Have you ever done something you wish people would forget? Maybe you made a mistake, said something rude which you regretted, or were involved in an accident. Even though it was years ago, someone in your life occasionally reminds you with a barbed comment. I know married couples whose original love for each other has been worn down by the regular rehearsal of offenses. Sometimes the offenses were years before, but one partner or the other simply won’t forget.
Some people leave a geographical area because people won’t forget. A business person I knew in one community moved to another state to make a fresh start. It was just too hard to deal with the constant reminder of his misfortune. Such a painful separation would be unnecessary if people would learn and practice healthy ways of forgetting offenses.
In the Bible there’s a prayer, “Do not remember our sins forever, LORD. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.” Isaiah 64:9 In fact, it is the infinite mercy of the Lord not to hold all our mistakes against us. If God did that, no one could possibly grow spiritually.
Imagine wiping the slate clean, taking the attitude that something that happened actually doesn’t matter anymore. The lesson has been learned, and it’s time to start fresh. It takes special effort to do this in daily life. It means not dwelling on the offense, not mentioning it out loud, not even talking about it internally. Let it go. Forget it.
This is sometimes hard to do. We want to share our lives with others and process things that are upsetting. When something happens, it’s easy to think, “Who shall I tell?” “Who can I share this with?” But how much talking, how much processing is enough in order to drop the conversation entirely?
Our relationships with others are such a precious commodity. Why would we risk losing a relationship in order to hang on to our negative state? Why would we resist forgetting offenses against us? Actually, the reason is spiritual. When we identify with self, we put self first in importance. Anything that feels like an attack against self is met with defensiveness. Defensiveness uses tools to build “inner accounts” that manifest themselves in negative thoughts and emotions. We even end up maintaining them in our bodies with tension, illnesses, and nervous reactions.
The illusion is that we have no choice but to be offended, but the reality is that being offended is our choice. We can think one thing or another. Our emotions come and go. Even our bodies change depending on what we choose to hold on to. But we are not our bodies, our emotions, or even our thoughts. We are spiritual beings having a worldly experience. What is the spiritual value of holding on to offenses? There is none.
It is an illusion of the senses to think that some outside condition is responsible for our internal state. We fall prey to that illusion when we identify with the condition, the illusion, instead of focusing on the opportunity to love and be loved.
Think of the Biblical story of Joseph’s brothers being offended about his dreams and their father’s love for him. Their negative reaction was so damaging, and it affected them for years and years. But Joseph was able to let go of the offense, and to make something good of his life in spite of the bad circumstances. In the end he invited his brothers to forget their offense, and he wiped the slate clean.
We tend to think of forgetting as a problem, a defect. We apologize for forgetting, either to ourselves or to others. Sometimes we even use mnemonic devices to help us remember things. But other times, not being able to remember various details of the past is a huge gift. How can we train ourselves to forget things? By using reminders that the offenses no longer matter; they no longer serve us; we can replace the defensive, reactive energy with curiosity, empathy, and respect.
Forgetting helps us to learn what we want to choose as our priorities.
Additional quotations for reflection:
Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good. Psalm 25:6,7
“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:18-19
“No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Jeremiah 31:34
“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live.” Ezekiel 18:21-22
All temptation comes about through influx from the hells. For spirits from there stir up and bring out all the wicked deeds a person has performed and wicked thoughts he has entertained, and they use these to incriminate him and condemn him. As a result he suffers pangs of conscience, and anxiety fills his mind. These feelings are brought about by an influx from the hells. Secrets of Heaven 8159
A man begins to feel that people owe him, that he deserves better treatment, more rewards, more recognition, and he writes all this down in a psychological account-book, the pages of which he is continually turning over in his mind. And such a person begins to pity himself so much that it may be almost impossible to talk to him about anything without making him at once refer to all his sufferings. [Nicoll p 253]
But we have all sorts of longstanding accounts against others, some of them stored up in the past, unfortunately for ourselves. They all begin with this mysterious question of one’s own valuation of oneself. A person with some self-observation might well exclaim: “What is this thing in me that is offended at this moment and has already begun to make accounts? Look, I can observe it at work in me collecting materials and beginning to remember unpleasant things and to find words and phrases to use against the other person so as to make him feel that he is under-estimated by me; in fact, to make him realize he is so much dirt.” [Nicoll pp 1140,1141]