Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Forgive and “Forget?”….Not In My Lifetime

“I, even I, am He Who blots out your transgressions, for My own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  Isaiah 43:25

“…it (love) keeps no record of wrongs.”  1 Corinthians 13:5b

“God helps those who help themselves” (I’ve always liked the corollary, “God help those caught helping themselves”), “The Sea of Forgetfulness (yes, there is a sea but it does not have a name), “Forgive and Forget” – these have all been quoted as alleged bible verses or biblical principles. They are not. Do I  hear the bellowing of a sacred cow that just got kicked? Opps, sorry…no I’m not.

We are often admonished to “forgive and forget” when we have been wronged. The forgive part of this axiom is absolutely mandatory; not for the benefit of the one who wronged us – sometimes they do not even care that they did. It is for our benefit that we forgive. Now I’d like to focus on the other half of the phrase – forget. This can be even more difficult to do.

When my husband, Joe, was in graduate school he took a class in Physiological Psychology. This branch of psychology is concerned with the relationship between the physical functioning of an organism with its behavior. One interesting fact he learned was our brain is constantly generating new cells and replacing the existing ones. Our bodies act as a storage facility for the old cells. Medical professionals have discovered that with the proper stimulation to a part of the body, memories that seem to be forgotten will emerge. This happens when surgical patients coming out from under anesthesia remember things from their past. When quizzed about this the patient is often surprised that something they had not thought of in a long time pops up “out of the blue”. Medical professionals also believe that this explains how people in life threatening, traumatic situations see their lives “pass before their eyes.” Unless a body part is lost to injury or removed surgically, all memories potentially remain intact. Wonder what I lost with my appendix and gallbladder?

Popular usages of the word forget imply that one is to simply never remember an incident or occasion. We compassionately and lovingly encourage people to do this by telling them “get over it!” Forgetting, however, is physiologically impossible. We are not designed to forget and this is a blessing. How much time would we spend relearning many of the things we take for granted?

Many of you may be heaving a sigh of relief or groaning with despair. To some, this may justify their stance to “never forget”; to others it explains why memories linger; and to still more it raises the dilemma that a thought will never go away. Take hope…..there is a solution. In the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy God specifically instructed the Israelites to “not forget” Him when they entered their Promised Land. Why would He tell them this if forgetting is impossible? Have you ever gotten so involved in something that you lost track of other things you needed to do? You became so focused on the task at hand that your mind blocked out any distracting thoughts that would have attempted to steal your attention. God realized that the Promise Land could be that catalyst that would cause the Israelites to become so engrossed with their new surroundings that they would forget the One Who gave it to them.

Memories that are highly charged emotionally seem to stick with us We have learned  that the less we pay attention to something, it eventually disappears from our conscious thought life. We don’t realize this has happened until the memory is triggered by some event and we say, “I completely forgot about that!” We are amazed at how much time has elapsed since we last remembered this bit of information. This is how “forgetting” works. Because we can remember a situation along with the corresponding emotional feelings, by choosing not to dwell on it when it does surface, we can over time diminish its ability to upset us. We make it a point to not relive the moment. If and when it does emerge we may or may not feel a twinge of regret but for the most part the sting and pain associated with it are gone. We may even be like a casual observer who now sees this as something that just happened in our past.

I have a friend, Chuck Martin, who is an avid hunter (and a great griller). Chuck got has a “man cave” or trophy room. Chuck has been able to hunt exotic game on specially designed preserves. He has encountered animals I have only seen from the safety of the pages of National Geographic. Many people who don’t hunt have trophy rooms also. These are meticulously kept and highly organized. I know I am being invited in to view their collection when their eyes glaze over; they turn a vivid shade of bitter and announce, “Let me tell you what so and so did to me.” They usually finish with, “I forgive them but I’ll NEVER forget!” Hopefully, I can extricate myself in enough time to miss the tour of the rest of the room.

On purpose God elects not to recall our sins and even blots them out, not for our sake but for His! Wow, it is so not at all about us; it is for His benefit. John 21:25 tell us that Jesus did so many things that the world would not have enough room to contain all the books written to record them, and His ministry only lasted three years. If God was in the business of keeping permanent ledgers of all the sins that everyone ever committed, how big of a universe, galaxy or cosmos would be necessary to contain those volumes? While satan may come and try to drum up old memories to upset us, he is only doing to us on a smaller scale what he does to God. He is not called the Accuser of the Brethren without good reason. Revelation 12:10 says that he “accuses them before our God, day and night.” God gets a continuous earful from our enemy. His response, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” As Smith Wigglesworth would say, “That’s the way you have do the devil!”

If we decide not to forget, we need to examine if we have really forgiven. I am not trying to minimize the hurt or pain people experience. I recognize that it can take time to process what has happened and to heal. If we really want to move forward with our life and not be stuck in the prison of our memories, we have to let them go. A few have even used an event that has caused them heartache to promote changes that prevent others from having their experience. The organization MADD and the television show America’s Most Wanted were both birthed out of the pain of people who suffered the traumatic loss of a loved one. These are examples of turning a negative event into something positive.

The eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel contains the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. Here is the story of a servant who owes his master an exorbitant amount of money. Hearing his servant’s plea for mercy, the master completely “blots out” or cancels the debt. The servant is now totally free. The servant soon runs into a friend who owes him a very small amount but refuses to extend mercy to the man and has his friend thrown in jail. When the master hears of this, he revokes the debt cancellation of the first servant and has him throw in jail to be “delivered to the tormentors”. There is a high price to pay for refusing to forgive. This is why following our Father’s example of purposely not remembering wrongs committed against us, is so important

 Our memories will always be with us.  Unless we consistently decide to not concentrate on them, and not mentally re-hash situations over and over again, we will find ourselves in a perpetual state of uproar and turmoil. This negatively impacts us in ways we would never imagine. It robs us of our joy, our health and our peace and it can destroy our lives and the lives of those around us. As hard as it may be, we can elect to forgive and consciously not remember the hurt or offence. It takes concentrated effort on our part to neutralize memories that are powerful. We may have to do this repeatedly, day after day. If we remain consistent in our effort we will find that their suffocating grip will release its hold and we will be free. We forgive – give the offender the mercy they do not deserve and we forget – get peace with ourselves, with others and most importantly with God. We get our lives back and we get freedom.

1 comment:

  1. I loved this blog entry, Mary! It is very helpful. I, too, believe when we forgive we are giving mercy to others that has been so graciously given to us by God and when we forget (or how you put it, neutralize) the memory of the offense we get peace. My struggle as of late is to over and over forgive someone who has done great harm to me and my family. The balance of being "wise and harmless"(Matthew 10:16) is a challenge to me at times. Wisdom seems to come from life's experiences. Openness to others has the potential of pain. Heart pain gets your attention. The key for me is to attain the wisdom for relationships that are harmful (from being too open)without becoming harmful to others myself. I look to God. HE is the Master at relationship building, isn't HE?