We’ve heard it said often that we need to forgive and forget. What a wonderful thing it would be if we could actually forget the wrongs done to us! Wouldn’t it be great if by forgetting, we could erase all the pain, all the worry, all the stress, and all the negative emotions from the wrong? I know I’d love that. And if there is a magical formula somewhere on how to do it, I certainly would want to know about it. Life would be easier if we could forgive and then forget.
CAN YOU FORGET?
I’ve counseled people for over two decade as of this writing, and in that time, I’ve learned that people remember easier the wrongs done to them more than the good things. For example, someone could smile and say, “Hi!”, to you six out of seven days in a week, but that one day where they turn their eyes away, frown, sniff maybe, and hasten off, you say to yourself, “What a jerk! What’s his problem?”
That is just human nature, I guess. We have a very hard time forgetting the things that are done to us. In marital counseling, you’d be surprised how many times someone dredges up something that happened ten or twenty years ago. When we are hurt, we can only see and feel the pain. All the good that a person does is hastily erased by one thing they do wrong that injures us.
It’s unfortunate, but true. I think only God can truly forget. We can’t. You’ll never forget the wrongs done to you, so forgetting them is out of the question. That doesn’t mean, however, that we can’t heal from these injuries, where the pain no longer dominates our lives.
FORGIVENESS ISN’T ABOUT FORGETTING
With that being said, forgiveness isn’t about forgetting. To truly forgive someone, you won’t be expected to just forget it. You may have the strength not to be offended by it; you may have the ability to shove it aside or to bury it deep in your subconscious. But it is still there, still rattling around in your head somewhere.
Forgiveness is about releasing your pain, anger, and the bitterness that comes with being hurt or injured. You forgive more for your own sake than you forgive for the sake of the person who hurt you.
But don’t mistake forgiveness for trust. If someone steals ten dollars of mine, I would forgive him so that I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder or bitterness in my heart. That doesn’t mean that I’ll trust him with any more money. I may start out with a quarter, but definitely not with another ten dollars.
Forgiveness does mean that you give the person opportunity to redeem himself if he has a desire to do so. It doesn’t mean that you have to trust him. Trust is earned. When you forgive someone, you give them an opportunity to earn that trust back.
Forgiveness also means that you won’t carry a grudge. If you forgive someone, you don’t thrust them away, slander them, or attempt to harm them in any way. If they come back to you, seeking forgiveness, you need to find some way to allow them to begin to earn your trust back. That is forgiveness.
Let’s say the person who stole my ten dollars returns and says, “I’m so sorry. What I did was wrong. I want to make amends. I’ll pay you back, I promise. Will you forgive me?” At this point, my forgiveness allows him to make amends. It even means that I’ll give him an opportunity to earn my trust back. I’ll lend him a quarter and see what he does with it. I’ll let him pay me back. And I’ll interact with him again. I still won’t give him ten dollars. That might be a long way off. He has to earn my trust.
I haven’t forgotten what he did, but I have forgiven him.
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Someone wronged you, and they are neither repentant nor wanting your forgiveness. So why forgive someone like that? Why forgive someone who will just