“Forgive and forget!” A common adage often compassionately offered to those who may find it hard to move on after experiencing some hurt or pain. Their wounds and bruises are more than emotional, especially when they were caused by someone they trusted, supported and above all, someone they loved – like a family member. When we experience hurts, forgetting is not the first nor the easiest thing our hearts contrive.
So how can we help ourselves and perhaps, others who are going through the difficult road towards forgiveness, with minds and hearts genuinely agonizing to forget, especially if the one who hurt us is a spouse, a son, daughter or sibling? What could be some steps to embrace and live out our Lord’s most beautiful commandment: “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you. In this, shall all men know you are my disciples.”?
Let’ begin with forgetting.
• Forgetting oneself. An important but a rather harsh step considering that we are the subjects of an injustice, ill treatment or infidelity. In reality, it is beginning to accept what God in His providence may have allowed, and humbling ourselves rather than rebelling against God whom we may blame for our situation. Our pride will always want to have the last say and way. Thus, it is important to place the self before God, and ponder how He may want the circumstances to transform us.
• Forgiving oneself. A unique step that stems from the previous one. By being humble, we move towards the sincere awareness and acceptance that we are sinners also needing forgiveness. We also have our share of asking others for pardon for our own transgressions, which, though minor, are nevertheless still offenses against others (e.g. impatience in traffic, critical, judgmental thoughts or uncharitable comments). Before God, we humbly admit that we, too, have been lacking in love.
Remembering helps to forgive.
• Remembering to forgive. Man, because of his memory, cannot easily forget or erase memories! But by spontaneously remembering, that is, without intentionally eliciting past injustices or attacks, he can actually grow in forgiving. On one hand, one may transform these remembrances into a deeper acceptance and forgiveness of his offenders. Moreover, they can nurture a simple and deep resolve to put the negative events behind and to move on.
• Remembering the experience of forgiveness. We cannot forgive if we have not experienced forgiveness itself. One of the deepest ways to do so is confessing our sins, and especially through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, as prodigal sons and daughters, we once again are embraced by God’s mercy and begin again.
• Peeling away our feelings. One sign of growing in forgiveness is that of gradually learning how to “peel away the feelings” attached to past trials. This sincere effort demonstrates our healing because our negative memories are no longer employed to rekindle old hurts that only harden our hearts from forgiving.
• Forgive, give, and give. One effective way to overcome our hurts is giving ourselves. This closes the circle from the first step of forgetting oneself. Each time we remember or relive some regrettable past event, our reaction must be to renew our self-giving in three “gives”: to God, neighbors and ourselves.
• Cordial crossroads. Meeting the persons responsible for our hurts may truly reawaken anger or hatred, especially if what happened is fresh and if you live under one roof! At the least, we must be cordial and channel our sentiments with hope and prayer that the other party may be on the way to conversion.
Perhaps, there is wisdom in the order that forgetting comes after forgiving. It stands for the fact that as long as we live, we must strive more at forgiving, and with the grace of God, be healed in time not to forget but to be transformed by a life of forgiveness.
It is in this context that we better understand Jesus’ words to Peter’s query: “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times? Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.’ (Mt. 18:21)”