Forgiving without Forgetting

How do you forgive someone who has hurt you, but also hold them accountable for what they've done?  

How do we forgive without forgetting--at least to the extent that we remember the lessons learned, but don't let the memories of what's been done make us bitter?  

What do you do when you decide to forgive someone who either doesn't respond or who never even really knows that you have forgiven them?  And is there a point in forgiving someone whom you know won't care if you do or not?  

These are the questions that often leave us stymied and stuck when it comes to our ability to forgive.  Most of us lack the imagination to see beyond the either/or categories we create and often never see any other possibilities. 

And so we withhold our forgiveness and with it so much of our ability to heal from the wounds inflicted by others, to grow in our faith, and to move on to new life, hope and peace.  

I was reading through some of my reflections and notes from the daily readings I've been doing over the past several months, and I came across this powerful line from Bishop Desmond Tutu's excellent book on forgiveness:  

Forgiving requires giving voice to the violations and naming the pains we have suffered.  Forgiving does not require that we carry our suffering in silence or be martyrs on a cross of lies.  Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend things are anything other than they are… there is always a risk that when we forgive, everything will not turn out all right.

What I love the most about what Bishop Tutu asserts here is encapsulated in this line:  "Forgiveness does not mean that we pretend things are anything other than they are...."  

In spite of how many times we've either heard or repeated the old aphorism "forgive and forget," forgiving and forgetting is nigh to impossible.   The key is how you remember what's been done, and what led you to forgive it.  

Because in the end, forgiveness is more about you--the giver--than it is about whoever receives it.  Once you figure this out, it liberates you to forgive even when it feels impossible to do so.  

And when you find the strength to forgive, you should bravely acknowledge your pain, and recognize how it has shaped you, but also know that you don't have to grow small and bitter because of it.  

There is also a chance that the person you forgive may never know they've been forgiven, or they might reject your forgiveness because they believe they've done nothing wrong.  There is also the risk that "everything will not turn out all right."  

Still, there is freedom in forgiveness---the kind that can give you the courage and strength to move forward and to become your best and truest self, no matter what has happened to you at the hands of another.    

Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive today?  Have you been twisted up inside about a wound they've inflicted, and never acknowledged?  It's time to be set free from it.  

You are more than what has been done to you, and you have it within you to forgive and be set free.  

But if you do remember it,  choose to remember what you learned about yourself in the process... how you have also been forgiven... how you are loved and cherished by God... how you are enveloped in grace.  

And may that grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  


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