“Bruce, if I’ve done something to offend you, please let me know. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to correct it,” I pleaded to my supervisor (not his real name). “No, everything’s fine,” he replied nonchalantly.
After working with the man for six months, I began to feel like he was slowly trying to force me to resign. My responsibilities were being taken away without being replaced, which drove me into a deep depression, yet every time I asked my supervisor for some clarity on what I was doing wrong, he denied everything.
For a “man of the cloth,” he didn’t display a great deal of integrity. In fact, he used the same approach with a number of other people whom he forced to resign from the team. And, six months later, our church leadership team gave me no choice but to resign from my church–upon the recommendation of Bruce who conveniently was unable to attend the meeting.
After resigning, I met with him one more time in the sincere attempt to reconcile our relationship. Let’s get everything out in the open, I told myself. Even though our conversation was devoid of emotion or accusation, he still refused to own up to his actions or even apologize for the way he had treated me.
Disappointed, I decided my journey to forgiveness would need to take place without his participation.
Society tells us that the goal of forgiveness is to “forgive and forget.” Let bygones be bygones and act as if the offense never happened. Preachers challenge us with this adage. If I were a good Christian, I would just forgive Bruce and act as if he never hurt me.
But I’m not so sure.
Should we forgive and forget? Is forgiveness defined by our best efforts at pretending the offense never happened?
“You’ll have to bear with me. Please forgive and forget. I’m old and foolish,” King Lear remarked to Cordelia in Shakespeare’s play King Lear.
The maxim we banter around in Christian circles didn’t begin with Scripture, it began with Shakespeare.
Here’s why I believe we need to remember our offenses (committed upon us or by us).
So we can grow. We need to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Without the memory of our past, we’re destined to repeat it.
So we can be healed. Forgetting the offenses committed against us stops the healing process because all we’re doing is suppressing it. Denial actually halts what we need most.
Forgiveness is a strange animal. I can experience a cathartic cleansing that releases me from the pain of the offense one day—only to find the pain of the offense reawakened the next. Only by acknowledging the offense will I be able to move forward.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” James 5:16 tells us. I’ve always understood that verse in the context of the sins I’ve committed. But confessing the sins that have been committed against me also helps me heal. Obviously, that doesn’t mean broadcasting the offense to everyone I know. We should talk about the offense with one or two trusted people in private so we avoid gossiping.
So we can understand God’s grace. The offenses people have committed against me remind me of what people can do. Of what I can do. Like Bruce, I’m capable of doing some pretty mean things. Bruce needs the grace of forgiveness…just like me.
I’m still working through my forgiveness issues with Bruce, but even working on this post helps me move forward in releasing him from the offense. And it reminds me that someone out there is probably working through forgiveness issues toward me.
Fortunately, when we confess our sins to God, he forgives us completely and removes from us the stain of sin. But he doesn’t live in a constant state of amnesia. If he did, it would devalue the power of the cross because the cross can only be appreciated by remembering the depth of our offense.
So the next time you’re tempted to forgive and forget, remember that it’s Shakespeare…not Scripture.