Last year during a very difficult time in our family I had an encounter with a member of my extended family. She was very angry about not being told right away about my stepmother’s cancer diagnosis. Why she was not told is not germane to this discussion but there was a reason, right or wrong. While she was very crossly explaining to me why her anger was justified she told me “we will forgive but not forget, ” the we referring to herself and her husband.
That statement has stuck with me since, I remember saying to her, “that doesn’t sound like forgiving to me.” There was no response to that statement only a continued diatribe justifying why she was right and we were wrong. I do believe it would be very difficult to absolutely forget a situation where someone feels wronged. I have forgiven a very painful situation from my past and while I haven’t forgotten it, when I do remember it, there is no bitterness or resentment attached anymore so I guess I remember it with grace.
Today a friend said she was contemplating the words forgive and forget and how both words have give and get in them and how interesting that is and what does that tell us. I thought how profound her observation was, to forgive is in essence giving, when you forgive someone you are give-ing a gift to those you forgive. When you forget you really are get-ting peace of mind.
Of course I flashed back to the encounter I shared with my extended family and I remember when I was talking to her I felt an overwhelming sadness for her and her husband. I knew at that moment no matter what I said they were choosing this path of not forgetting and I believe not forgiving. Regrettably they no longer speak to any of us.
So what does it mean to forgive and forget?
Well the interesting thing is forgiveness and let’s say graceful forgetting has very profound health benefits according to recent studies published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine and the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. I think the biggest obstacle people have with forgiveness is the feeling that if they forgive they are saying whatever the other person did is ok with them. Actually I do not believe that is the case and truly the act is not what is forgiven. In my case I connected with our creator and said I have been wronged but I trust you, you got me through this and now I need to continue on to do your work and unburden myself of this resentment. In a way if I had not forgiven it was as if I was now perpetrating an ongoing wrong against myself.
In my own situation the act that resulted in my forgiveness was quite grave. So I did not condone the behavior then, and I do not condone that kind of behavior today, but I still forgive the person. I can also give testament to the health benefits of forgiveness and graceful forgetting. Immediately after I truly forgave the person I felt lighter, as if weight was removed from my shoulders. Occasionally I have had to be near the person that wronged me, and while I generally choose not to, because they are a member of my family there are rare times it would be very complicated to avoid. So I make sure it is a safe situation, but I no longer feel any resentment, anger or dread.
I noticed right away after this act of forgiveness I was able to “get” more in my life. My relationships benefited because my interactions were no longer clouded by this haze of umbrage. I began to notice that I could more fully engage in relationships, it was as if, until I could forgive the one person that wronged me, everyone else was being judged as a potential co-conspirator. I know forgiveness is not easy and forgetting with grace is even more challenging.
Consider this, what if I told you that if you trained and ran one marathon you could add ten years to your life, you would have stronger relationships and you would feel better about yourself; would you take on that challenge? Interestingly I think many would feel more inclined to run a marathon than let go of a well entrenched injustice. I believe you can add years to your life through practicing authentic forgiveness, and it’s not just the quantity, it’s the quality of those years that you will be adding.
We get so caught up in drinking the right water, taking the right supplements, eating organic, or not eating this or that to improve our health and I happen to be one of those people who does all these things. But I also look at the other side of my well-being, my mental health. Many of us focus on exercise and nutrition but overlook the most accessible way to improve our health and station in life, a well-balanced mental health.
Give the gift of forgiveness, forget with grace and receive love, peace and expand your universe beyond your wildest dreams. What are you holding on to that its time has come to let go? Where does your power lie, in the keeping or the getting?
“Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.” ~ Paul Boese