How to Forget Once you Forgive


“It is easier to forgive an enemy than to forgive a friend.” – William Blake

We’ve all heard the admonition to forgive and forget.

But there are two schools of thought on the subject. Some urge us to clear the slate and forget the wrongs for the sake of our own peace of mind and spiritual health. They say forgiving is not really forgiving until we’ve forgotten.

“Forgive, forget. Bear with the faults of others as you would have them bear with yours.” ~Phillips Brooks

Others warn of the dangers (not to mention the impossibility) of forgetting the sins of those who have offended, lest we become their unwitting dupes and set ourselves up for a repeat performance.

“Forgive your enemies, but never forget their names.” ~JFK

But what are we really being asked to forget?

Seldom is that question ever asked (or answered), which often leaves us trying to accomplish the impossible, feeling guilty that our memories have not somehow been adequately erased?

The truth of the matter is that the mind records all it experiences. Add sharp emotion to the offense, and you have a recipe for an elephant-like memory of the nitty gritty.

This begs the question: Can others’ offenses truly ever be forgotten? The simple answer is not likely. So in that light, what could the admonition to forgive and forget even mean?

I like to think of it this way…

“Bow your head”

Have you ever attended a funeral service where the officiator asks those in attendance to “remember” the life of the deceased? I’m sure you’ve heard a voice over an intercom system at some point in your life ask you to bow your head in memory of the fallen in a moment of silence.

What are they really asking you to do?

I think what they mean on those occasions is to reflect for a moment on the life of the person. Remember them in your heart. Let their works and deeds sink down into your soul and be filled with appreciation for them and inspired by them. We’re being asked to keep them alive inside, carrying them with us.

If that’s the case, then remembering the trespasses and offenses against us would be a similar act. It would include letting the offense sink deeply into our soul, keeping it at the forefront of our mind, obsessing over the memory of what was done to us, nurturing the wound, reminding the offender of the offense, carrying it inside, feeding it, expanding it, picking at it, never letting it wander too far away from our hearts.

Is that Forgiveness?

But then does forgiveness mean we invite the verbal abuser, cheater or chronic liar back into our lives, become best friends or have them babysit our kids?

No, I don’t think so.

Maybe forgiving and forgetting doesn’t mean to pretend like the thing never happened. Perhaps it really has nothing to do with literally forgetting or acting as though we forgot the misdeed.

Maybe, instead, it means letting go of the hurt, releasing the pain, treating the person like they have a second chance, like the slate has been cleaned, the ledger cleared, the scoreboard of their lives reset, a new page turned for them to rewrite what they once wrote in uglier prose, free of the weight of our hatred.

Maybe it’s a way of allowing another to clean the mess and move on unhindered by the weight of our memories, dragging them back to the scene of the crime in an endless loop of anger, accusation and offense.

Maybe it’s a way of honoring ourselves as well by refusing to let the poison of hatred and blame continue to eat at the fiber of our own hearts and souls.

An Investment

And just maybe it’s also an investment of sorts in our own future need for others to exercise the magnanimity necessary to extend a forgetful forgiveness to us one inevitable day as well.

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