Forgive or Forget?

The stupid neither forgive nor forget;
the naive forgive and forget;
the wise forgive but do not forget.
-Thomas S. Szasz

Nobody likes a grudge holder. The old phrase, “Forgive and forget” has been used to insinuate we haven’t forgiven if we haven’t forgotten, but that’s not true. While forgetting seems like a beautiful concept in theory, it can only happen healthfully when an abuser acknowledges what they have done. Consider some situations where forgetting might cause more harm.

  • If you are robbed by the babysitter, will you hire her again?
  • If your teenager steals from your accounts, will you give him your password again?
  • If your neighbor drinks and drives, are you willing to lend him your car?
  • If someone abuses a child, would you leave her alone with him?

Any judicious person would say no to the above situations. You can still love these people and hold no ill will against them, but it would be foolish to ignore what they have done and act as if these events had never happened.

Most people would never expect us to ride with an alcoholic that has just wrecked their car. Yet they don’t mind putting us in emotional harm’s way by telling us to forgive and forget someone who has abused us.  That’s because they confuse the meaning of forgiveness with reconciliation, but they are not the same thing.

Forgive: to give up resentment or grant relief from payment

  • Forgiveness takes one, while reconciliation takes two.
  • Forgiveness is a decision to stop punishing another person.
  • Forgiveness lets go of any need for retribution.
  • Forgiveness is lack of animosity toward the other person.

Reconciliation: Restore friendly relations between or cause to coexist in harmony

  • Reconciliation goes beyond forgiveness.
  • Reconciliation requires listening to the pain we have caused.
  • Reconciliation requires expressing sorrow for the wrongs we’ve done.
  • Reconciliation requires unconditional love and acceptance from both parties.
  • Reconciliation requires walking side by side with someone who has hurt us.
  • Reconciliation can happen only when both parties are wholehearted toward the other.

When people ask us to forget the past without acknowledging what they have done, it deprives both parties of an honest relationship. Jesus showed us by His example how to live in authentic community. When Jesus knew He was going to be betrayed, He acknowledged what Peter and Judas were about to do and He didn’t pretend their actions were okay.

The same Jesus who said to turn the cheek also taught personal responsibility by giving us the parable of the talents. God’s principle of other-centered love calls for us to do what is best for all people. Sometimes this means we should take one for God and the team, while other times turning the other cheek might only further the lies and damage to both abuser and victim.

Can two people walk together
without agreeing on the direction?
-Amos 3:3

We can still forgive, even when we can’t forget. We can stop resenting. We can stop wanting revenge. We can stop dwelling on what others have done to us, but we should always remember so we don’t repeat the same patterns both as an abuser and as a victim. Remembering is how victims turn into victors.

While we are forgiving, we might also need to forgive ourselves. We forgive ourselves for burning our hand on the stove, but we’ll also avoid touching a hot stove in the future because we remember. God gave us a brain. We can honor Him by using it to both remember and forgive.

 

2 Replies to “Forgive or Forget?”

  1. My mother said to me “Let’s leave the past in the past” regarding her GOLDEN GRANDCHILD (over 30 year old sociopath) spreading VICIOUS lies about my husband and I, while she chose not to speak the truth about matters to the rest of the family. Yet she would bring up numerous times throughout my life, how I was such an ungrateful child back when I was TWO years old, because I refused to wear the shoes she had wanted me to. When I pressed the issue of TRUTH, she decided to cut me out of the will so she could leave HIM and the others more money. This is what I’ve received for my DECADES of being the devoted daughter. Somehow I always knew deep down that she hated me for daring to have a mind of my own, even when I was a toddler, but I wanted to believe she loved me so much that I ignored all evidence to the contrary throughout my life. I’m sure she feels justified in cutting me out because I won’t go back to the toxic fold, and the subservient position. I imagine she’s thinking it’s about the money, but the most hurtful thing to me is her being complicit in all the EVIL lies.

    Thanks for all you’ve written, and the opportunity to vent. I’m both ANGRY AND HEARTBROKEN. I really appreciate your use of scripture. I have been a devoted Christian for many years, and I know (I know) God is using this situation to work on me, but I admit I’m having a hard time accepting it all. I hope and pray God is using it to work on her as well. However, I imagine she’d rather go to the grave with all the lies now than tell the truth, and THAT is a large part of why I’m so heartbroken. Anyway, thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Rubies,

    My heart aches for you and others who have to deal with such unresolved pain. I understand a lot of what you are saying. When I was five, my mom left me in charge of watching my one year old brother in the new swimming pool we just got while she ran into the house. I was standing on the outside of the pool. I did not know how to swim and I was afraid of the water. My baby brother flipped his foam toy upside down and kicked his feet in the air.

    Unfortunately, children can’t reason in abstract until around eight years old, so I watched him and that was all I did. The good news is my mom ran back out and flipped him over and he had been holding his breath, but for the rest of our growing up, whenever she remembered this story, and whenever she told it, she pointed at me and said, “And this one tried to drown her brother!”

    As a result, I grew up feeling shame for not saving him myself, but now as an adult I realize I never even touched him so how could I drown him? I wasn’t even in the pool! It was more her shame that something might have happened on her watch as the mother that caused her to blame me. I think many of us have stories like this and we’ve heard them since we were little kids, so we believed we were bad until we caught on.

    I also understand your heartbroken feeling. Realizing my family really doesn’t care about me unless I am giving them gifts or money makes me sad too. All relationships should be give and take and while I don’t want stuff from my family–I long for respect and honesty.

    I think there is a possibility that even parents and children who cannot get along on this earth will have a time in the future when Jesus will sit down at the table with all of us and help us understand each other. He will be the only who can do this but with God all things are possible. So even if we never speak again on this earth, we can have a hope that Jesus will somehow heal them enough and us enough so we can all make it to the next world and be able to heal there. For some of us that is our only hope.

    Please realize you are not alone ever. Jesus is with you and He cares! He will provide for you and cover you with his wings. I am thinking of making some art about being covered with his wings–wings of comfort and grace and shelter from all of life’s pain.

    May you be comforted with the words of Jesus–

    “Your heavenly Father knows that you have need of all these things.” -Matthew 6:32

    “The very hairs of your head are all numbered!” -Matthew 10:30

    “I will not leave you comfortless — I will come to you.” – John 14:18

    “As the Father has loved Me–so have I loved you.” -John 15:9

    “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” -John 14:27

    Peace and Freedom to you, Rubies!

    Cherilyn

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