Forgiveness #3 – The REACH Model
Reading: Micah 7:18-19, 1 John 1:5-10
Preacher: Rev Kevin Kim
How do we forgive? Forgiveness using the REACH model – REACH (R – Recall, E – Empathize, A – Altruistic, C – Commitment & H – Hold)
Holding onto old hurts or wounds does not lead us toward healing. It keeps us stuck in the feeling of the hurt, the story of the hurt, the belief about what this hurt means. Forgiveness is not about making the event okay; it is about releasing yourself from the negativity that surrounds the event. You don’t have to like what happened to forgive what happened. You do not hurt the person who hurt you by holding onto the feeling; instead, you hurt yourself by not forgiving.
- Recall the hurt, in as objective a way as you can. Do not think of the other person as evil. Do not wallow in self-pity. Take deep, slow, and calming breaths as you visualize the event.
- Empathize. Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. This is not easy but make up a plausible story that the transgressor might tell if challenged to explain.
- Altruistic gift: A stands for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness, another difficult step. First recall a time you transgressed, felt guilty and were forgiven. This was a gift you were given by another person because you needed it, and you were grateful for this gift.
- Commit: C stands for commit yourself to forgive publicly. In Worthington’s groups, his clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” write a letter of forgiveness to the offender, write it in their diary, write a poem or a song, or tell a trusted friend what they have done.
- Hold: H stands for hold onto forgiveness. This is another difficult step, because memories of the event will surely recur. Forgiveness is not erasure; rather, it is a change in the tag lines that a memory carries. It is important to realize that the memories do not mean unforgiveness. Don’t dwell vengefully on the memories, and don’t wallow in them. Remind yourself that you have forgiven, and read the documents you composed.
In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, the season of Lent begins with a “Forgiveness Sunday.” At the end of this Forgiveness Sunday service, each member of the community proceeds to the front of the church to exchange with fellow parishioners a message of repentance.
One by one, you bow to the person before you and then, you say: “Forgive me!” The other person responds: “God forgives. I forgive.”
And so it goes until each person has asked every other person for forgiveness, and the entire church is encircling the sanctuary. Whatever is going on in the world around us, this ritual on forgiveness Sunday breaks in with a reminder of transformational love and the possibility of reconciliation.
Holding onto old hurts or wounds does not lead us toward healing. Forgiveness is not about making the event okay; it is about releasing yourself from the negativity that surrounds the event. You don’t have to like what happened to forgive what happened. You do not hurt the person who hurt you by holding onto the feeling; instead, you hurt yourself by not forgiving.
In today’s Micah’s reading, the prophet sees both Israel and Judah in need of reformation. Both kingdoms’ Morals floundered (flownduh), and corruption abounded. Exile was awaiting. Yet Micah does not despair, but can end his prophecy with such great hope. He sees that God will graciously forgive his people and restore her fortunes, and this puts Micah over the moon. All he can really say is, “Who is a God like you?”
REACH Forgiveness was developed by Everett Worthington from the Department of Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University.
His mother was brutally murdered on New Year’s eve. The killer used a crow bar to beat Worthington’s mother. He knew it was unhealthy to feel anger toward the killer. But he found it difficult to surrender his hate.
He said, “Sometimes we enjoy holding on to angers. It gives us kind of a feeling of power.” So he turned to a method he’d developed called REACH Forgiveness to confront what happened that tragic New Year’s eve.
R stands for recall the hurt, in as objective a way as you can. To heal, you have to face the fact that you’ve been hurt. Take deep, slow, and calming breaths as you visualize the event. Identifying that we feel the way that we feel about the wound will aid in the healing process. Not minimizing, bypassing, or catastrophizing the experience but understand it for what it is exactly and how we feel about it. Do not think of the other person as evil. Make up your mind not to be hurtful, not to treat yourself like a victim. Make a decision to forgive. Decide that you are not going to pursue payback but you will treat the person as a valuable person.
This can help to work through any feelings and emotions in order to become more grounded so that we are ready for empathy (the second step).
E stands for empathize. Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. This is not easy, but make up a plausible story that the perpetrator might tell if challenged to explain. Empathy helps us see things from another person’s perspective. This can alleviate negative feelings about an event or experience in our life. It also provides space for compassion and patience when interacting with others as we heal moving forward. To help you do this, remember the following:
- When others feel their survival is threatened, they will hurt innocents.
- People who attack others are themselves usually in a state of fear, worry and hurt.
- The situation a person finds himself in, and not his underlying personality, can lead to hurting.
- People often don’t think when they hurt others; they just lash out.
Empathy is putting yourself in the other person’s chair. Pretend that the other person is in an empty chair across from you. Talk to him. Pour your heart out. Then, when you’ve had your say, sit in his chair. Talk back to the imaginary you in a way that helps you see why the other person might have wronged you. This builds empathy, and even if you can’t empathize, you might feel more sympathy, compassion, or love, which helps you heal from hurt. This allows you to give …
A stand for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness, another difficult step. This was a gift you were given by another person because you needed it, and you were grateful for this gift. Seeing our part in the situation and understanding how forgiveness is healing for ourselves as well as others involved. Being able to forgive will make our lives better overall. Practicing forgiveness of ourselves and of others who we feel have wronged us is crucial for our mental and spiritual health. Giving this gift usually makes us feel better. As the saying goes:
If you want to be happy
For an hour, take a nap
For a day, go fishing
For a month, get married.
For a year, get an inheritance.
For a lifetime, help someone.
But we do not give this gift out of self-interest. Rather, we give it because it is for the perpatrator’s own good. Tell yourself you can rise above hurt and vengeance. If you give the gift grudgingly, however, it will not set you free.
Give forgiveness as an unselfish, altruistic gift. We all can remember when we wronged someone—maybe a parent, teacher, or friend—and the person forgave us. We felt light and free. And we didn’t want to disappoint that person by doing wrong again. By forgiving unselfishly, you can give that same gift to someone who hurt you.
C stands for commit yourself to forgive publicly. In Worthington’s groups, his clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” write a letter of forgiveness to the offender, write it in their diary, write a poem or song, or tell a trusted friend what they have done. It’s important to get rid of shame and self-blame, which can be done with kind words or a gratitude journal where you can write out your feelings. These are all contracts of forgiveness that lead to the final step.
H stands for hold onto forgiveness. This is another difficult step, because memories of the event will surely remain. Forgiveness is not removed; rather, it is a change in the tag lines that a memory carries. This stage is to release the person who harmed you from their guilt by forgiving them for what they have done, even if it doesn’t seem fair or logical at first. It is about continuing to practice forgiveness daily by applying what has been learned from the first four stages. It is important to realize that the memories do not mean unforgiveness. Don’t dwell vengefully on the memories, and don’t wallow in them. Remind yourself that you have forgiven, and read the documents you composed.
What transforms it to science is that there are at least eight controlled-outcome studies measuring the consequences of procedures like REACH. In the largest and best-done study to date, a consortium of Stanford researchers led by Carl Thoresen randomly assigned 259 adults to either a nine-hour (six 90-minute sessions) forgiveness workshop or to an assessment-only control group. The components of the intervention were carefully scripted and paralleled those above, with emphasis on taking less offensive and revising the story of the grievance toward an objective perspective. Less anger, less stress, more optimism, better reported health, and more forgiveness ensued, and the effects were sizable.
1 John 1:5-10
Christians are people who confess their sins. This confession is to God and this confession is specific, not general. Too often we delude ourselves into thinking that we are confessing sin by saying, “I have sinned.” Tell God what you did. It is not like he does not know what your sins are. Confession is the opening of our hearts to God, expressing sorrow for the sins we have committed. If I am not honest with myself, how can I be honest with God? John is describing confession as the means for maintaining fellowship with God. The light always reveals the hidden things of darkness. Therefore, if I refuse to face my sin, it means that I am avoiding the light, breaking fellowship with God because he is light. Not facing our sins means that we do not like the light. We are to come to God with open hands and hearts, revealing our sins and asking for forgiveness.
This is the mechanism God uses to cleanse his people. A common question is asked, “Once I am a Christian, what do I do when I sin?” John speaks of a repentant, confessing heart which God receives. Notice the promise to us. God is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Walking in the light means admitting our sins and asking for forgiveness. This will tap into God’s faithfulness. God will be faithful toward us and forgive us. All unrighteousness will be cleansed when we come to him.