All of us have heard about the importance of forgiving and forgetting when we’ve been hurt by someone else. However, even though we know that forgiving others is the right thing to do in the eyes of God, it’s not always easy to forget. Our natural tendency is to protect ourselves from the risk of future pain, and holding grudges is one of the most effective ways to do that. How do we forgive even when we can’t forget?
How do we respond when we’ve been hurt by someone else? The answer to this question largely depends on who hurt us and how they did so. If we feel like a coworker did something shady to get ahead of us for a promotion, we may be angry, but we also may be more likely to move on from that than we are if someone we consider a close friend does something that hurts us. There are various other factors that come into play when we’re trying to figure out how to forgive and forget.
While the concept of forgiveness is frequently discussed in Scripture, it’s important that we realize some things about God, His expectations, and our own abilities. Yes, God wants us to offer forgiveness to others in the same way that He has forgiven us. However, the concept of forgetting, at least in the way that we view it, isn’t only difficult, it’s not even possible.
If you’re struggling with truly forgetting what someone has done to you in the past, don’t get frustrated. Our minds are wired in a way that holds onto memories, both good and bad, and it uses those memories to help us protect ourselves against pain in the future. For instance, if you touched a hot stove when you were a child, your brain stored a memory of the pain that you experienced which is why you didn’t turn around and do it again the next day.
We take the term “forgive and forget” a bit too literally, leaving us feeling guilt and shame when we still remember what someone did to us in the past. That’s not what forgiving and forgetting is about. Yes, the Bible teaches us that God forgets about our sins when we repent of them (Isaiah 43:25), and while we’re supposed to be like God, there are some things that we will never be able to do while we’re in these natural bodies. We can’t forget about the parent who was supposed to love and care for us abusing us and causing us pain. We can’t forget about the best friend who betrayed our confidence by sharing something that was meant to be private with others. We can’t forget the pain of an unfaithful spouse, no matter how much we may try.
However, we can forgive even when we can’t forget. Forgetting is hard, and in a sense, it’s not even possible. Your brain will forever store memories of the pain associated with some betrayals. Forgiving and forgetting really means that you forgive completely, and no longer hold the other person’s transgressions against them. The Bible provides plenty of tips for how to make that seemingly impossible concept a reality in our lives.
Follow the Leader
Ephesians 4:32 (TPT)
But instead be kind and affectionate toward one another. Has God graciously forgiven you? Then graciously forgive one another in the depths of Christ’s love.
Forgiveness doesn’t always feel possible. If you’re still reeling from the conversation that led to the end of your marriage, the discovery of a friend’s betrayal, or the pain of a wrongful death that took away someone close to you, it may seem like forgiveness is a myth. How are you supposed to move on from the pain that you’re feeling in that moment?! In our attempt to justify our unforgiveness, we often say things like, “God knows how I’m feeling. There’s no way He expects me to get over this.”
There are two things you need to remember in those moments: First of all, “getting over it” and forgiveness aren’t necessarily the same thing. Secondly, if God can move past your sinful behavior which hurts Him, He most definitely expects us to forgive others.
Take an honest inspection of your own life and acknowledge the times where you have missed the mark of God’s design for your life. When you do that and remember that sin hurts God in the same way that the betrayal of those around us hurts us, it becomes easier to see that we have an example of forgiveness to follow.
Has God graciously forgiven you? The answer to that question is a resounding yes! Since He has forgiven us, we can follow His lead and forgive others, even when it seems like doing so is impossible.
Choosing a Winner
Romans 12:19-21 (TPT)
Beloved, don’t be obsessed with taking revenge, but leave that to God’s righteous justice. For the Scriptures say: “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay,” says the Lord. And: If your enemy is hungry, buy him lunch! Win him over with kindness. For your surprising generosity will awaken his conscience and God will reward you with favor. Never let evil defeat you, but defeat evil with good.
The decision to forgive is actually a strategic move that results in victory. However, it may not result in the kind of victory that you were originally focused on. “Don’t get mad, get even” and other similar statements have become commonplace. However, that’s not the kind of strategy that God wants us to take when dealing with someone who has wronged us.
Instead, our victory comes from getting out of the way and allowing God to handle the vengeance that we often want to take for ourselves. Unfortunately, our version of winning through “getting even” doesn’t produce anything but a never-ending cycle of hurt and retaliation.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you allow the person who hurt you to do so again. Instead, it means that you’ve passed the burden of vengeance on to God. When He seeks revenge on your behalf, it doesn’t necessarily come as a violent upheaval of the other person’s life. Instead, it awakens their conscience, and they realize the danger of their wrongdoing.
Today, let forgiveness win. When you do so, you’re embracing the victory for yourself.
Asking for Help
Matthew 6:12 (TPT)
Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we ourselves release forgiveness to those who have wronged us.
Ultimately, forgiving and forgetting are not natural reactions. We are naturally inclined to hold onto the hurt that we’ve experienced in the name of protecting ourselves from repeated pain. Forgiveness is never a natural response, especially when the wounds are still fresh. We often lie to ourselves and say that we’ve forgiven someone, but the anxiety that flares up when you see that person in public indicates that you haven’t really released the kind of forgiveness that is necessary for moving on.
If forgiveness isn’t a natural reaction, it stands to reason that it requires a supernatural intervention to become a reality in our lives. In this verse, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount provided insight into how to live a Christian life. He made sure to pass along a model prayer so His people would know the things that they needed to talk to God about every day. Why do you think forgiveness made its way into this example prayer? Because Jesus knew that forgiving others would never be a natural reaction.
Instead, we have to ask God to help us extend the kind of forgiveness that is necessary for us to fully embrace the freedom that can only come from Him. You may always have a memory of the pain that another person caused you, but that memory doesn’t have to be the driving force in your life. That’s the key to forgiving and to a degree, forgetting.
A Closing Prayer:
God, I know that You have forgiven me, and I need You to help me release that same forgiveness to people in my life who have hurt me. Please, give me the strength and courage necessary to truly forgive and forget. In Christ’s name, Amen.