What forgiving is and isn’t, part 6

Remembering and forgetting

Have you heard, seen or smelled something recently that reminded you of a special person, place or time? I have. Brandon and I were watching a TV show this week about scientists. One of them picked up a mammoth tusk at a fossil dig. Seeing it and hearing the word mammoth took my mind to our Thanksgiving-week vacation in South Dakota several years ago. We went there for Mount Rushmore, but we were given much, much more, including The Mammoth Site.

Today we’ll go backward and forward, we’ll look at remembering and forgetting, and I’ll tell you The Story That Matters Most.

First, let’s review what we’ve learned so far about What Forgiving Is and Isn’t.

Point #1: Forgiving is not condoning.
Point #2: Forgiving can be done with or without any acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Point #3: Forgiving is essential for me and my relationships.
Point #4: Forgiving doesn’t mean reconciling.
Point #5: Forgiving is not a transaction.
Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing.

Going backwards
Please forgive me for going backwards, but I need to unpack Point #6 some more. Talking on the phone with Charlene the other day got me thinking about some things.

Point #6: Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting or ignoring wrongdoing.
Many people mistakenly believe the dangerous saying I mentioned in part 3: “Forgive and forget.” Many of us heard “Forgive and forget” from various adults while we were growing up. I think what they really meant was, “Don’t hold a grudge.” Sadly, sayings like “Forgive and forget” can easily be taken literally or misunderstood, which can lead to serious problems, like a reluctance or inability to problem-solve, difficulty learning from our mistakes, and more. It’s like that “Sticks and stones” saying that was such a lie. (Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.)

Let’s dump the clichés, “Forgive and forget” and “Sticks and stones….” More importantly, let’s replace their lies with truth. What is the truth? (1) Forgive, remember, reflect, learn, love and live wisely. (2) Words are powerful. Use them with care—with love and truth, simultaneously.

Remembering and forgetting
In many ways, society tells us to do whatever is necessary to forget everything we don’t like about our lives. How? Busy-ness. Social media. Entertainment. Staring at screens. Phone addiction. Lies. Denial. Alcohol. Drugs. Other addictions and distractions.

Our sins
What does the Bible have to say about remembering and forgetting our sins? Jeremiah 31:34c (NHEB) says: “…for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sins I will remember no more.” By contrast, Amos 8:7 (NHEB) tells us: “The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob, “Surely I will never forget any of their works.” So, what is it? Does God remember our sins or does he forget them?

Should we remember or should we forget our own sins? Paul tells us in Philippians 3:13-14 to forget our sins, and he tells us in Ephesians 2:11-12 to remember our sins. So, what is it? Should we remember or should we forget? Read or listen to this short John Piper interview. It provides some wonderful clarity on this issue—remembering and forgetting sins.

Focusing on what’s good
The focus is on our good—what’s good for us. It isn’t good for us to obsess on our failures, our past sins. This paralyzes us and keeps us from focusing on what God asks of us and has for us today. However, if we totally forget our sins, (1) we can’t appreciate God’s forgiveness and grace; (2) we can’t appreciate the remarkable work God has done in our lives; and (3) we lose, to some extent, our compassion for people who are hurting because of their sins.

Focusing on what’s good for us—not what’s easy for us—reminds me of several concepts from the Grieving series. To unpack our traumas and lay them down, we have to remember and reflect on what happened. (The Trauma of Perfection posts show How to Unpack a Trauma or Loss.)

So, what do we do? Do we forget our sins? No. Do we obsess on our sins and stay locked in the past? No; definitely not. We remember with humility—and compassion—and we give thanks to God for his love, his grace, his mercy, his compassion and his forgiveness. We reflect and we thank him for what he’s done, what he’s doing and what he will do—in us, for us and through us.

We remember—not out of habit, obsession, regret, fear or a desire to punish ourselves. We remember when God calls us to remember. He calls us to remember for a reason.

God calls us to remember for our good and for the good of others.

The story that matters most
When Satan, The Accuser, reminds me of my past sins, what do I do? First, I step back and remind myself of who’s doing the talking (in my mind). He isn’t only The Accuser. He’s also The Deceiver. Is Satan speaking truth when he reminds me of what I did? Sort of. He’s speaking the truth about what I did, but he’s leaving out the truth of whose I am. And that, Peaceful Readers, makes all the difference—whether sin has defeated me or whether my Savior Jesus Christ has defeated the power of sin and death for me.

So, in response to Satan’s half-truth/half-lie, I speak God’s Story-Of-Redemption Truth, which is My Adoption Story. “I’ve been redeemed by Jesus Christ, my Savior and Lord. The work of Jesus on the cross reconciled me to God. I am a child of God. The blood of Jesus bought me a white robe of righteousness for all eternity and I’m wearing it. I belong to Almighty God. Get behind, Satan!”

This amazing passage from Zechariah reminds me of My Adoption Story. So does one of my favorite hymns, “Blessed Assurance.” Here are the lyrics. “This is my story. This is my song….”

What they did
What about other people’s sins against us? Should we remember them or should we forget them? Both. God calls us to be wise and discerning. We can’t be wise and we can’t discern good from evil if we ignore or forget what we’ve experienced, what we’ve learned and what we know. Also, in order to take The Healing Journey, to do the work of grieving and to lay down our traumas, we have to look honestly at what happened. We probably won’t remember everything and that’s okay. We’ll work with what we have. We remember and reflect as part of The Healing Journey.

What about the forgetting part? Focus on the impact, the purpose. Ask yourself this question. Is my remembering helping me or hurting me? We don’t walk in freedom and transformation when we’re replaying the bad scenes from our own lives again and again in our minds—living in trauma, bitterness, unforgiveness and/or retaliation.

Should we remember or should we forget how other people have hurt us? The answer is both.

We remember so we can take The Healing Journey,
we remember while we’re doing the work of grieving,
we remember what we’ve learned
and we refuse to obsess on our painful experiences.

You may be thinking, Easier said than done. I think we can all relate to that sentiment, as we remember different times of trouble, times of trauma.

Now would be a good time to get out your journal and do some reflecting. Ask yourself these questions and take your time as you answer. Have I done the work of grieving about the traumas and losses in my life? On a scale of 1 to 10, where am I on The Healing Journey? Do I have a feeling about what I need to do next? Have I prayed and asked God what’s next? How has God transformed me and healed me so far from these painful experiences? How has he worked all things together for my good? How am I impacting other people in a positive way? Can I look at my life from The Eternal Perspective? What am I looking forward to? What are the 10 things that I’m most thankful for today?

If you need some guidance in dealing with loss and trauma, see the last series. Intrusive thoughts, memories and dreams help indicate what trauma we need to dig into now, and then the next one, and the next one, and so on.

Are there people who hurt you that you haven’t forgiven yet? If so, you are not alone. As we move through this series, we’ll learn how to tear down the roadblocks to forgiving and much more.

Point #7: Forgiving doesn’t mean rejecting or sabotaging natural consequences.
Today we’ll wrap up Point #7. It’s been a big one. We dug into rejecting natural consequences in part 4 and part 5. Part 4 can be summarized by this sentence: “Problem ignoring is a serious problem.” Here’s another excerpt from part 4:

When I think of forgiving, I think of words like love, mercy, kindness and compassion. When I think about natural consequences, I think of words like wisdom, discernment, problem-solving and courage. When I think of these two things together—forgiving and natural consequences—I think of these concepts: untangled, freedom and walking in the right direction. Thanks be to God for forgiveness and for natural consequences.

From part 5:

The answers to these boundary questions can tell us what to do next.

♦ What is the problem?
♦ Who owns the problem?
Whose problem is it?
♦ Who is responsible for fixing the problem?

In part 4, I described five of the reasons why we reject natural consequences.

1. Laziness
2. Fear of rejection
3. Training as children/familiarity of bad behavior
4. Lack of guidance about identifying and/or solving problems
5. Fear of anger

Guess what. Those are the same reasons why we sabotage natural consequences. Without further ado….

Sabotaging natural consequences
Sabotaging natural consequences is like telling someone the truth and then taking it back. The sabotaging happens when we establish and communicate our new expectations/boundaries and then cave in when someone pushes back against those expectations or boundaries, as is usually the case. When we redefine things to make a situation healthier, people push back against those changes by doing what we specifically asked them not to do! Why? Because they prefer the status quo—the way things were.

Attempting to enforce expectations and boundaries reminds me of the power struggles moms encounter with preschoolers. “Oh, no I’m not!” says Little Sugar-Pie in so many different ways. “Oh, yes you are,” says Mom. Can you think of an example or two from your life? I sure can. Making these changes can feel like we’re swimming upstream, with everything and everyone pushing against us. It’s hard work, but it’s definitely worth it.

Caving in
Yes, I’ve caved in sometimes. I can admit that. Here’s an example. By the time my mom died a couple years ago, my abusive sister Pam and I had been estranged for 10 years. During that time period—The Exile—my mom moved in with Pam and would not stop talking about Pam in front of me, even though I asked her more than once not to do that—and I told her why. It was bad for us. My mom’s facial expression was pained each time I asked her to stop it. She absolutely adored Pam, her favorite person in the whole wide world. Pam—the monster she helped create. The task master she slaved for. The one who “needed” her so much. She would not stop talking about Pam (and her children) in front of me and my family. She felt compelled to give me The Pam’s World Report even though I didn’t want it.

My mom had never been interested in doing what was good for me if it conflicted with what came easily for her, so why start in her late 70s? I just gave up on that one. I guess she wanted me to adore Pam too. I guess she wanted me to miss Pam. I guess she wanted me to beg Pam to take me back. I don’t know. The whole thing was totally crazy.

Did I cave in due to laziness—Reason #1? Yes. Yes, I did. I could throw out some lame excuses, but I won’t waste your time with that. In the end, I forgave my mom. And I forgave myself too. We’ll dig into that concept in a later post.

Good news
Even though we cave in sometimes, it’s well worth it to strive for healthy, strong relationships. Yes, natural consequences are often unpopular, but they’re important, necessary and usually quite effective. I think of natural consequences as Terrific Teaching Tools that work with children, reasonably-healthy adults and, to a certain extent, with very sick adults, including The Sociopaths and Malignant Narcissists of America and their adoring fans. Now I’m not saying that natural consequences actually change people who are seriously mentally ill. They don’t. But natural consequences do keep the rest of us disengaged from most of the mayhem. And that is seriously good news.

Forgiving, healthy boundaries and natural consequences
heal and strengthen us and our relationships.

Forgiving unchains us from past hurts. Healthy boundaries and natural consequences unchain us from hurtful, destructive patterns of living.

The thief only comes to steal, kill, and destroy.
I came that they may have life,
and may have it abundantly.”
John 10:10, World English Bible

Jesus came to give us an abundant life. Abundant spiritually, with abundant relationships—not in quantity, but in quality and depth.

Two more points
The last two points for today will be short and sweet. Guess what I’m thinking about. I’m thinking about those “short and sweet” Peanut M&M’s again. Mmmm.

Point #8: Forgiving doesn’t mean regaining trust.
Forgiving someone doesn’t automatically mean that person is trustworthy and safe. Remember what was done/not done/said/not said, reflect on those things and learn what they mean. If you’re dealing with someone who has a personality disorder, always remember who and what you’re dealing with. For more on the problem of evil, see this post or this post. For more on sociopaths, read the first series.

When trust has been broken—and it’s reasonable/appropriate to maintain the relationship—the trust must be rebuilt. And that takes time. Look, learn, listen and pray. And ask yourself this question. Do I need to invest in myself and my relationship by working with a great counselor?

Point #9: Forgiving doesn’t automatically reestablish a previous relationship.
When we redefine or drastically change a relationship, the other person is usually shocked. People assume that forgiving means this: “We can go back to the way things were.” But here’s the problem. In many different scenarios, The Way Things Were didn’t work. Sometimes it was an incredible mess—and I’m not talking about the piled-up laundry. Sometimes it was abusive. Sometimes it was dangerous.

When it’s time to redefine a relationship, stand firm, forgive and pray a lot. Ask God to help you and to give you courage and wisdom. This post from Grieving Divorce gives a good example from my life. In the first series, we looked at how we show love—how we do the most loving thing—when we’re dealing with dangerous people. See both parts of this post to learn how we found our way out of The War Zone.

Blessings to you all from our Safe Zone.

Coming next: Do you remember Jessie and Blake from part 1? We’ll be visiting them again next time. Thanks for reading and for Choosing Peace. 

Healing through truth and music
Peaceful Readers, I’ve found great healing in my life through the beauty and truth of God’s word and through music. I hope the truths and songs that I share at the end of each post will bless you too.

Truth from The Word: Isaiah 61:8-11

Song for Healing: I woke up one morning this week singing this song in my head, and I knew it was the one. I think you’ll love it. “The Lord Is My Salvation” by Shane & Shane.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *