Forgive and forget. Seems to be a message that we all have heard at one time or another. And one we all would agree is extremely hard to do, and for many something that they are unwilling to do. We think we must make the ones who hurt us pay for their actions, or at least they should come to us and apologize and make amends before we forgive them. Or we try to forgive them, but we can never really forget about it, and the memories stir up the pain again and again making us feel like we can never be free.
So if I am to forgive and forget to be free of this pain, how come I can never get free and how come I can never forget? When this happens I think we often give up on trying to forgive and we simply settle into reliving the past and it becomes a part of our lives we simply accept. I think this happens for a couple of reasons.
1> We think when we forgive it erases all the feelings. I used to feel this way, and wonder why I could never, I thought, forgive. I could put the feelings and hurt out of my mind for a time, sometimes a long time, but something would happen, or something someone said would bring them back up for me to relive again and again. Or they would simply keep me from launching forward into new things and new relationships because I wouldn’t be able to trust totally again. But forgiveness was never meant to erase our feelings.
2> We think we must completely forget about what happened. This is the other problem with forgiveness. We think we have to forget to truly forgive. And yet we all have patterns of behaviour in our lives that if we stay in relationship with someone long enough will cause hurt and will continue to bring up memories of past hurts. Something your wife says to you 15 years after an incident will bring up the memory of something she did to hurt you. For some the time frames my simply be months instead of years. So if forgetting is integral to forgiveness we feel we can never forgive.
First off I don’t think we can honestly forgive others without God’s help. It is not in us naturally. I know I had to go and bring God into the picture. But I know the struggle to forgive, and I personally know the help that God offers us. We all very naturally know how to keep a grudge. It is natural behaviour. No one has to instruct us or teach us how. We do it naturally from the day we are born. What is not natural for us is forgiveness. It is something we need to learn about. And God is very willing to help us if we ask.
Second we need to understand that forgiveness has two parts; a choice we make, and a process we walk through. Forgiveness is as much of a choice we make as the choice to love someone and stay committed to them for our whole life. We see this choice most often in marriage, till death do us part. We choose to love one another and honour and fulfill that choice until we die. We make a grave mistake when we only see love as a feeling, because feelings change often. And we make just as grave a mistake when we see forgiveness as a feeling. When we forgive we most often feel like nothing has happened. Sometimes we can feel as though the weight of the world has lifted from us, but not usually. But that is ok. Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling. I must choose for forgive. Forgiveness is also a process. I must continue to make the choice to forgive until my feelings catch up. Sometimes it takes time for us to work through the hurt and pain. And just as it takes time for a wound to heal it can take time for the feelings to catch up to our choice.
Third we must understand that forgiveness doesn’t involve forgetting. God never forgets a single thing. I know some of you are shouting but when God forgives “He casts our sin into the sea of His forgetfulness.” And yes this is true. It is what the bible states. But how can an all knowing God forget anything? We misunderstand this verse totally. So what does God really do. It simply means that although He can remember what happened, He will never bring it up ever in your relationship with Him, and He will not withhold any part of Himself from you as a result of the hurt. But He never forgets about it. He just loves us to much to allow it to separate us. So He chooses to not remember. And we simply need to do the same. So instead of having historical, I mean hysterical arguments, we have to choose to not remember what happened and never bring it up again.
Forgiveness is about our choice and about our healing. When we don’t forgive we are holding on to the hurt so that we can make that person pay for what they did. We can never heal and never get past the pain. When we forgive we are taking back control of our life and choosing to begin the healing process and letting go of the responsibility to make someone pay. Will that person pay? I can guarantee it. God keep precise accounts of all our actions, and He will call each one of us to answer for our lives one day. What we are doing is simply letting go of the ownership of making them pay. Forgiveness is totally for our benefit. It is totally about me and not the other person. They factor into the equation only if you are keeping a relationship open with them, but forgiveness is about me first. Letting go of the pain and hurt and allowing me to heal and move on with my life.
One last comment. The bible teaches that God will forgive us completely when we ask. Except for one instance. When we choose to not forgive. The bible states “forgive so that you may be forgiven.” So if we want our list of things we need to answer to one day to be short it involves forgiveness here and now. Unforgiveness puts up a wall between you and God that will not allow the forgiveness He offers to pour into your life. Not only does it keep you tied to your pain, but it also blocks you from the love that God offers you. Unforgiveness only hurts you. Forgiveness is what frees you up to live again.