Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Forgive and Remember

desert skies

Yesterday evening I was reading an article about "forgiveness," and I suddenly had this memory of what was probably one of the worst pieces of advice I ever gave someone.

Soon after I was first ordained a priest (many years ago), a man came to me in tears. It had been over a year since his wife of many years had unexpectedly left him for another man, and he still couldn't get her out of his mind. 

I told him that it was time for him to move on with his life (this was the good part of the advice I gave him). Then I presented him with the old cliche, telling him that he needed to "forgive and forget," to which he responded: "How could I ever possibly forget what she did to me?" 

In retrospect, I think he was right, "How could he ever forget what she did?" It seems to me that forgiving someone never involves forgetting.

In the article I read yesterday, Paul Tillich was quoted: 

Forgiving presupposes remembering. Forgiving creates a different type of  forgetting not in the natural way by which we might forget yesterday's weather, but in a way of the great 'in spite of' that says: 'I forget although I remember.' Without this kind of forgetting, no human relationship can endure healthily.

I found such great wisdom in this statement- a wisdom I wish I had acquired many years ago.  

I often pray "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." Forgiveness is at the heart of my Christian faith. In fact, forgiveness lies at the core of all human relationships. It is inevitable that from time to time we will hurt one another. What we do with the pain when we are hurt makes all the difference in the world, leading either to deeper peace or to continual suffering. 

When we hold onto the pain of being hurt and offended, we keep the poison within us and it festers in our spirit. So, forgiveness is necessary for healing. However, to say that when we forgive, we must then "forget" seems dishonest to me. Like that man who said to me years ago, "How could I ever forget what she did to me?"

The secret to forgiveness is to "forget and remember," but to remember in a different way. Remember, and then go on with life embracing the great "in spite of." The past cannot be changed and it doesn't need to control our present or our future. So we remember the past, and as my Buddhist friends would say: "it is what it is."  

I came across this humorous quote from Lily Tomlin who once said:

Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past

Yesterday as I sat and gazed upon a breathtakingly beautiful desert sky at sunset, I "remembered" the times in my life when people did me wrong. In my imagination I conjured up the image of those who have injured me and I said "I forgive you." I remember what you did and I forgive you.

I also conjured up the image of that man to whom I gave such bad advice those many years ago and asked that I might also be forgiven. 

Then it was time for dinner. 

I have given up all hope for a better past.

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