REMEMBERING TO FORGET
How many times have your thoughts travelled back to a negative, hurtful or insensitive situation or interaction? Perhaps it was a disagreement, conflicting opinions, or even divisiveness and gossip. It may have happened last week, last month, last year…a decade ago. How often have you basked in the strange comfort of victimization? Memories of the pain, insensitivity and harshness seem to somehow give you a weird sense of comfort and righteousness. Can you recall how often you trained your mind to replay the event over and over again? Each time finding a new offense, a more devious motive, imagining that the offender is reveling in the pain inflicted. You have felt the anger, the bitterness, and the hatred filling you up. You imagine what you could have (or should have) said. The perfect comeback, the perfect revenge, vindication at last! It has been said that bitterness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Perhaps now is the best time to cultivate the discipline of forgetting. Let me be clear what I am not saying. I am not suggesting that we forget or repress events that have happened without dealing with them completely. I am not asking that we simply forget past abuse, pain and neglect. Some of these circumstances require special help, advice, discernment and time to heal. In these cases please seek the appropriate guidance and assistance. Furthermore, have you noticed that it isn’t always the bad stuff, but sometimes the good things we accomplish, the great deeds and victories of the past can wreak havoc too? It is easy to remember ‘the good old days’ when everything you did was successful. Remember how confident you were? Remember when it seemed like everything you did worked out? Good grades, great athletic achievements, promotions, spiritual victory? Why isn’t it like that anymore?
“With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the LORD: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.”
By continually replaying and refreshing these memories you never move ahead. You fell a constant pressure, burdened with guilt and therefore you are in hiding. You feel like a fraud, scared to move on. You used to be strong, resilient, full of integrity and faith, but not lately. The stories I tell myself about the past rarely if ever produce Godly fruit. I find myself attempting to formulate justifications for past sins, make arguments I wish I made, or exacting revenge on the one who offended. I reminisce and compare myself to past achievements. I am constantly tossed back and forth between pride and insecurity. Prideful of all the good I have done, insecure because of what I am not today. I live off of my reputation instead of who I really am.
“Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.”
- Galatians 6:4-5
The truth is that are no easy answers. Certainly there are no easy solutions for overcoming our dysfunctional thought life. One thing has changed recently… I have remembered to forget. Perhaps you have done what I did. I forgot to forget. I have logged, cataloged, and filed everything neatly away. At least I thought I did. My memory is more fickle than I imagined. In fact the ‘facts’ and events that I am so certain of probably (most likely) did not occur the way my brain has preserved them. My story is filled with MY experience, MY intention, and MY point of view. The saying, “the older I get the better I was” is not far from the truth. It has also been said that we judge ourselves on intention and others by their actions. Do you find this to be true in your life too?
The Apostle Paul writes to tell us to forget what is behind and move toward what’s ahead. I can find any number of reasons to not trust this passage. Perhaps my eagerness to forget the past is simply my way of not dealing with my sin, my mistakes and my heart. If I set my mind to forget, won’t this ensure that I will make the same mistake again? Won’t I allow the same pain to occur, the same offense to take place all over again? Won’t I end up trusting the untrustworthy? You may even think that forgetting is the same as repression. Remember whatever we set our mind to, let’s pursue it in a healthy way. Our tendency is to jump from one extreme to another. The real difficulty lies in finding the balance. I have found there is a healthy level of forgetfulness. A responsible, God ordained practice of forgetting. Here are a few simple principles to keep in mind.
FORGET BUT DEAL
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:16
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.
When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.
Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”—and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32:2-5
“But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Luke 13:5
In order to forget, we must subscribe to God’s way of growing and maturing in a healthy way. He is the master gardener, knowing what to prune and when. Simply trying to forget without working through the situation will be short lived and unfulfilling. It is scary to address past painful issues again in an honest way. Three words help me: HUG THE MONSTER. What does this mean? Simply that in order to deal I must embrace what I fear most. I must recount and replay the drama. Sometimes writing thoughts in a journal are helpful at this time. One warning though do not begin or attempt without praying for guidance and wisdom. (James 1:5) Some questions to ask yourself as you do this:
What do I need to take responsibility for?
What was out of my control?
What do you think other perspectives could be?
What would God say to you about this?
Is there anything I need to do? Apologize? Confess?
This list is short and inadequate. I am sure you can add your own as you go through this exercise.
FORGET TO REMEMBER
“Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today.” Deuteronomy 15:15
On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings.
My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” Psalm 63:1-8
“ Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (that done in the body by the hands of men)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:11-13
“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self–control; and to self–control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But if anyone does not have them, he is nearsighted and blind, and has forgotten that he has been cleansed from his past sins.” 2 Peter 1:5-9
Sometimes my memory robs me of living a full life in Christ. By living in the past, remembering toxic memories, reliving past wrongs, I essentially choose to NOT remember the grace of God. Isn’t it easy to live in the negative and forget the positive? Here are some questions that help me break free:
How grateful can I be today?
In what way is God lavishing His grace and blessings on me today?
Can I see Him in the good and the bad?
Perhaps more than any other principle in the bible, Philippians 4:8 is most practical for these purposes:
“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”
When I remember all that God has forgiven in me. When I ponder all of the times I have hurt people. When I think of the patience and grace many people have extended to me over the years, I can’t help but to soften up. On my best day I fall woefully short of Jesus. In fact in many ways with my greatest effort and most pure motives I simply must realize that Jesus is incomparably greater. Why does this matter? Because, simply put I am living every minute in the hope of receiving Gods patience and forgiveness. Maybe, just maybe I could consider doing the same for others.
FORGET TO MOVE ON
“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12-14
“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” Hebrews 12:2-3
God’s desire is that we would all mature in Him. I often times forget that I need to be growing up not just growing older.
“Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” Hebrews 5:13-14
Time is a beautiful invention. Have you ever thought about this? God invented time. He invented the past, present and future. Of those three he gives me only one that I can live in…RIGHT NOW. You know what I can do right now? Forgive, serve, be grateful, love, forget, pray. That list could go on and on. More times than not I find myself handcuffed by the past and scared of the future. Hmmm, that doesn’t sound mature, healthy, or even very smart. Let’s commit to moving on to what is ahead, and living in this moment. But even better, consider this:
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:9-11
“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self–controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed.” 1 Peter 1:13
Did you catch that? Set your hope FULLY on the grace that will be given when Jesus Christ is revealed. What will that day be like for you? Everyone will experience this day, someday. What will you be thinking? When you hear the trumpet sound and witness Jesus coming back, what will you rejoice in? How much grace will you need? What are the things you hope God has forgotten in your life?
Again, these principles are incomplete and are not intended to oversimplify a tough problem. Getting past the past. Dealing with life, remembering the Lord and moving on to maturity is easier said than done, but don’t let that stop you from starting! God promises life to the full and this may be a starting point for you. Let me be clear, in my own journey of forgetting I find that it is never a ‘one and done’ kind of process. I realize that like pesky weeds, toxic memories can keep re-emerging and therefore require a daily, continual discipline of forgetfulness.