- At the Desert Retreat House -
During a class I was conducting a few days ago someone spoke up about the serious difficulty she has with the whole notion of forgiveness. She explained that, at some level, she understands the importance of forgiving others in order to find a sense of deeper peace; and yet, she confessed that it was virtually impossible for her to “forgive and forget.” When someone wrongs her or does her harm she can’t help but remember it.
I think a lot of people probably feel the same way, but the thing is that I don’t believe forgiveness ever involves forgetting. In fact I think that the old saying about “forgiving and forgetting” is probably pretty bad advice for walking spiritual path. I don’t think any of us can forget the wrongs done to us nor should we.
Theologian and author, Paul Tillich, had this to say about “forgiveness:”
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.
It’s interesting to me that the great wisdom of all the various world religions hold up “forgiveness” as a core virtue for the spiritual path. We human beings inevitably hurt one another and cause each other pain; but what we do with this pain makes all the difference in the world. If we cling onto the pain, keep grudges, seek revenge, the pain becomes a poison that that infects and destroys our spirit.
Nelson Mandela once wisely said:
Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.
Resentment and revenge is spiritually toxic and forgiveness is the only way we can cleanse our souls of that poison; however to say that when we forgive we must also forget who harmed us or the wrongs done to us seems somewhat disingenuous to me. In fact, how can we possibly forgive others unless we remember who they are and what they did to harm us?
The secret to forgiveness is indeed to forgive and remember—to remember what was done and to forgive the trespasses and the trespasser “in spite of it all.”
The comedian, Lilly Tomlin, once humorously quipped:
Forgiveness means giving up all hope for a better past.
Of course I can readily remember the injuries done to me over the years, I just refuse to hold onto them and harbor them in my heart as if clinging to those memories might somehow punish the offender or change the past- making it a better place for me.
So this morning as the sun rises I engage in a discipline of forgiving and remembering. I conjure up the images of those who may have injured me and say “I forgive you, please forgive me.”
Now the sun has come up and it’s time to begin another day. I have given up all hope for a better past.