Forgive and Forget — But How?
Forgiveness can be real and powerful.
by DORLE FITSCH
Recently, quite a few people have come to me for help in dealing with things that have hurt them. Some couldn’t even tell if they had been hurt at first, because they felt confused whether something bad had actually happened, or were they trapped in some misconception? They would tell me about a situation that had been haunting them for quite a while. Some spoke about their fruitless tries to forgive, becoming angry with themselves and wondering why they just couldn’t let go.
Once I understood the situation, I would ask them something like, “Let’s forget for a moment why this could be right or wrong, and focus instead on one question:
“Did it hurt you?”
Tears of relief would fill the room as their “Yes” came out immediately. At this point, I began to talk about what had helped me to forgive.
I want you to understand a bit of my story. I am from Germany, and due to the culture and the trauma of two world wars, the ability to talk about emotions and to deal with them in a healthy way has become rare. I wouldn’t say it has been completely lost, but personally, I didn’t learn at home how to deal with conflicts — my parents didn’t learn it from their parents, they couldn’t teach me, so I had to learn it later in a different setting.
I did encounter situations where I had to forgive, but due to my background, I had never learned what forgiveness meant. During this process one thing became very important to me:
Forgiveness is not pretending nothing happened.
Whenever we had a conflict in our family, my father would eventually leave the room, after which there would be no further chance to talk about what happened. It was as if the situation wasn’t allowed to be there anymore — yet it never got solved.
And that’s how I dealt with conflict for a long time. I would leave, try to pretend that nothing bad had happened, try to forget, and also try to be nice to the people involved again afterward. I thought that this was forgiveness. But, it did not free me. Sadly, this continued for a long time before I understood how forgiveness actually worked.
I think there are more people suffering from a similar understanding of “forgiveness”. Fortunately, there was a moment when I realized that this approach is not “forgive and forget” — it’s only about forgetting!
But forgetting, in the sense of letting go and becoming free again, won’t work without forgiveness.
Let me share with you what I have learned about what forgiveness really means, and how we can apply it in our daily life.
Before I start, I want to clarify something:
I will only talk about your side of the forgiveness process.
The part that you can do on your own, and/or with the people who are helping you during the process. I’m not talking about what the person who hurt you needs to do. Even though it’s difficult, you just don’t have that in your hands. You can only effectively deal with what is your responsibility.
When you are hurt badly, it’s usually not a good idea to confront those who hurt you before you get clarity and deep peace about the situation. That would make things worse. So, when I talk about confronting, I mean the feelings or thoughts that you need to face. You can do this by using your mind, your imagination and — using Christian terminology — in the spirit.
You need to identify the cause of the pain.
First of all, forgiveness is about naming the thing that is painful, and being absolutely clear about what happened. It is about accepting every hidden part of this ugly event as a fact, so that there is nothing subtle floating around anymore. Many try to avoid this, because they fear the pain connected with it —yet it is extremely important in order to heal!
I strongly encourage you, if you have something haunting you, and you know forgiveness is necessary, confront this feeling. Get clear. Identify what happened and how that made you feel.
You need to allow the emotions.
The next part of forgiveness is dealing with the emotions involved. No matter the intentions or motives of the person who hurt you — the pain is real.
Your soul needs you to allow it to feel the pain.
And here I have to speak up for a righteous kind of anger for injustice. Stand up for your soul! Getting really angry about what happened helped me to understand that it was really a bad thing. This is how one comes to fully realize the issue.
Again, this is something you do either on your own or with a person who knows how to help you during the process. But this anger is very important to help the hurt part of your soul to feel protected, valued and safe again. You become “one” with yourself again by this process.
You need to free yourself from the wrong voices
and start listening to the right one. Releasing anger also helps you to shake off those feelings of guilt and accusations like, “You should not be mean, they didn’t mean to,” or, “As a Christian you shouldn’t get angry, but show love!”
Sorry, but to me, love is honest.
When I am hurt by someone, it doesn’t help the relationship if I don’t admit that I was hurt, even if I might feel shame, or fear that I am “feeling the wrong way,” or, “the un-Christian way.” If something was hurtful, it’s best to admit it sooner than later.
The kind of thoughts mentioned above often haunt us, and try to hinder our ability to overcome. That’s another reason to take a stand, to get angry with these voices and to cast them out. You can simply say “No!” to them and state that what happened was not at all okay.
It might help to think about what a good parent would do if this happened to their beloved child. As a Christian, asking God how he sees the event provides this kind of catharsis. Try to open your heart to hear from him in this moment. This is easier when you trust that he really is a good and loving father who wants the best for you. He loves you so much!
Forgiveness is spiritual surgery.
Forgiveness is actually a kind of spiritual surgery. Let’s compare the thing that hurt you with a piece of shrapnel. It has become stuck in your body, close to your heart. For this to be rectified, one needs to identify and locate the cause of the pain thoroughly and quickly, and then have it removed carefully, the right way, and completely so that no other part of the body gets hurt.
It is necessary to take everything out, because if anything is left it is going to cause even more pain later. Even infection might set in, one that can spread to unrelated parts and eventually the whole body. It’s also necessary to go to someone who really knows his profession and to trust them — because even an expert surgeon is rarely able to operate on himself in this situation.
My own experience is that when I admit the pain as unbearable, understood the cause, and located it, I was suddenly able to let go. When you identify the pain, the cause, and decide that it is something that needs to be removed from your life, this is the moment when you can hand the whole situation over to God. You are ready to forgive.
Forgiveness is delegation.
Forgiveness is admitting that you don’t want this situation dominating your life anymore. As a believer, you can simply ask God to be your surgeon. You could even write a letter of things you wish to delegate to God and put it in a box. Allow him to deal with it now. Leave it to him and trust him. He is a great healer!
There may still be some pain afterward, but it will be of a different kind. After surgery, one still experiences some pain because the body is in recovery and needs time to heal. It’s the same with the soul. This pain is more like grief, but a healing kind of grief. Allow the grief, and even the tears that may come with it. If you can, identify where those tears are coming from. I have personally experienced freedom and healing by grieving.
In summary, forgiveness is actually the process of powerfully admitting, locating, understanding and then delegating the entire event to God. It is letting him be the surgeon that allows us to become whole again.
After awhile, we find that though this event is still part of our story, it changes from painful memory to history. It doesn’t trigger us anymore like it did before. We get free. We can even dare to meet the people that hurt us with real love. Yet forgiveness doesn’t mean we will become best friends with the people that hurt us. That really depends on the quality of relationship we have with them. Most importantly, it depends on how they deal with the situation.
But that is the realm of reconciliation — a completely different topic!
In this case, forgiveness is about our freedom, our joy and our ability to move forward as healthy, strong and fearless sons and daughters of God. It is our duty to master relationships by taking care of our emotions, and allowing God to help us. In some cases, the forgiveness process takes more time, in some, less. But the more we practice, the easier it becomes.
P.S. Forgive me for not adding Bible verses to this article. I am sure there is a lot more to discover about forgiveness by digging deeper into Scripture— but this is meant to be kind of a “First-Aid-Kit”. I hope it helped you! If you wish to get more insight on biblical forgiveness, turn to 2 Cor. 1:15 to 2:11. Here, Paul had to forgive the Corinthians for something, and then asked them to forgive a certain person.
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