I don’t know how to forgive and forget. And frankly, I find that I’m not alone. If forgiving requires forgetting, then we’re all up a creek without a paddle. Rather, I believe forgiveness is necessary because we can’t forget the harm that’s been done to us.
How often have you apologized to someone for the way you mishandled a situation and you’ve heard, “Oh, forget it. No big deal.” Truly, if it is no big deal, then it probably doesn’t need to be forgiven. My rule of thumb is this: If I can forget it, it doesn’t need to be forgiven. Forgiveness is for the stuff I can’t forget.
If forgetting is impossible, then how do you forgive the things you can’t forget? And if I can’t forget the things that I’m suppose to forgive, then how do I not allow those things done to me that bring so much pain, heartache, betrayal, and distress to control me any longer?
Forgiveness means I will not allow you and what you’ve done to me to control me any longer. That kind of forgiveness–the kind that Jesus asks of his disciples comes from a deepening understanding that the person who has harmed me–no matter who they are or what they’ve done–does not have the power to destroy what I value most deeply in life.
If you can somehow deprive or rob me of what I value most in life–my job, my reputation, my marriage, you name it–then I will feel controlled by you and hate you for it. I will see you as constantly standing in my way and sabotaging what I believe I desperately must have to make my life work . . . on my terms, of course.
However, if I’m growing by learning how to embrace the truth that my life is hidden in Christ in God (Col. 3:3), then there is nothing that anyone can ever do to me that will cause me to lose my life in Christ. I’m secure in God’s love (Rom. 8:35-39). IF that is the core reality of my heart, then that changes everything.
Check out Larry Crabb’s response to the question as to how to begin the process of forgiving what you can’t forget.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a more forgiving person. I’m not nearly as forgiving as I’d like to be. I can hold a grudge as easily as the next person. But I’m committed to this process of learning how to be more forgiving. Why? Because of what Jesus has forgiven me (Eph. 4:32). In comparison, my attempts at forgiveness are so minuscule to his immense work of forgiving me all of my sin that cleanses me from all my wrongdoing. Following his example, frees me from being controlled by what others do to me.
To forgive and not be controlled by what you can’t forget . . . that’s forgiveness.