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March 17, 2009

’As We Forgive’ Q&A, part 2: REACHing for forgiveness

We've gotten a little behind (this installment went up last week), but here's the second part of Mary DeMuth's six-part Q&A with Catherine about As We Forgive.

DeMuth: On page 91 of As We Forgive, you describe Dr. Everett Worthington’s path to forgiveness. What is the acronym he created?

Larson: Dr. Worthington, one of the world's leading researchers on forgiveness (his work is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation) uses the acronym REACH to talk about the forgiveness process.

The R is for recall the pain. He says that we need to go back and remember the event, remember what happened and allow ourselves to feel that pain. I would add here that when peace, or shalom is broken, that there is a righteousness to our anger and grief. If we didn't feel those emotions, there would be something broken in us. The evils done to us are "not the way [it's] supposed to be" to quote Plantinga's Breviary of Sin. But [it's] what we do with those emotions.

The next step, E, is empathizing with the offender. This doesn't mean excusing or condoning what that person did. It does mean thinking through the wrong from that person's perspective, trying to feel with that person, even imagining the circumstances, events, and emotions that led that person to that place.

The third part, A, is Altruistic gift of forgiveness. At some point, you extend the gift of forgiveness. I like that he uses the word "gift" to describe forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift--one of the costliest gifts any of us ever offers.

The next letter, C, stands for Commit publicly to forgive. Worthington believes that a public commitment to forgiveness helps us when we come back and doubt ourselves. Committing publicly makes us not only more accountable, but also makes this act of the will tied to a specific time and place in our minds.

And finally, the H is for holding on to forgiveness. So many times when you hear people talk about forgiveness it sounds like this one time act that you do. I suppose in some cases that's true, but in many cases fresh memories or pain is going to resurface and we're going to have hold on to that [commitment] we made to forgive. That's one reason I often talk about forgiveness as a journey.

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