Friday, April 3, 2015

Teach us to pray, part 39: Forgiving and Forgetting

And He said to them, "When you pray, say: ' Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. 'Give us each day our daily bread. 'And forgive us our sins, For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.'" (Luke 11:2-4 NASB)

In the previous post, we learned that God forgives promptly, completely, and permanently. This is the way we are supposed to forgive, as well, but we have more difficulty than is necessary with forgiving, and it is frequently because we choose not to forget. 

I do not mean to be sexist with this next comment at all, but I'm pretty sure it's true. Men, in general, don't have much of a problem with forgiving and forgetting. Brooding on a slight, rehearsing it over and over, is something women do, and not uncommonly. I have seen women keep a hurt as fresh as the day it happened for decades.

I am not immune to this tendency. The last time someone deeply wounded me, I brooded for days over the slight. Finally, I had to accept the fact that neither understanding the motivation behind the wound nor understanding why the events unfolded as they did were necessary for me to forgive. Forgiveness was not optional, nor was forgetting. It turns out that forgetting is impossible as long as I rehash the event repeatedly every day. I had to take every thought captive. 

Of course, Satan wanted to bring thoughts of the event to mind. I could have easily continued to wallow in those thoughts, but I chose to quote scripture instead and, every time thoughts of the person and the wound arose, I combatted my tendency to anger and hurt by praying blessings for the person who had wounded me. As you can well imagine, the enemy fled in the face of that battle tactic. The Sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, is far more effective than we realize, and considerably underused.

Pride is often the root of my refusal to forgive and forget. As we know, God does not bless pride. Sometimes my unforgiveness reveals the pride I have hidden. This is an ongoing source of surprise for me, but a slight often results in considerable repentance on my part because my reaction to the slight reveals unrecognized sin in me!

Henry Ward Beecher  wrote "'I can forgive, but I cannot forget' is only another way of saying, 'I will not forgive.' Forgiveness ought to be like a cancelled note - torn in two and burned up so that it never can be shown against one." Those days I spent brooding, "trying" to forgive, were exactly the attitude Beecher was addressing. Not forgetting was not forgiving. 

If God has forgiven the enormity of my sin (and He has), it is the height of arrogance when I refuse to forgive a slight that someone has caused me. If I am to ask God to forgive me as I forgive others, I cannot reasonably expect Him to forgive me when I refuse to forgive someone else.

There is something enormous that I have learned about forgiving and forgetting. It turns enemies into friends. There is greater power than we realize in choosing to forgive completely and to pray for our enemies. It frees us from the power of our hurts and it also frees us to love as Christ, who loved us while we were yet sinners, loves. 

Sue Freeman commented to an earlier post on forgiveness and her words carried such truth that they bear repeating. "Hatred can do more damage to the vessel in which it is stored than to the object on which it is poured." Unforgiveness damages us far more than it does the person we are refusing to forgive. 

If there is something you have failed to completely and permanently forgive, why not join me and choose to let it go today? The freedom to be found in forgiveness is worth the relinquishing of pride it requires. Let's stop pouring out unforgiveness and hatred and start pouring out forgiveness and the love of Christ instead. If we are to love as Christ loved, we must first forgive as Christ forgave.