Monday, August 29, 2016

Forgiving Without Forgetting

"The First Time Again"
- sunrise in the desert -

I remember a recent conversation I had with someone who had been seriously betrayed by a trusted friend. As our conversation progressed the person told me that instead of dwelling with her hurt feelings, she knew she had to move. She told me, “I guess I’ll just have to forgive and forget.” I’m sure my response surprised her when I suggesting that while “forgive and forget” may be a commonly accepted, practical wisdom,  I’m not sure it’s such great spiritual advice.  

In  fact, as I see it, genuine forgiveness always calls for a rather healthy dose of remembering the wrongs that may have been done to us.

Theologian and author, Paul Tillich, put it this way

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 most all world religious traditions 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 to the pain, keep grudges and seek revenge, the pain becomes a toxin that that infects and destroys our spirit.

I am reminded of something Nelson Mandela once wisely observed:

Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.

Indeed, resentment and revenge are 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 erase the memory of 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.”

I recall something 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 for the first time once again 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.”

I have given up all hope for a better past.

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