Monday, January 2, 2012

Does Forgiveness Require Amnesia?

When you forgive, do you always forget? Is it always a rule to forgive and forget? In my family I’ve heard a lot about old grudges that have been forgiven but not forgotten. I always thought there was a flaw in this logic. If you forgive someone a wrong they have done, shouldn’t it be like the wrong was never done? Shouldn’t you be able to move on with your relationship with love and kindness and not anymore thought to the pain or betrayal or wrong done to you? After all, when Christ forgives us, aren’t we made new? Are we not purified from our sins because they are forgiven? Was it not Paul who said he had wronged no man?


I, myself, have always been fairly quick to forgiveness. I move on quickly, I restore and mend relationships with ease. This is perhaps, because I am loyal to a fault. It is, perhaps, because I would rather enjoy life and the people in it than to focus on how I’ve been hurt. This is, also, perhaps because when it comes to certain people I’m related to I’d rather just act like everything is fine and avoid real problems. Recently, in my refusal not to forget certain wrongs (and let’s be honest, I probably haven’t gotten to 100% forgiveness either) I was called out on it. It really sucks to be called out on a position that you, yourself, used to adhere to. And it made me wonder if I’ve been wrong about this forgive and forget thing.

I’ve wondered a loud and in writing before about the slim line between turning the other cheek and being walked all over. So when I was told to forgive and forget the harsh words, actions, betrayals, and admissions not only of the past year but of previous years as well I conceded my need and desire to forgive but I could not concede the need to forget. Here is the hypothetical example I used. (Please note I said hypothetical). I asked my father to imagine that Mark and I had been married for, say, 10 years and not two. I then asked him to imagine if Mark from the first year continually verbally abused me, berating me whenever he was upset about something wrong in his life. I asked him to imagine Mark flying off the handle at the slightest inclination and yelling and swearing at me when I did not do tasks exactly how he wanted him. Say, after all these occasions I forgave him and moved on, I forgot. And, now imagine that he continued to verbally assault me through the years and that on several occasions would get drunk and physically assault me. But I kept forgiving and forgetting, and his behavior never changed. I asked, is this, how one should forgive and forget. My dad said that if that was a marriage I found myself in that it is one I should leave. I responded by admitting the scenario I’ve outlined describes not my marriage but my relationship with my sister. Through the years I’ve done a lot of forgiving and forgetting and all it’s gotten me is a more and more dysfunctional relationship. Dysfunction that has unfortunately been dragged into my marriage and dysfunction that I hope to prevent being around any children we may have.

Now I do not want for this post to become a dramatic journal entry. But I really do want to have a discussion on forgiveness. I’m all about forgiveness, I really am. But I’m not so much about abuse. I have mentioned before that the last 7 months have been the most difficult of my life for a plethora of reasons. My mother is a rocking zombie who doesn’t recognize me and is locked away in a nursing home at the age of 56. I have experienced deep familial fractures. I have been disowned and hurt because I have openly disagreed with care decisions. And yet, it is a new year, I understand how short and precious life is. I want to rebuild relationships in spite of the fact that wounds haven’t completely healed. I long to forgive completely not only because Christ compels me to but also because I know there is freedom in it. But my question is, where does forgiveness end and accountability start? Can we forgive and not forget? Does forgetting require us to endure such treatment again? When do you stop turning the other cheek? Does forgiveness mean nothing ever happened? And are relationships always able to be restored even when forgiveness has been reached?