Yesterday, I had a conversation with a friend about the notion of “forgive and forget.” Although it’s one often quoted, I believe it to be a false notion.
Forgiving is not the same as forgetting. While we must always forgive, there are times when we must not forget. Forgive and forget implies that we exonerate the one who has offended us and never again call to mind their actions. By all means, exonerate the other! Our Lord expressly told us that we are called to forgiveness and that we will be forgiven by our heavenly Father in the same measure that we forgive others.
No matter how terribly we’ve been treated, we’re required to release that person or persons from all responsibility or burden for their actions. By forgiving them, we erase their debt to us as consequence of their actions. Forgiveness is a conscious decision not to dwell upon past hurts and to refrain from rubbing it in the other’s nose so as to foster guilt and shame. Forgiveness frees the other, but also frees us—we are released from the pain and hard feelings resulting from the offense. We vow to move on.
But forgetting is different. Forgetting passes over what happened and can be a form of denial. This can be dangerous to both ourselves and the person who has committed the offense. How? Because the reality is that very often the offense will be repeated—especially in the case of an abusive personality—and therefore we must protect ourselves and those around us who are vulnerable to the abusiveness behavior.
We must make sure that we cannot be harmed again. In such cases, we need to let the offender know that they are forgiven, but he or she will not be allowed to inflict more harm. In some cases, separation is necessary for a period of time—perhaps permanently depending on the situation. What’s more, failure to protect ourselves provides the offender with an opportunity to continue the sinful behavior. It may sound strange, but sometimes the most Christian thing we can do is not to forget and cautiously step away.
This is tough stuff to digest, particularly if you’re caught in such a situation. Fortunately, you have help at hand. Prayer, Scripture, and frequent reception of the sacraments will put you—and keep you—in the right frame of mind to do what needs to be done. You also have a rich resource in our Blessed Mother Mary. Think about her role during her son’s passion and crucifixion. We most often call to mind how Jesus forgave his murderers from the cross. But what about Mary? She had every reason to hate the murderers and to refuse forgiveness. She had every reason to ruminate on their devilish actions. The offense she experienced was unspeakable.
That’s why Mary understands what you’re going through. She’s been through it herself and knows what it takes to forgive and not forget, but to amend. We can look to her example as we struggle with our own forgiving and forgetting issues.
The key is not to pass over what’s happened, but to lovingly forgive our offenders, conduct ourselves righteously toward them, and pray always for them that one day they will find the truth, change their ways, and enjoy eternity.