In the previous post, we asked whether “Forgive and forget” is sound advice when someone has offended or hurt us. Forgiveness is commanded by Jesus, who takes the matter with the utmost seriousness (e.g., Matt 6:14-15; 18:32-35). And as we’ve seen, even people who have suffered and survived the worst atrocities imaginable can still forgive when empowered by God to do so.
But forget? We noted that in reality, we can’t simply and consciously wipe out the unconscious, emotion-laden aspects of memory. In addition, those who seek to promote justice cannot do so without the memory of in-justice. Thus, we cannot simply forget. We must do something much harder: we must remember well.
It seems to me that as it is commonly understood, “forgive and forget” is too often a justification of denial. Instead of tackling the difficult matters between us, we sweep them under the rug. Perhaps we stop talking about them, as if they had never happened; we join a conspiracy of silence, implicitly hoping that troublesome memories will fade away on their own.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting that we need to have a heart-to-heart discussion (or a shouting match!) over every perceived slight and every hurt feeling. But let’s be honest. Have you ever decided to forgive and forget, and then privately nursed a grudge? In such cases, we may feel almost virtuous: I still think you’re wrong; it still stings. But at least I have the self-control to not throw it in your face, even if you deserve it!
It’s one thing to let the small stuff go, precisely because you know that it is small–perhaps even unintentional–and you are diligently working at becoming a person who is less easily offended in the first place. But it’s another thing entirely to use “forgetting” as an excuse to avoid facing your resentment privately or admitting it to the other person.
Indeed, as many have discovered, one reason to not tell the other is because in doing so, you risk getting egg all over your face. It’s nice to think you’re comfortably in the right, justified in your anger. But if you tell the other person about it, they may honestly say, “Really? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that at all. I had no idea you felt that way.”
Embarrassing. You didn’t plan on the conversation going that way.
What passes as “forgetting,” in other words, is often anything but. And it’s not forgiveness either. There’s no opportunity for repentance, confession, or reconciliation. And when the next offense happens–as it almost certainly will–the resentment is renewed, sometimes deepened.
To say it again: forgiveness is not forgetting; it’s remembering well. If you can honestly forget the things that others have done to wrong you, wonderful. If you really can let the small stuff go without lingering resentment, do it. But my guess is that for most of us, especially where larger offenses are concerned, forgetting won’t happen unless we’ve forgiven first.
What does it mean to remember well? That will be the subject of the next two posts.