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The Forgiveness Teacher’s Toughest Test


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Everett Worthington taught others how to forgive. One night, he had to become his own best pupil.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 1999 issue of Spirituality & Health. The call came on New Year’s day, 1996. My brother’s voice was shaky. “I have some bad news,” he said. “Mama’s been murdered.” In the next five minutes, Mike sketched for me what he saw when he and his step-son, David, walked into the scene. That night, my brother, sister, and I talked about it. Mama had been beaten to death with a crowbar, her body assaulted with a wine bottle. Rage bubbled up in me like lava. I heard myself saying, “I’d like to have that murderer alone in a room with just a baseball bat. I’d beat his brains out.” That night about 3:00 a.m., I fought the bed covers, imagining the scenes of violence, my thoughts overflowing with hatred and revenge. Ironically, only days before I had finished writing a book, To Forgive Is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past.  Finally my own book brought me up short. Did I really believe, as we had written, that empathy was a key to forgiving? Could I empathize with the person who had murdered my mother? Or was that book just for other people? I didn …

Everett L. Worthington, Jr. , Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and editor of Marriage and Family: A Christian Journal. His most recent book is To Forgive Is Human: How to Put Your Past in the Past (InterVarsity Press, 1997).

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