Forgiving and Forgetting: Are Both Possible?

October 14, 2013

The Resurrection - Master of the Trebon Altarpiece, 1380s, Národní Galerie, Prague

The Resurrection – Master of the Trebon Altarpiece, 1380s, Národní Galerie, Prague

Have you ever been deeply hurt by someone? By people you trusted? Have you been a victim of a violent crime? Has someone close to you whom you love very much been hurt?

Have you been told by the perpetrator or others to “forgive and forget”? Did you feel angry at this admonishment? Do you now feel guilty because you want to forgive, have tried to forgive, but just can’t forget? Do you think something is wrong with you because you just can’t forget no matter how hard you try? Have you anguished over not being able to forget?

I can answer yes to every one of these questions and I am not alone. The problem lies in conflating forgiveness and forgetting. For years I’ve struggled with guilt, thinking something must be wrong with me because memory of a situation would pop into my head unbidden and I thought that meant I had not truly forgiven the person.

Well, the devil is definitely the master of confusion and able to stir up guilt where no guilt should exist. No matter how often I pondered the idea and accepted intellectually that by logic forgiveness and forgetting had to be separable, my feelings fought the concept because the admonishments to forgive and forget were drilled into me at a very early age. I just could not think my way through my feelings. When trying to explain to friends who were being abused by spouses who told them that they were unforgiving because they couldn’t forget the abuse, and understanding that this is typical psychological abuse in itself favored by perpetrators, I still fumbled for words.

Jesus is the answer – to everything. If He doesn’t say it directly, He shows us. In today’s article at Catholic Spiritual Direction: How Can I Forgive When I Can’t Forget? the answer to my dilemma became perfectly clear, all guilt vanished, and I felt like I had been freed from the chains of Satan. Through spiritual sanity following the example of Christ and by His power I have beaten the devil in a few seconds of grace, and if you are like me you can deal him a death blow, too. You need not any more give him air time in your head over not forgetting wrongs done to you when you have truly forgiven.

Patti Maguire Armstrong wrote about a talk given by Father Justin Waltz, pastor of St. Leo’s Church in Minot, ND. In the article she says, emphasis mine:

Since forgetting is not an option given our memories, Waltz said that God has provided an even better remedy—the divine transformation of a resurrection within our souls. He pointed out that Christ himself retained the wounds of his crucifixion. “Had he wanted to, Jesus could have healed his body so completely that even the scars did not exist,” he explained. “Christ is not ashamed of these scars, rather He wears them as His testament to His victory over sin and death.”

Wow. How could I have overlooked and not understood the meaning of Christ retaining His wounds? Read the entire article because there is a great deal more to learn. For myself, I didn’t realize until I read it just exactly how weighted down I was with unnecessary guilt that haunted me over the years.

Not being able to forget is NOT the same as not forgiving. Now I get it. The sacrament of Confession has freed me in specific circumstances with struggles to forgive and being able to give up nursing old injuries. This article has given me clarity concerning the not forgetting part of the equation. Perhaps the greatest “Aha!” of all for me is that looking at Christ can untangle even the thorniest dilemma, and that in seeking the truth through Him we will eventually find the answer. I knew the latter. I have been shown it many times, and once again He came through for me. Now I can be of even better help to those friends of mine who suffer in the same way as I have.

This post linked to Sunday Snippets.

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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

(Click on the link above to read why I end my posts this way.)

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Monday, October 14th, 2013 spirituality

3 Comments to Forgiving and Forgetting: Are Both Possible?

  1. That was beautiful. And just what I needed to hear as well. I also struggle with not reconciling but my pastor helped me to see that every time I communicated with my abuser, he abused me yet again, psychologically. It takes 2 to reconcile and he is not willing to do what is necessary for that. He has also said similar things like what you said your friends abusive spouses said to them – I am unforgiving because I wont forget. I had a whole chapter in my book about that inability to forget.
    Thanks for sharing this. I read the whole article and it is very good.
    colleenmae recently posted..Light in the Darkness – Feeding the Homeless

  2. colleenmae on October 14th, 2013
  3. Colleen, I thought this would resonate with a lot of people.

  4. barb on October 14th, 2013
  5. Very interesting observation about the wounds Christ retained, Barb.I always knew they were purposeful and intended to remind me of what He did for me as well as to reinforce the reality that He went to the cross as fully human as well as fully God. But I never considered the point you made here. Another reminder that no human will ever fully know the extent of God, His grace, His mercy, His wisdom, and His love.


  6. lynnbaber on October 14th, 2013


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