It’s impossible to truly forget.
That’s why we need to work on forgiving without forgetting. Our minds store events of years past – and we cannot completely obliterate those memories forever. Certainly, we often forget events of the past; yet, photos, fragrances, or someone else’s memories will bring those back to the forefront. We might have forgotten about an incident (whether pleasant or unpleasant), but it can still be brought to mind in unexpected ways.
We’ve heard the saying, “I can forgive, but I won’t forget.”
You know something? We don’t have to forget to forgive. There is a way to live by forgiving without forgetting. Hear me out, please.
Nearly half a century ago, my brother suffered a motorcycle accident that landed him in the hospital for months. His broken leg was in traction and the pain was unbearable. Allen never forgot that hospital stay. In fact, he lived with the reminder of it the rest of his life as he always walked with a limp.
Yet, when he remembered that hospital stay, he no longer experienced pain. Even though he almost died from a blood clot that found its way to his lung, he eventually came home. It took months of recovery, but on the day of his discharge, that hospital experience was behind him. He never forgot that it happened, but he didn’t dwell on it every day. That hospital stay did not affect him emotionally as he went about every day. Yes, Allen suffered scars from that accident, evidenced by his limp; yet he did not let that limp define who he was.
When I say we can forgive without forgetting, I’m saying we don’t have to forget what happened – but we need to refuse to carry the grudge of what happened with us. We don’t need to remain wounded and in pain. Sometimes the process of forgiveness takes weeks or months. Perhaps it might take years. A lot of that depends on us!
Moving on in forgiving without forgetting
We don’t need to keep reminding ourselves how we’ve been wronged or falsely accused. Those memories will keep coming back as long as we are open to hosting them in our mind. In fact, they’ll come knocking at the door when we think it’s already closed. We choose whether to open the door alone or ask Jesus to help us open the door to those memories.
Those memories will surface, and when they do, there’s no need to pretend they’re not there. There’s no need to push them back down under the surface, for they are sure to rise again. No. We need to deal with those memories, those emotions, and that pain. Ignoring those memories is not forgetting them; it’s just stuffing them down so they can rear their ugly heads sometime later. Recognizing the memories gives us the opportunity to say, “I forgive” again and again and again – not just today, and not just tomorrow! We will continue to have opportunities – next week, and the next, and the next. We do that by opening the door to those memories and reminding them that they’re not welcome here anymore.
When the span of time between memory surfacing becomes longer, then we know we are on our way to healing. When the pain and bile in our throat lessens with each memory’s resurfacing, we know we are finding healing. It won’t happen at once, and it takes a lot of time. Truth is, we get to choose if we’re going to keep wallowing in our pain or if we’re going to be active in our forgiveness. We can choose to wallow, or we can choose to let go of the hurt, and forgive. That’s when we find we are forgiving without forgetting.
What we should forget
In our forgiving, there are some things we must forget.
- the constant, sordid details – hanging onto them only entrenches us with hate and bitterness instead of moving toward healing. If you’re constantly going over the details of what someone said or did or what someone didn’t do for you, you’re not trying to forgive. You’re hanging on and keeping those memories alive.
- the justification of why I should be allowed to feel hurt and betrayed [not saying there’s not a reason.] Drumming up support from others is wrong. This doesn’t mean we can’t talk to anyone – but sharing details to garner support does not nourish forgiveness. Hanging on to the justification of hurt is unforgiveness, and that’s wrong.
- the fact that I have been wronged. God knows this and so do you. Hanging onto that fact only endangers your survival in forgiveness. Dwelling on the wrong puts your attention on what someone has done to you instead of focusing on what Jesus has done for you. Jesus was denied, betrayed, and physically abused for you and for me. Jesus knows how it feels because He experienced the same. He understands, and He has provided the path to healing. Thanking Him over and over for His gift of forgiveness for your wrongs takes the focus off of you and puts it on Christ and forgiveness. You don’t need to tell me how hard this is – I already know.
What we should remember about forgiveness and trust
Forgiving someone does not mean we can trust them now. In time, trust can be established. Forgiveness does not mean a relationship can be restored without acknowledgement on the part of the offender. Restitution can happen, but that takes time. Forgiveness does not mean a relationship can return to its former state at once. When we have broken trust with someone or someone has broken trust with us, forgiveness opens the door to restoration.
Restoration only happens when the person who is guilty of breaking trust acknowledges the wrong and takes steps to show sorrow for the sin. When a person seeks restoration and is sincere, it will be evident in his words and in actions day after day after day. Until those things happen, trust will remain broken. It’s not enough to say “I’m sorry.” We need to live it by the way we act and react today – and tomorrow – and every day from here on out. True sorrow and repentance is evident in our responses, even if the other party refuses to forgive.
Living in freedom includes forgiving without forgetting
The truth about forgiveness is that – if we refuse to forgive – we become prisoners of the person who has harmed or hurt us. We continue to be chained by the anger, hurt, pain, and ramifications of what has been inflicted on us. Letting go of all of those emotions and attitudes releases those chains, and we’re not bound anymore.
You don’t have to forget to forgive. You only need to let go of the shackles. Let go of the hate, hurt, anger, bitterness and grudges. Stop hanging onto the pain to validate the wrong. Choose to let go – and forgiveness will come. Remembering without pain is one of the best guarantees that healing and forgiveness is complete.
Years after his accident, my brother continued to walk with a limp. We never forgot that the accident happened, and he didn’t, either. Those painful months in the hospital were behind him, but he didn’t keep wallowing in how difficult it was or how his life was different now. He walked with a limp, and he never forgot. Yet remembering didn’t bring pain. Even the limp did not cause him emotional pain – instead, it was a sign that he had survived.
That’s what happens when we forgive without forgetting. We acknowledge the travesty of what happened, the horrible affects and the long road to recovery. Not forgotten are the long nights of pain from a leg tightened in traction, but we don’t hold on to what happened; we don’t live in the hurt. We refuse to live in that past hurt and know we are finding forgiveness when it’s no longer on our radar. In letting go of its hold, we find healing and find hope in what Jesus has done for us.
There are no easy answers, and no simple steps. Jesus identifies with us because He pushed all the way through to the cross. He asks the same of us.