I might forgive, but I can’t forget!

adult-alone-anxious-568027Did someone ever do something to you that hurt so much you thought the relationship was over? Maybe the relationship didn’t end, but you were still hurt you and angry! They need to pay for what they did! And then a friend tells you to “forgive and forget”. Yeah, right! You might be able to forgive them… eventually, but you can’t possibly forget what they did. I mean, can you?  Is it even healthy to forget how someone wronged you?  What about  justice?

Being hurt by another person can be devastating, especially when we thought we could trust them.  They broke our trust, ignored our expectations, and now we need to forgive them?  I shouldn’t seriously just forget about this, should I?  “That hardly seems fair!”, you might object.  And you are probably right.  Merriam Webster does not include forgetting anywhere in their definition of forgiveness! Instead, forgiveness is defined as:

to give up resentment of or claim to requital (see requital 1)

Forgiveness has nothing to do with the other person.  Or their change in behavior.  Forgiveness has everything to do with us.  Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt and pain we are feeling.  That same hurt and pain keeping us angry.  This is much, much easier said than done.  Working up the courage to forgive and let go of the pain means we are free.  We no longer have to give the other person space in our head or carry around their past behaviors towards us.

Forgiveness also means giving up the need for punishment or compensation.  This is really important for Christians. Pastor John Piper elaborates on this here, and I encourage you to listen.  I would like to draw your attention to this quote from him:

So what we do at that point is say, “God, you know and I know that this shouldn’t have happened. You know and I know that it was painful. You know and I know that it has these ongoing effects on me and struggle. But, Lord, I don’t want to add the burden to my life of an unforgiving spirit. So I’m taking that injustice that was done to me and giving it to you and asking, ‘Would you please settle and take care of that?'”

And there are two ways he could do that: 1) he could forgive them, because they really trust in the cross. In which case, you wouldn’t want to belittle the sufficiency of Christ’s sufferings by adding punishment to Christ’s. Or 2) he’s going to send them to hell. And you will someday even endorse that.

So he’s going to settle it, and you don’t need to.

For the Christian, there is no need to worry about punishing the other person, or others acknowledging how you were wronged.  God will take care of it.

But what about forgetting?  As we let go of our need to be right, or for punishment, how we remember the wrong changes.  You see, we will always remember what other people have done to us.  How can we forget?  But when our memories no longer carry with them the anger, frustration, or hate we currently hold, we can move towards restoring the relationship.

Sometimes remembering how someone hurt us is important.  The person that hurt you needs to repent – change their behaviors – and rebuild trust if the relationship is going to move forward.  Remembering what someone did and taking steps to prevent it from happening again is not a lack of forgiveness – it is a natural consequence of their behavior.  Biblically, the point of consequences should be to bring about a change in behavior and the restoration of the relationship (See Matthew 18 for more about confrontation and forgiveness), NOT to punish them for their wrongs.  Remember the quote above?  God has that part taken care of.

This is important, so I will say it again: the goal of forgiveness, repentance, and consequences should be to heal the broken relationship!  No, the relationship won’t be 100% like it was before, but there can be healing.  Sometimes this process takes a few moments – one good conversation.  Often it takes much longer.  Sometimes even months or years.  Sometimes there is hurt, pain, anger, and frustration all at the same time.  But there is hope!  The relationship can be healed if both people are willing to work at it.

For more information about forgiveness, healing relationships, or to schedule an appointment, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Robert Magill
MA, ICAADC, CCPG, DOT-SAP, LPC
TBHI Certified Telebehavioral Health Practitioner

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