Why I choose to “forgive and remember” instead of “forgive and forget”
After decades of silence, it has come. Like a tsunami, revelations of longstanding sexual abuse within the Amish and Mennonite circles have finally “made land,” and the ground, it seems, is still shaking.
I’ve been following the stories closely via multiple outlets. They’re coming from many different churches and communities, and they’re coming through a variety of independent sources. It is no longer a solitary voice here and there, crying in the wilderness. It’s an army of voices, long silenced, whose cry is, at last, being heard.
In all of my reading, I continue to see a recurring theme; that being, that in many cases, the victims were admonished to “forgive and forget.” Concurrently, if an offender confessed, then he was to be forgiven (usually, immediately), followed by that second injunction to forget.
For years, I struggled with this teaching. Try as I might, I could never seem to accomplish it. Even if I was willing to forgive, I couldn’t erase from my mind what had happened, and so I carried mountains of condemnation and guilt. Now, after much healing of my heart and mind and a much better understanding of my heavenly Dad, I have a very different idea of what He had in mind when He spoke of forgiveness. Here’s where I’ve arrived.
The admonition to “forgive and forget” puts something on a victim that isn’t possible, or reasonable. As human beings, our brains are crafted with neural pathways and delicate wiring. It is impossible to wipe an erstwhile memory card like swiping a magnet over a hard drive. Trauma and abuse change the actual wiring of the brain. Forgetting isn’t possible. And that’s good (more later).
The admonition to “forgive and forget” puts something on a victim that God Himself isn’t asking. This is cruel and spiritually abusive. It’s a form of manipulation, and it hurts both parties, victim and offender. For me, it fostered even more distrust in the heart of God. (Thankfully, He’s been faithful to reveal Himself to me in ways that I could see, hear, and feel.)
The admonition to “forgive and forget” can prevent the necessary work of justice in the offender’s life. Some of God’s greatest mercies are the most severe, and they often come shaped like stop signs. Allowing an offender to continue offending isn’t proof of forgiveness. It isn’t holiness. It’s a hellish perversion equating forgiveness with trust, and it has, I fear, driven some from the faith.
So why is it okay, even good, to choose “forgive and remember” instead of “forgive and forget?” I’ll tell you why.
When I “forgive and remember,” it sets me free. I can embrace my life and my own, personal story without shame. It lets me process what really happened to me. Then I can move on without the baggage I’d still be carrying if I stuffed it.
When I “forgive and remember,” it rewires my brain. It re-establishes that close, emotional attachment to God, my Father; to Jesus, my Big Brother and Shepherd; and to the Holy Spirit, my Counselor and Guide. This can happen because I’ve invited Them into my story. Their presence in my life and Their healing work have “redeemed my life from destruction.” Or that’s how the shepherd boy said it.
When I “forgive and remember,” I’m celebrating God’s power and grace. I marvel at how far I’ve come, and I know Who has helped me. I know for SURE that God meant it when He said, “All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).”
That “all things?” It includes the bad stuff.
When I “forgive and remember,” my story can be a survival guide for fellow travelers. A map. A light. A rope thrown with love to the drowning. That is what I want it to be. And that, by His grace, is what it is.
With love for the one who’s needing to forgive and then remember,