Have you ever heard the expression, Forgive and forget?
Forgiving is good. But… is forgetting always good? Maybe not. Sometimes we confuse forgiving and forgetting.
Forgiving is good because it releases us from a prison: “Forgiveness sets a prisoner free. Little did I know the prisoner was me.”
As they say in Living Waters:
1) Forgiveness is not a feeling
2) Forgiveness is not pretending you were not hurt
3) Forgiveness is not condoning what the person did to you
4) Forgiveness is not trusting the offender
5) Forgiveness is not relieving the person of responsibility
Forgiveness is a decision and simultaneously, it takes time. When we forgive, we begin the process of severing the ropes that bind us to the offender. Over time, we cease to carry him/her around on our backs. And what a relief, when the ropes are finally severed, the offender loses his ability to control us. Christ demands our forgiveness of others because He forgave us freely and wants us to live unhindered to follow Him
Forgetting is not always good because it can leave us vulnerable to repeated violations. We don’t always forget altogether what we forgave because we might need the memory as a data point for future reference. On the occasions that we must remember what happened we protect ourselves and others from repeating the same scenario. In that, we can choose to forgive and remember. We choose to forgive, yet remember the issue and take steps to heal what happened and avoid recurrence.
Furthermore, in the mindset of forgiving and forgetting we also confuse forgiveness and trust. Just because we forgive someone does not mean we must trust them again right away or at all. Let’s say, hypothetically, I had a friend who had always been a drinker, but last time we went out to dinner together she drank way too much, embarrassed me and disrupted the dinners of several couples around us. After sharing my concerns and giving her another failed chance, I ended our regular dates together and insisted she attend A.A. Initially, she refused and pouted, accusing me of not forgiving her. I told her I had forgiven her but that I didn’t trust her, and that because I valued her and our relationship, my requirement still stood.
Later, my friend reluctantly cooperated and after two months, all excited to go out with me again, she claimed to be sober. Two months? Did I trust her that soon? Because her A.A. group members and roommates verified her sincere and stable progress, I agreed to have dinners with her in the privacy of her house. I told her beforehand that if she drank at all, I would leave. And so the process of her building trust with me continued as her behavior changed. If she continued progress, maybe eventually we could try a restaurant…
I would be glad to forgive my hypothetical alcoholic friend for everything. However, the trust between us would be a separate and ongoing issue. If she valued our relationship enough, she could choose to build my trust by choosing new behavior that did not harm her or embarrass me. My job would be holding her to the standard and learning to trust her slowly, and only as she cooperated. If she did not value the relationship, she would not want to work things out and I would have to be okay with that.
No cooperation? No trust. The forgiveness would remain intact.
(If she had made meager progress in her efforts in A.A. and I trusted her too soon, I might have found myself embarrassed at dinner with a sloppy drunk all over again. At that point, I would have to remind myself that I have already forgiven her and it was only my boundaries that needed replacement. I would work on strengthening my boundaries, and depending on her level of cooperation, maybe find a new dinner friend.)
The next time someone who has violated or offended you accuses you of not forgiving them, you can respond by saying, “I have forgiven you, but I don’t trust you.” Then if they want to earn your trust, you can tell them how they can, step by step, and hold them to it. If they don’t, that’s their choice to live without your trust and the consequences that brings.
Forgiveness is a separate issue from trusting and from remembering. Let’s not get them confused.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?