Forgive Because You Can’t Forget
“Forgive and forget.” From our earliest years, we hear these words. Mom says them when we come home crying after being made fun of at school. The babysitter says them after our sibling destroys our fort made of blocks. I’m sorry to say this advice is false, misleading, and unachievable. The brain is a memory machine. To purposefully forget is impossible. To forgive, however, is possible—and not only possible but necessary. I highly recommend trying it.
In the Bible
Forgiveness is one of the key principles of Christianity. By sacrificing his life, Jesus graced us with eternal forgiveness. His crucifixion and resurrection redeemed humanity from any and all earthly sins. And as children of God, made in God’s image, we are given the capacity to forgive others and ourselves.
The Bible provides us with many examples of forgiveness. My favorite is the parable of the prodigal son. An estranged son returns home to find that his father’s forgiveness and love overshadow any transgressions the boy had committed.
Those we love frequently hurt us, intentionally and unintentionally. The harm they do may take the shape of major offenses like lying or cheating, or it may be as simple as a sarcastic comment gone wrong. And whether or not we want to acknowledge it, we too are guilty of hurting the people we love. After all, we are human.
How to Forgive
We often fail to acknowledge that forgiveness is not about the other person as much as ourselves. When we are hurt, we carry an emotional burden as a result of the pain; but God asks us to release that burden. When we forgive, we consciously recognize the offense and release the other person from our anger or retaliation. Even more important, we free ourselves from the power of the negative feelings associated with the wrongdoing, releasing them to God, who wants to carry them for us.
As a child, I was frequently made fun of for enjoying the theater. Instead of playing sports, hunting, or doing what many people classified as natural activities for boys, I preferred singing, dancing, and rehearsing for the next community theater production. For many years, I harbored deep negative feelings toward people who laughed at me because of my passion, and I desperately tried to forget their offenses against me.
Not long ago, I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I would never forget the people who laughed. I couldn’t forget their biting words. But I could forgive. I asked God to take my burden and to help me release the damaging feelings so that I could forgive the people who had hurt me. God granted me freedom of the heart and mind.
God wants to absorb our suffering. In return, God gives us freedom. Experience God’s freedom. Forgive.
Think of a situation in which someone you love hurt you. What emotions do you feel as a result of the offense? Make a list. Then, in prayer, go down your list and ask God to release you from the bond of each of your feelings. Conclude your prayer by asking God to help you forgive.
—from devozine (July/August 2012). Copyright © 2012 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.