Forgive & Forget?

Lewis Smedes wrote a book about forgiveness in which he discusses some of the psychological, spiritual, and relational dynamics of being hurt and then moving towards healing and forgiveness. He wanted to title the book, Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve, but the publisher insisted on something catchier, something that might spark more interest on the popular level.

So the people at HarperCollins decided to name it Forgive and Forget, a title Smedes hated because as he says, “Forgiving has nothing to do with forgetting. In fact, sometimes the best forgiving happens because we remember.” The negotiated compromise kept the publisher’s preference, of course, and Smedes’s working title became the subtitle. This solution worked. It has sold more than a half million copies.

Of course, the book itself is excellent. It is interesting and helpful. Smedes starts with a European folk tale about a husband and wife who are unhappy. The husband is devastated when he learns that his wife had an affair. But they manage to work through their unhappiness, come to forgiveness, and experience personal growth. Their end state is better, despite the affair.

Of course, Smedes keeps it interesting all the way through with examples, information, and personal experiences of betrayal, pain, struggle, and triumph. Each anecdote in this nonfiction work reengages the reader, pulling her back to the author’s theme, and ways to more effectively handle her own struggle of hurt, hate, healing, and forgiveness. Each page reveals a little more of the complexities and dynamics involved. Each issue is common to every one of us.

Jesus knew how to forgive. He prayed “Father forgive them . . .” And he taught, “Forgive and your sins will be forgiven.”

The Apostle Paul understood forgiveness. “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you.” He himself had been forgiven of some pretty ugly sins.

We’ve all been hurt. We’ve all felt the sting of betrayal in one way or another. But have we all learned how to forgive?

Miracle of Forgiveness

It is crucial that we understand the power of forgiveness. When we forgive, we release ourselves from the pain and injustice in our past. But forgiveness does not happen quickly. It cannot happen quickly. It happens slowly, with a little understanding, and with some confusion. It has to sort out the anger, the pain, and the injustice. When forgiveness has finished its work, however, both the forgiver and the offender have been renewed, transformed, and set free from the pain of the past.

Lewis Smedes was an ethicist who wrote about the miracle of forgiveness. “When you forgive the person who hurt you deeply and unfairly, you perform a miracle that has no equal.” He goes on the say that forgiveness is not for the weak. It isn’t for the trivial offenses. It is reserved for the deep wrongs that cannot be forgotten, ignored, or tolerated.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there will be no scars. We often carry the consequences of pain long after the hurting stops and the forgiveness is complete. The Christian singing group called Point of Grace sings a song called “Heal the Wound.” The words of the chorus deal with the theme of forgiveness and healing, which are often followed by scars that remain for a lifetime.

Heal the wound but leave the scar

A reminder of how merciful You are

I am broken, torn apart

Take the pieces of this heart

And heal the wound but leave the scar

One middle-aged couple recognized that they still carried some of the baggage from their past, so they decided to do something about it. They had both been in a previous marriage, and still felt some attachment and affection for their exes. In addition, they felt guilt and pain because of some of the decisions they had made early in life. They called their pastor and met with him, asking for his guidance. He suggested that they create a private ritual, during which they would identify the aspects of their past that they wanted to be free from. He also talked about how to forgive each other, and how to receive God’s forgiveness.

They took a month to plan, and then went camping. The second day, they took a hike along the river, until they came to a suitable spot. They both wrote down the specifics of what they wanted to let go of. Then they read them to each other. They prayed and asked God to wash them, forgive them, and help them to let go of the past. They asked each other for forgiveness, too. Then they threw their lists into the river. Watching them float downstream was therapeutic. The river represented a washing or cleansing, and they were able to start fresh, committed to each other, committed to living in the present.

I am not saying this is the right thing to do. I do not endorse littering or polluting the environment, but am merely reporting what this particular couple did. You might need to be creative and come up with an action plan that’ll work for you.

To the degree that a couple is willing and able to leave the past, they have an opportunity to create a new unity as a couple. The opposite is also true. To the degree that they cannot or will not let go of the past, they will be unable to create the unity essential to growing a healthy, happy marriage.

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