move through the steps of forgiving again in order to hold on to our commitment and to give the gift of forgiving. As mentioned in a previous post Jesus recommends to his friend Peter seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22) as a good goal when you think of forgiving. Don’t give up too soon! Hang on to your wise commitment to give the good gift of forgiving.
*See Everett L. Worthington, (2003), Forgiving and Reconciling: Bridges to Wholeness and Hope, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity for a more complete discussion.