My colleague Rick Apperson has started a conversation about forgiveness over on his blog which makes me think of the expression “forgive and forget.” Forgiving someone or asking for forgiveness are not easy things to do; however, they quickly seem elementary in comparison to forgetting the wrong that was done! If you’ve been profoundly hurt or you’re carrying around guilt from something hurtful you yourself have done, how long does it take after forgiveness has been offered or received before you can completely forget about it? Are we unspiritual or even sinful if we harbour these memories as we age or even when we die?
I appreciate how R. Paul Stevens wrestles with the wisdom of forgiving and forgetting in his book Marriage Spirituality: Ten Disciplines for Couples Who Love God:
Perhaps forgetting is not the inability to call up a recorded fact from the deep memory banks of our minds. Rather, it is the willful decision not to keep calling it up for the purposes of reminder, as a weapon, or as an instrument to put another down. Now that is creative forgetting, and it is exactly what forgiveness inspires. (p. 137)
This is a practical way forgiveness plays out for me. After forgiving a person, I can choose not to later say, “I remember when you…! This is just like the time you…!” By avoiding this, I not only extend grace to the person I’ve forgiven, I think I also free myself of bitterness over the event since I’m not repeatedly rehearsing and retelling it.