Sometimes we need to forget in order to forgive. Unfortunately, when it comes to offenses, we often have very good memories.
Clara Barton, founder of the Red Cross, when asked by a friend if she remembered a cruel thing done to her, answered, “No; I distinctly remember forgetting that.”
As I was growing up, my parents were both alcoholics. My mom finally got sober and involved in AA before my first child was born. I rejoiced when this happened, but it took some time before the feelings of hurt and resentment were gone.
In AA they celebrate anniversaries of one’s sobriety. My mother asked me to come and celebrate her first anniversary, which I was glad to do.
However, I found that it was hard on me emotionally, because there was a lot of talk about my mother’s alcoholism. For me it was like picking at a wound that hadn’t healed completely. When my mother became aware of my feelings, she accused me of not being honest in saying I had forgiven her.
I explained to her that the way I was walking through forgiveness was by not dwelling on the past. After all, God deals with our sin that way. He says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NKJV). He also says that He will not remember our sins (Isaiah 43:25).
In one of Corrie Ten Boom’s books, she tells of having a visit from a man who asked her if she’d forgiven a hurt by a friend. Corrie said she had and then offered to show the man letters that documented the offense. He chastised her and told her that, if she was still holding onto those letters, she had not really forgiven.
I’ve mentioned the Peacemakers Ministry before. The first three of their “Four Promises of Forgiveness” have to do with forgetting:
1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
You see, when you dwell on a hurt or talk to others about it, you are practicing it. What happens when you practice something? You get to know it better, right? Take practicing for a part in a play. You memorize your lines by going over and over them. Why? So you’ll remember them. That’s pretty much the opposite of forgetting, I’d say.
Praise the Lord, when I went back for my mother’s tenth AA anniversary, I could join wholeheartedly in the celebration. And this year, in a BSF (Bible Study Fellowship) lesson I was asked what about my life would I change if I could do so. I realized that I don’t think I would change anything (besides my own sins), including my parents’ alcoholism, for this was among the things that shaped me and made me who I am today.