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Forgive and Forget?
by Susan Budensiek
10/06/2019 / Christian Living
It was a very seriously devastating attack against my character that was totally false and to make it worse, a total surprise, which I did nothing to cause. It was ongoing for several months all day every day, week after week, and later slacked off to daily assaults of emotional abuse for only a few hours a day. It continued for almost three years, eventually abating to sporadic conflicts that erupt from the otherwise highly stressful but quiet (as in very little conversation of any kind) days which has become our new normal. Now, going on four years after it started, I have been told that even though his behavior was not good, that I should “forgive and forget” the whole thing. And I was told that if I didn’t forget about it that no matter what I say, I have not forgiven him.
We know from Scripture that If we continue to hold onto the hurt and hold a “grudge” against someone that we will find our relationship with God hindered and bitterness growing in our life (Hebrews 12:14-15) We are also reminded that love keeps no record of wrongdoings
(1 Corinthians 13:5). This could be said to sound a lot like “forgive and forget,” but remembering past hurts and holding grudges and withholding forgiveness are not the same. One must own their mistakes and face the consequences of their actions. Actions have consequences. Always.
Painful memories can last for years and forgiveness should be immediate, but it can be a gradual process when it comes to major misdeeds toward another person by someone they have trusted.
In the Gospels, the command to forgive is clear and no, the phrase “forgive and forget” is not found in the Bible. Jesus pointed out that it is important for us to forgive those who might not realize they have offended us somehow, and even those who have not repented for what they have done like when Jesus, as He hung on the cross said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 (NASB). And let us never forget Matthew 6:12, “Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us” (CJB).
God commands us to forgive, so we must make a conscious choice to obey God and forgive. When we forgive one who has sinned against us, we choose to no longer hold the sin against them. We do not hold a grudge or seek revenge. But it is impossible to truly forget grave sins that have been committed against us. As much as we would sometimes like to, we cannot “delete” certain events from our memory.
And in some cases, we may need to no longer associate with a person or use extra care when dealing with them for our own welfare. Being cautious doesn’t mean we haven’t forgiven. It simply means we are not God and we cannot see into another person’s heart. Sometimes the dynamics of a relationship will have to change. “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3 (ESV).
If we are able to use the phrase “forgive and forget” as meaning we move on with our life for the sake of love for Christ and others, that is great. But if it means that you pretend that the hurt never happened, that would be irresponsible.
Nils Von Kalm wrote, “The fact is that the notion of “forgive and forget” has been misused to the point that it has actually hindered relationships and reconciliation. On the surface it implies that to forgive is to say that the wrong inflicted was not that bad, it’s all ok and let’s just move on and forget about it.
But try telling that to the woman in Sudan who has just been raped and forced to watch her son be killed in front of her. Tell that to the wife who has just found out about her husband’s infidelity – again – and who doesn’t know whether or not she can go on living with him. And tell that to the races of people all across the world who have been oppressed for hundreds of years and “who need to just be patient and things will eventually change”.
To “forgive and forget” is to deny the reality of the wrongdoing. It is actually giving evil a power it does not have.”
And that is something none of us wants to do.
As Miroslav Volf says, forgiveness is a central element of reconciliation.
“The reconciling of relationships through forgiveness must contain an element of remembering. Otherwise it is not true forgiveness; it is denial which does not triumph over evil. Desmond Tutu, in his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, says, “Forgiving is not forgetting; it’s actually remembering – remembering and not using your right to hit back. It’s a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you don’t want to repeat what happened.
Forgiveness – and the remembrance of wrongs committed – must be central if we are to avoid the mistakes of history. This is true whether it be in our homes, our boardrooms, or in the halls of political power.”
In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren says:
“Many people are reluctant to show mercy because they don’t understand the difference between trust and forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past. Trust has to do with future behavior.
Forgiveness must be immediate, whether or not a person asks for it. Trust must be rebuilt over time. Trust requires a track record. If someone hurts you repeatedly, you are commanded by God to forgive them instantly, but you are not expected to trust them immediately, and you are not expected to continue allowing them to hurt you.”
“…forgetting is neither the means of forgiveness nor the test of whether we have genuinely forgiven that person.” Dr. Robert Jefress 2015
Relevant Magazine May 17, 2016 listed six common myths about forgiveness that sounded very familiar to me.
“So, let’s identify some of the myths about forgiveness, and call them what they are: myths.
MYTH: FORGIVENESS MEANS YOU HAVE TO FORGET.
Unfortunately, you don’t have a Neuralyzer from the movie Men in Black that causes your memory to be erased if you look into its flash. Memories are very real, especially if they’re memories wrapped in hurt. They may always be there. However, there is a wonderful opportunity to operate in a lifestyle of saying, “I have not been able to forget. I remember it very well, and yet by God’s grace I still choose to forgive.”
MYTH: FORGIVENESS MEANS THAT YOU’RE CONDONING THEIR ACTIONS.
Many times we feel that choosing to forgive is saying that what a particular person did to us was okay. However, this is a myth. Forgiveness is trusting God to be the ultimate and perfect judge. He knows how to settle our disputes much better than we do. After all, He’s the expert at dealing with sinners and sinful actions, not us. Let’s not forget how He has perfectly dealt with our sinful actions towards others.
MYTH: FORGIVENESS MEANS YOU HAVE TO BE A DOORMAT.
Often, we’re terrified to forgive because we’re scared to be hurt over and over again. However, forgiveness doesn’t mean that I have to subject myself to being continually abused and used. In fact, I could be guilty of enabling a person if I’m their doormat. Forgiveness means that I’m going to protect and free myself from you by not carrying bitterness with me.
MYTH: FORGIVENESS MEANS YOU HAVE TO BE FRIENDS.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you have to continually be “close” or “friends” with someone. Sometimes, the healthiest thing for two people is distance. We’re commanded by Scripture to forgive, love and be kind to others; however, nowhere in Scripture are we commanded to be friends with everyone.
MYTH: FORGIVENESS COMES FROM AN APOLOGY.
Sometimes we think that the two words, “I’m sorry” are supposed to heal all wounds. However, true forgiveness can’t come from a pithy statement, but rather, an all-powerful God. God must first forgive the one who is doing the forgiving; then the forgiving one must truly experience and enjoy God’s forgiveness. Then and only then can that person be in a healthy place to allow God to grant forgiveness through them to the transgressor. In short, forgiveness comes from God, not us.
MYTH: FORGIVENESS IS BASED ON THE OTHER PERSON’S ACTIONS.
Often, people will say, “I will forgive that person when they ask me for it and start doing things to deserve my forgiveness.” However, this is a myth because we’re commanded to forgive, whether someone asks for it or not. Victory in this area is going to come from obedience to God and not other people’s actions. Remember, grace is giving something to someone, even when they don’t deserve it.
MYTH: FORGIVENESS IS EASY.
Sadly, forgiveness is not easy. It’s also not difficult. Forgiveness is actually impossible. In our natural state, we want to hold onto unforgiveness, bitterness and anger because on some level it makes us feel in control. We want that person to hurt like we hurt. We simply can’t change these feelings on our own. However, the good news is that we have a God that makes the impossible, possible. “For nothing will be impossible with God (Luke 1:37).”
Although, there are many myths about forgiveness, there is only one Truth. The truth is that bitterness, unforgiveness and anger are a heavy and miserable load to carry. Therefore, it’s time to truly experience the victory of forgiveness that can only be found in Christ by laying that heavy burden down at His feet. “For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:30).”
It is important for all of us to learn from our mistakes, as the well-known quote says, “'Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Another more recent and very appropriate quote I really like is “Grow through what you go through.” In a nutshell, learn the lesson and move on. It is possible that we need to move on without the person who hurt us. Forgiving someone who hurt as doesn’t mean that we must choose to keep them in our lives. Sometimes the healthiest thing we can do is forgive them and then move on without them. This helps us safeguard ourselves from being a victim of the same offense again. And that is important.
I was raised in church but always felt like I was missing something. Now the Word of God excites me! My curiosity enhances pursuance of discernment. I have often felt discouraged, but not totally defeated knowing that in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.
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Read more articles by Susan Budensiek
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