6 Steps to Writing a Forgiveness Letter
“Have you written a forgiveness letter to your father?,” my counselor asked. In 30 years it never occurred to me that I needed to forgive him. “He wasn’t around so there is nothing to forgive,” I thought to myself. And even though her prompting seemed unnecessary, I decided to take the advice.
Initially it was awkward – like writing a letter to a stranger – but as I began to write, a reservoir of words and emotions poured out. I was shocked. Feelings surfaced I didn’t know were there.
And how could I have known I was carrying a buffet full of undealt with emotions if I never took the time to acknowledged their existence? Out of sight out of mind, right?
Our bodies are not designed to store hurt; eventually, it will reemerge. And though it’s difficult to move beyond the pain, moving is a must.
But how? How do we do this when our wounded minds are like a perpetual DVR: recording and replaying negative memories? I believe a forgiveness letter is one tool that can facilitate our healing.
A Word of Caution
Proverbs 18: 21 (NIV) says, “The tongue has the power of life and death. . .” For this reason, I never gave the letter to my father. It was solely a tool for me to process my feelings, not a weapon to inflict pain. I encourage you to do the same because a decision not to could be even more detrimental to the relationship.
If your father has harmed you, it may be tempting to seek revenge. You may want to hurt him the way he has hurt you. Don’t do it! The Bible has given us specific instruction as to how we are to treat those who wrong us. “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.” Romans 12: 19 (NIV)
6 Steps to Writing a Forgiveness Letter
Step # 1
Dear Dad, It has been brought to my attention that there needs to be communication and healing in our relationship. First of all I want to begin this letter by asking you to forgive me. In seeking healing I realize I must examine myself first. I specifically apologize for: (You may feel that you have not done anything wrong. To help you with this section ask God to bring to mind times when you have dishonored your father in word or deed.)
Step # 2
Second, I want you to know that I forgive you. I understand that to forgive you does not mean that I condone any actions of the past or present. To forgive you means that I no longer choose to be personally bound to the pain of your actions. I therefore choose, by an act of my will, to forgive you for: (In this section be brutally honest with the actions of your father that wounded you.) By forgiving you I am trusting God to be the great equalizer and avenger.
Step # 3
In choosing to be totally free I need to tell you how your actions above made me feel. (In this section list all of your feelings from childhood to the present that resulted from the actions of your father. )
Step # 4
At this time I need to vent, release, and express my feelings towards you and your actions. (In this section say everything you want to say that should not be said in person.)
Step # 5
In order to complete this healing, I am choosing to acknowledge actions on your part that I admire or cherish. ( Depending on your relationship with your father it may be difficult to come up with information for this section. If you cannot complete this section leave it blank or don’t include it in the letter, but I challenge you to find at least one thing. )
Step # 6
At this time I want to thank you for: ( If this section is a struggle, know that you can always thank your father for life.) Lastly, in completing this letter, I am now choosing to release the past. I am looking towards the future in allowing God to teach me how to love you.
I could not complete my letter in one sitting. In fact there were times in the letter writing process that uprooted deep-seated hurts repressed for years. Those hurts had to be grieved before I could continue. I want to encourage you not to rush the process but let the process guide you on your healing journey.
Once the letter was completed I read it aloud, alone, and to an empty chair. This is another forgiveness technique that enables you to envision yourself speaking to your offender. I cannot say that I was completely free after this but I was better. I forgave my dad first with my will and then I asked God to help my mind and emotions to follow. In time they did just that.
Ladies, this work is not easy. You may feel like the pain is too deep and healing is an impossible dream, but you can do it. Please know that I am praying for you. I believe you will overcome! God has not put a period at this juncture in your life, but a comma.
Dear Heavenly Father,
The process of forgiving is so tough. Thank you for modeling true forgiveness for us everyday. May we forever be reminded of the way we have been forgiven as we endeavor to completely and without reservation forgive our earthly fathers. We know that you are faithful and will enable our hearts and minds to follow our will.
In Jesus’ Name