Published on December 5th, 2013 | by Tara Fox

Forgiveness Is Not Forgetting

Have you ever been told you need to “forgive and forget”? Or perhaps, “If you don’t forget about it, then you haven’t truly forgiven”?

I heard these standards when I was growing up. As an adult, this made forgiveness feel daunting to me. I remember precise times in my life when I was mulling over something I had forgiven, and I wondered, “If I am thinking about it, have I actually forgiven?”

It was not until I began attending graduate school, on the road to earning my Master’s degree in counseling, that I started challenging my beliefs about forgiveness.

Many of us have been led to believe that forgiveness is creating space for the offender to get away with the offense. This is not true; forgiveness is about moving forward, constructing healing, and extending grace. But it doesn’t mean forgetting.

Where does the myth of forgive and forget come from? If you touch a hot stove, are you going to forget getting burned? If we remember pain and past hurt, it can help us to grow and learn.

Why is forgetting damaging?

Forgetting an offense is more harmful than helpful. If we focus on forgetting the wrongdoing, this might lead to us to denying or suppressing our feelings about it. Denying that an offense has happened is not the point of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not forgetting, it is remembering the offense while releasing the resentment and desire for revenge.

After we extend forgiveness, the wound may still hurt. We may feel sad, and that’s okay.

Forgiveness is messy. It is normal for memories to be triggered in the future. When thoughts of our past hurts occur, it is what we do with those thoughts that count. When we find ourselves focusing on a past offense, we can learn to say, “Thank you, God, for this reminder of how vital forgiveness and grace are.”

Remembering does not mean that we have not forgiven; it means that we are human, emotional beings. There will be memories that we cannot completely black out, but we have a choice. We always have a choice. We can choose to let the incident hold us back or to let it teach us.

Faith, hope, and love

When we forgive, we are choosing faith, hope, and love. We choose to have faith that the same thing will not happen again. We choose to have hope that the relationship can be mended. We choose to love the other person regardless of his or her shortcomings.

When we forgive, it does not mean we are avoiding dealing with an issue. It means that we are coming to terms with what we can control and what we cannot. The only person we can control is ourselves. We can control our actions, words, and reactions to situations. We have no control over anyone else’s words or actions.

We may not forget past wrongdoings, but we can learn to let go of them and move on. By letting go, we are releasing the burden and responsibility of retaining control. Any power held over the other person is abandoned.

Sometimes it’s hard for us to forgive because we don’t want to give up that power. Sometimes we like to use other people, and their actions, as an excuse for our bitterness, anger, and poor behavior. Once you truly forgive, you are no longer able to use your past situation as an excuse for your present or future thoughts and actions. By giving up the grudge and forgiving the other person, you are releasing the right to revisit when convenient and relinquishing the right to hold it over the other person’s head. Any debt owed disappears, and a clean slate is presented.

Being human means that we are incomplete until our heart stops beating. We are constantly growing, learning, and making mistakes.

Does anyone deserve forgiveness? Is anyone perfect? No one is, and since we are not perfect, we can either choose to extend forgiveness or have only 11 contacts in our phones. We all need forgiveness at some point.

Withholding forgiveness tortures our own soul. There is freedom, love, and grace in the power of forgiveness; will you accept it?

To respond to this article or to read more from Tara about forgiveness, see the related blog post Forgiveness and Forget-Me-Nots.

Photo by Julia Freeman-Woolpert via Stock.Xchng

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