Skip to content

When you can’t forget the past.

November 3, 2014

This article reposted with permission from Anthony Buono.

Recently, I wrote that a key thing to working through being hurt is to forgive and forget. This is how God deals with our offenses against Him, therefore we are required to do the same. I assumed this was common knowledge.

But I was wrong! There was no problem with the forgive part, but the forget part seemed to cause quite a stir. I have to admit that this idea of forgiving and forgetting could be confusing. Perhaps I should have touched on the concept of resentment, because that seems to be the problem with understanding the concept of forgetting. When we harbor resentment, it causes harm to ourselves, it does nothing positive or productive, and it keeps us from healing and moving forward.

“But how can I forget what was done to me?” That is what we ask when we are badly hurt. It’s a fair question. But have we ever considered what might be motivating this question? Is it because we want to prevent what hurt us from happening again? Is it because we believe it should not have happened to us? Do we get mad at God because of how unfair it seems? Or is it because we have a “need” to remember it?

All of these motives seem reasonable. But realistically, the pursuit of any one of them is likely to end in disappointment. Wanting to find out the cause and prevent future happenings sounds good and is a noble goal. But doesn’t it to eat away at us as we try to answer the question “Why did you do it?” And why questions are very difficult to get answered in a way that brings peace. Many times the answer is “I don’t know, ”and that can make it worse.

Believing it should not have happened in the first place is a fruitless exercise. First, no one can promise they will never hurt you. Secondly, am I entitled to never be hurt? Is there something so special about me that I get to be excluded from Jesus’ promise of the cross and that those who follow Him would have to go through what He went through? Or is it that we should be entitled to choose our own cross, of which we would definitely exclude being hurt by someone we love as an option?

It’s the last motive that gives me the most reason to pause; namely the “need” to remember the hurt. This is a reality about human beings that we all have to be careful about. Sadly, some people feel better remembering the hurtful things done to them. There is a kind of comfort in revisiting those feelings and recalling the events. What a prison we build for ourselves when we harbor resentment. It’s like listening to the same song over and over, letting yourself feel the pain each time.

And who wins in that scenario? The person who has offended you has likely already forgotten it or does not even realize they did anything “wrong”, either because it was unintentional or because they are chronically abusive. There you are, in a torture chamber, holding someone else responsible for the misery you choose to continue dwelling in. You are the one building your own prison when you keep a hurtful event on a continual loop in your mind.

If there is abuse in the relationship (physical, verbal, psychological), then this is a different story. Abusive relationships are in a class by themselves. Abused people need to be handled with care and more information. Though still called to forgive and forget, but they must also tend to their personal safety and sanity. But being abused does not give license to behave however you like. If you continue to dwell on the horrible things that happened to you, then you are just as broken as you were when you hadn’t the spirit to defend yourself.

Putting abused persons aside, I want to stick with the typical person who is a sinner, who can have normal, healthy relationships, though they have fallen human nature capable of hurting other people. Being hurt in a relationship is part of our journey and helps us become the saints we are called to be.

Because of this fact, we need to expect to be hurt. Christ’s call to forgive “seventy times seven” implies we will be hurt a great deal throughout life. His commandment to “love one another as I have loved you” is the explicit call to live love even when it hurts the most. Jesus’ love for us is not just a forgiving of our sins, but also forgetting them.

We must pause to ask ourselves, “Do I truly know how to forgive as Jesus forgives?”

Take the Gospel scene of Peter, whom Jesus loved (with as real of an affection as any of us have for any person), betraying Jesus in his darkest hour (Peter abandons Him and denies knowing Him three times). Look at how Jesus handles Peter after the Resurrection. Jesus does not make Peter recount what he did, but instead receives him with welcome and draws out Peter’s love with a call to prove his love in service.

Jesus forgets about what Peter did and moves forward in the assumption of Peter’s core love for Him, not Peter’s human weakness capable of betraying him. Peter, in turn, never forgets what he did to the Lord, and strives all his life to make up for it. This is the power of forgiving and forgetting.

So what does it mean to forget?

It does not mean forgetting how it felt to experience an unjust action. It means the ability to face that memory prevent it from having power to influence us in a negative way, whether it be thought, action, or feeling. It is an act of the will, and it does not require the absence of negative memory. How is it possible to make such an act of the will when the memory of feeling that pain still exists?

It’s called the grace of God. God can heal us in very impressive ways if we will let Him. His grace can help anyone rise above what is humanly “normal.”

Therefore if we pray enough, and seek God with great humility, and we act on this desire for God via the sacraments Jesus provided for us in the Catholic Church (particularly Confession and the Holy Eucharist), there is nothing we cannot rise above and or be totally renewed from.

The point is forgiving and forgetting are both supernatural actions, meaning only God can forgive in such a way. We need to develop a deep relationship with Jesus Christ. This is the way we forgive.

Grace does not remove the memory of the injustices of our life. It does something even better. It sanctifies these events, giving us a peace to understand, and a new pair of eyes to see the deeper purpose. Grace overcomes resentment and empowers us to control the memory of feelings. This is the way we forget.

Forgetting what someone did to you does not mean giving someone permission to keep hurting you in the same way. Letting go of the resentment and anger requires detachment from your belief that you are entitled to protection from pain.

Controlling the power feelings of the past have over you and living the grace of God, Who is love itself, is how you forget. Go to Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament for that grace and ability to control the feelings and memories.


No comments yet

Anything to add?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: