Forgive & Forget

Tim Jackson —  January 26, 2011 — 11 Comments

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.

Tim Jackson

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Tim Jackson is married to his college sweetheart, Cole. They have 3 adult children. Tim is the producer for the HelpForMyLife.org website, writes Discover Series booklets on a variety of counseling issues and hosts webinars for RBC Ministries. He's also the founder and president of Still Waters Counseling & Equipping Ministries, PC, a local counseling practice serving individuals, couples and families. When not in the office, you will probably find him up a tree with a bow, in a duck blind or fly fishing on one of Michigan's many rivers.

11 responses to Forgive & Forget

  1. i wish i could forgive holy spirit pls help me

  2. For Christians, there is only one “option”: forgive. Otherwise, go to hell! Mat 18:21-35. Help me God just obey your Words.

  3. elis, you are correct that God does ask us to forgive. However, the point of Jesus’ parable of the unmerciful or unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35) is the call of the Father for us to forgive others the way God has extended forgiveness to us on the basis of the sacrifice of His Son. The stress is on “forgiving your brother from your heart” (vs. 35). The only way that any of us can do that is in the context of gratefulness for how much we’ve been forgiven. Forgiving others who have harmed us becomes more of a minor offense (not minimizing the serious damage that an offense can be) when viewed through the lens of God’s major forgiveness of all of our offenses against Him. This is not a text about condemning someone to hell; rather, it’s a reminder to be grateful for what we’ve been given. And that moves us to become more forgiving towards others.

  4. I continue to forgive, but the forgetting part is truly the most difficult. Dear God, I thank Jesus for his sacrifice for my sins and I thank you for your words to follow. I pray for the peace for me and those who have hurt me to the point I had to walk away. I do forgive, I am sorry for the years of painful memories that pushed me to the point I made my decison for peace of mind and my health. Please forgive me, I needed to get healthy and have peace, I did not mean to hurt those who have hurt me.

  5. Thank you, Tim, for your response. Yes, without being forgiven, first, without experiencing the abundance love of our God for forgiving all or our offense against Him, it is impossible for us to forgive others. Because we have received forgiveness and the abundance love of God, we can only forgive others. And we know the consequences when we do not forgive others …. away from the Kingdom of God. I just want to remind myself that not forgiving (for me) is equal to going to hell. So, in this case, I can only forgive.

  6. i agree with kathine because it is kind of hard for i person to forget what another person has done to then i know i still dont forget about anything someone ever did or said to me but i forgive them

  7. Although I agree with the basic principles discussed in the above article, there are those who walk this earth with no belief in God–myself included, and so I guess I was hoping for a more frank discussion about practical and intellectual steps that could be taken by everyone to begin the process of healing and forgiveness, without the default setting of returning to religion.

    Forgiveness, and it’s need to be granted and accepted by all among us, no matter what faith you align yourself too, is a difficult and often elusive emotion. Are there any specific steps or recommendations that could be given here to help one achieve peace, without the suggestions of turning to faith? I would be most grateful. I am NOT knocking a belief in God, simply stating that I don’t choose to believe–but that should not preclude me from understanding how to grant someone forgiveness. Anyone have any suggestions?

  8. Carla,

    That’s a great question! I’d love to hear the suggestions of others.

  9. Carla,

    I encourage you and others to peak into (“Forgive and Forget By Faith – No Matter What”) this transparent book to see God’s answer to my cry, and how God taught me to LOVE unconditionally. Forgetting is a process, and we may never forget the occurrences, but with God’s help He can allow us to forget the pain.

    Be Blessed.

  10. The most boring people I know are those who don’t know how to forgive. Why? Because all they ever talk about is who did this terrible thing to them years and years ago and how awful it was and how they hate them, and so forth. I get sick and tired of hearing it. Quit living in the past. Find something else to talk about. It’s for your own good and for the blessed relief of all those who have to listen to it.

  11. We truly need the character of God to be able to forgive. in forgiving, we should surrender to God the pain, hurts and dissapointments which have been inflicted upon us and pray for those who caused them even if our offenders have not apologised to us. Thats difficult, but that is true forgiveness!

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