Forgive & Forget?

To forgive and forget is a pretty tall order. I know for me, it seems impossible. Is that really the goal? And if it is the goal, is it realistic? The expectation to forget would be to feel as though it never happened, to erase something from my memory. Completely. I won’t go so far as to say it’s impossible; many things are possible when we trust God with our suffering, but if the pressure to forget keeps us from forgiving, then we have a problem.

Take, for example, a woman who has forgiven an alcoholic father. Forgiven him for not being present because he was drinking; forgiven him for not being the father he could have been; forgiven him for countless other difficulties as a result of living with an alcoholic. This woman will still carry many painful memories for the rest of her life.

So, you might ask, why forgive? Let’s look at these three characteristics of forgiveness:

1. Forgiveness can (and often does) occur without first receiving an apology. Forgiveness is as much for the person forgiving as it is for the person who needs forgiveness.

2. Forgiveness is a process. It does not happen in a moment. When deep relational harm has occurred, the person who has been hurt needs time in order to move through the necessary process of healing.

3. Forgiveness = Freedom. When we forgive, we are letting go of waiting; waiting for that person to do what we're hoping, waiting to feel justified in our anger. Forgiveness grants freedom from continually feeling hurt and disappointed.

When we forgive, forgetting doesn’t matter so much. In fact, some are so desperate to forgive in order to forget, they don’t take the necessary time to go through the process of forgiving. They believe that forgiving is the secret key to selective memory loss. Then when they continue to suffer, they can’t understand why.

For others, withholding forgiveness is the punishment they believe that person deserves. Not noticing that, in the meantime, they are also hurting themselves.

Forgiveness tells us a different story. Forgiveness says that despite all the things you’re telling yourself about revenge, there is grace on the other side and there is hope for feeling a different way. Even if we can’t erase those painful memories.

It is not my intention to wrap forgiveness up in a sweet little bow to make it look more appealing. The experiences in each of your lives are diverse and complex. In light of that, I do want to challenge you to think about forgiveness with the above characteristics in mind. Ask yourself: how is my life going when I don’t consider forgiveness?

wellnessBritt Cain