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Forgive & Forget?

Like me, you probably remember as a child hearing that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you.” But do you remember how old you were when you found out that wasn’t true?

Another common expression that doesn’t hold true is “forgive and forget.” Oh, it sounds good. It even sounds like wise counsel from the Bible. There’s just one problem with that admonition—you can’t do it!

I challenge you to recall who your second-grade teacher was. I find most people can readily come up with the answer even though they haven’t thought about that person in years or perhaps decades. The point I’m making is that our God created our minds in such an amazing way that we retain every experience. We simply cannot forget wrongs done to us, negative experiences or interactions.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we know that forgiveness is not an option. In case you disagree, you might want to take some time and look up Matt. 6:14 and 15, or maybe Luke 6:37 or perhaps Col. 3:13 (just to mention a few).

So rather than forgive and forget, let me suggest you consider “forgive and move on.” I suggest you be like the sister I heard of in one of our churches somewhere whom a fellow church member had grievously mistreated. One day she mentioned to another church member that she had decided to forgive the offending party. That other church member replied, “Forgive? Don’t you remember what she did to you?” The offended party replied, “No, I specifically remember forgetting that.”

An Act of the Will
Oh, I hope that puts a smile on your face as it does mine. Forgiveness is not a feeling. Forgiveness is a decision. You recognize your need for forgiveness from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and He plainly tells us that if we want His forgiveness, we cannot withhold it from others. So it’s not a matter of doing what you feel like doing. It’s a matter of doing what you know is right and God-honoring.

A quote I appreciate is attributed to numerous sources in varying wording. I first heard it from Ken Sande, author of The Peacemaker, who states, “unforgiveness is the poison we drink, expecting the other person to die.” When you harbor negative feelings or ill will toward someone who has offended you, it wreaks havoc on you—not on them. They may even be completely unaware of their misdeed. 

Again, forgiveness is an act of the will, not just a feel-good or feel-like- it act. If you know someone you need to forgive, please do not put it off. Trust me, it will never get easier, and the most challenging step is the first one. As the folks at Nike would say, “Just Do It!”

Deciding to forgive someone is a decision between you, God, and perhaps nobody else. There may be times when you should go to the other person and extend your forgiveness, especially if they’re well aware they have offended you—but depending on the circumstances, that might make the situation worse, not better. The most crucial part is that you decide you’re going to let it go. You’re not going to hold it against the other person. You’re not going to dwell on what they did to you or the pain they caused. You’re going to move forward.

There may be circumstances when you must decide to end the relationship. I’m probably getting into grounds for another column here, but there could be times when the damage has been so hurtful, so destructive that maintaining a relationship with that person is neither wise nor advisable, if even possible. Please don’t come to that conclusion too soon, but even if you do, you still must forgive them— again, for your sake even more than theirs.

Forgiveness does not mean what they did was not wrong. It certainly doesn’t mean they have the right to do it again, and it doesn’t mean what they did, or didn’t do, wasn’t all that bad. But, it does mean you will not carry the baggage of unforgiveness and let it negatively impact your relationship with your Lord and Savior. I’m not saying it’s easy. So many aspects of living the Christian life in this sin-filled world are not easy, but they are still the proper steps to take.

This post is a copy of Ron’s published article in OUTLOOK Magazine