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?
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.