Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Forgive and Forget

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I’m in a bit of a pickle.  Over the past year, I have completed most of the works of mercy.  But there is one that I have avoided with a vengeance — forgiveness.

Forgive others.  It sounds simple compared to some of the other works of mercy that have been more time-consuming. After all, I wouldn’t have to find a person in need or an organization to help.  I don’t have to make phone calls or appointments.  I don’t even have to go anywhere.  Doing it lies within me.  Yet, when I get into the elusive details of this fundamental teaching of my faith, forgive and forget easily turns into forget.  As in, forget it.

The concept of forgiveness truly mystifies me.  I picture a magician waving a wand, saying an incantation – maybe even a small cloud of smoke appears. Poof!  Ladies and gentlemen, we have forgiveness!

Except we don’t.

I don’t want you to misunderstand either.  I am a very easy going person.  I don’t hold grudges.  There’s nobody I wish ill on and to my recollection there never has been.

A few months ago, a decades old wound was opened.  I was surprised how bad it both hurt and angered me when it was something so far removed from my life.

Would I have felt that way, if had I forgiven this person?

For days I thought about the encounter.  I hated that it bothered me. I was mad at myself for being bothered.  I felt angsty, confused and sad. I thought a lot about the person I was at the time.  It occurred to me that I needed to forgive myself as much as anyone.

The experience made me wonder how many of us really ever heal.   I think, more accurately, we move on –and only because there is no other choice.  Life doesn’t stop for broken hearts, it’s indifferent to unfairness, and the world doesn’t so much as pause because someone insulted your intellect or even caused you physical harm.  Life just keeps going no matter how big the injustice or grievance.  It just goes.

Then, one day you look back and think how horrible that was and maybe you mourn a bit, or maybe you celebrate how far you have come from that place.  But either way, there is a wound, a scar, a battle-mark – whatever you want to call it.  It’s there because it’s a part of the experiences that make you who you are now.

This past year, by focusing so much on others’ suffering, I have thought a lot about my own.  I understand how certain experiences that I have long considered painful, left more than a scar.  They left me with insight, wisdom and compassion.

Would I change them if I could?  The only answer I have to this is more questions – What would I change them into? Is trading my plight for someone else’s going to mean less pain – or just different?

Hurting is part of our human experience.  Perhaps that is way Jesus emphasized forgiveness so much because He knew how much we would hurt one another. But through His love, He has transformed my wounds into arguably the best parts of me.

But does realizing that mean I have forgiven? Maybe it’s a part of it.

Jesus had been mocked, humiliated and brutalized.  While he hung from a cross He offered forgiveness to those who were still scorning him.  That certainly helps me to understand how important it is to Him that we forgive one another.  But it doesn’t help me understand how to do it.  What actually changed in His heart?

Many experts advise that it is important to forgive others so that you can attain peace within yourself.  Somehow, I don’t think Jesus forgives us for His own peace of mind.  Although it does make sense that if you harbor anger, resentment and hurt, you’re not going to have peace – or much room from happiness.

I have been to retreats where we burn little pieces of paper with big hurts on them.  This seems to help in a pyromaniac kind of way — where it’s fun to just burn something.  Still I’ve never forgotten what I have written on those slips of paper.

But maybe forgiveness isn’t about forgetting.

Perhaps it’s about remembering and loving someone anyway.

I did an internet search on forgiveness.  I read a few articles and pages of profound quotes.  It gave me a better understanding of why I was so confused.  Forgiveness is complicated.

First off, the importance of forgiving others appears infinite on the internet.  It’s kind of funny to me, actually.  Because if everyone knows how important it is, why is the world so angry?

One thing I learned that made sense to me was this — forgiveness is a decision.  When you make it, you turn it over to God and He replaces resentment with peace so that you can really let go of a grievance, not let it victimize you over and over again.

That seemed like a pretty good answer to my question on how to forgive.  I really liked the part about turning it over to God.  While I feel like Miss Bossy Britches delegating my grievances to God, I also realize He can turn the most hideous hurts into something beautiful.  I can’t turn them into anything more than an empty box of Kleenex.

Then, I found this scripture from Proverbs 10-12 “Hatred stirs up strife; but love covers all offenses.”

It made me think of the song my husband and I danced to at our wedding — What the World Needs Now Is Love by Jackie De Shannon.  I don’t know why I picked a wedding song that came out before I was even born.  It certainly wasn’t a standard love ballad, and I wasn’t a 1960s flower child.

Still, I chose it because I thought of my marriage as bringing more of love’s sweet goodness into the world.  Our love was more significant than two individuals because the nature of love is not confinement.  Love spreads.

My husband and I on my 40th birthday.

My husband and I on my 40th birthday.

I wanted everyone to know love the way I did.  So the song made sense to me. Just as the scripture from Proverbs does – “love covers all offenses.”

Maybe I don’t understand the complexities of forgiveness, but I do understand what it means to love.  I can do that.

So, have I forgiven offenses?  I have made the decision to, and am delegating the rest to God.  As I do, I can almost hear him say to me, “Mercy Me! I’ve got work to do!”  And already I feel better.

For my part, I am simply covering offenses with love.

Because of all that has changed in the world since I danced to that song on my wedding day, there’s still one thing that there’s still just too little of – love, sweet love….

I am interested in your own experiences with forgiveness.  Do you take a once in your done approach?  Is it a decision you make? A process?  Have you given it over to God? How do you know when you have really forgiven? (Okay, I think you get the gist!) As always, I appreciate your willingness to share your insight. 

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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

20 thoughts on “Forgive and Forget

  1. you are hilariously right!

    forgive.. a choice, Jesus forgives through us if we give him permission, or else we think that we are pretty holy

    layers and layers of forgiveness, depending on how deep the hurt,
    the things that are hardest to let go of ones that either hook into childhood wounds
    or when you have been falsely accused
    IF the person does not desreve forgiveness,
    then we do it so we are not chained to them for all eternity

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    • Melanie ~ That’s a great way to look at it– that if the person does not care about receiving our forgiveness we should give it anyway so not to be bound to them. Even having the conversation with God about handing over grievances was hard – it’s funny that I would want to hang on to something that has only hurt me. So I do think it’s an active, conscious, deliberate act that does involve a new perspective on our part — regardless of what the offender thinks or carries in their own heart.

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  2. I have forgave my brother, he had done many bad things (To me and our entire family) and was under the influence of some awful substances. I had every right to remove him from my life. As difficult as it was I forgave him. It was a decision I had to make. I Don’t have time to hold any grudges it becomes to much work.

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    • You are right Bruce. We put too much energy into our wounds. I think its commendable that you were able to forgive your brother. I think it probably helped him move in a better direction with his life. I think forgiveness can be profoundly difficult. Yet, like most things that require a lot of effort, worth it in the end.

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  3. I find forgiveness very challenging (understatement). To say that you can truly, wholly forgive someone, well that’s a miracle. And a gift. I usually use the “kill them with kindness” approach. (You could call it the “cover with love” approach). I think inner peace and forgiveness takes time, but mostly an open heart.
    I am flying with a girl whose husband left her after 28 years of marriage. Their 19-year-old daughter became a heroin addict and he crumbled. And left. I asked her about forgiveness. She said to set aside a specific time each day to open your heart and forgive. Give it to God. And when that time of the day is over, do not think of it the rest of the day. In other words, do not let it consume you. I cannot even compare heartache in my life to the enormity of hers. But she did say this: learn early to wholly forgive the little things. I think I will try harder and take her advice.

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    • Wow! That is sad about your friend. We should all pray for her peace. I will. Obviously, she has already shown tremendous strength.

      She gave you such wise advice too – to learn to forgive the little things. We may someday be glad we did, when we need the strength to forgive something big. It also builds habit and I think if we can get in the habit of letting things go, we are all the better.

      I also agree with what she said about setting aside time to forgive. That is what I learned more than anything about writing this post, is how little time I have spent with God asking Him to help me forgive certain people. When I did, I certainly felt different. It made me realize that I need help with it and it was empowering to ask for that. Especially, when you believe that He will be there for you. But it was funny to me, that we spend so much time with our wounds — we know them so well and yet how many of us have asked God to help us forgive them.

      It does all take time too and I meant what I said that some of those biggest hurts have become the best parts of me. But how much better it will all be and how much more I can offer my loved ones, if I take the step to forgive…

      Thanks Molly and I am going to pray for your friend.

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  4. I read this en route from my daughter’s place back home…wanted to join the conversation sooner, but am stupider than a smart phone, lol. I love your words “maybe it’s not about forgiving…” I think you may be onto something here.

    When I was meditating on the Lord’s prayer, it struck me that I am asking to be forgiven as I forgive. If I’m withholding forgiveness, or letting bitterness fester, is that really how I want the Lord to treat me with my shortcomings? I need to learn to forgive as He forgives, so that He will forgive as I do…because I want mercy for me, right? If I want mercy, I have to show mercy…if I want forgiveness and grace, I have to extend it…as unto the Lord, because you are right…that’s what it’s all about anyhow.

    Heavy stuff, Sister.
    Loving it!

    Lyn

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  5. Lara, I love this article. Years ago, decades in fact, I struggled with forgiveness and read this terrific book called Forgive and Forget: Healing The Hurts We Don’t Deserve by Lewis B. Smedes (1984). It was enormously helpful.

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    • Thanks, Kate. It was really a hard one to write…I deleted chunks of paragraphs at a time wondering what the heck it was I was trying to say. Write what you know. Well, apparently I know not about this! But honestly, even acknowledging that seemed to help…made me feel a little closer. Thank you for passing along the name of the book. I will look into it and hopefully it will help others too.

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  6. My deepest hurt did not diminish for 30 years until I saw my role in it. I understand now why she might have sought the outlet she did. I don’t condone it but understand and now the resentment is gone.

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    • Wow Terry. That is a powerful and perceptive. 30 years sounds so long, yet I look back and think I am not far behind you. That is a ridiculous amount of time to hold on to resentment so thank you for inspiring me to let it go…it’s always a comfort to hear stories like yours that end with peace. Maybe I am not that far behind you for that either. I hope so.

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  7. The Sunshine Award is awarded to bloggers whose writings “light up the dark corners of our minds”, I thought of you! I look forward to reading your thoughts and gleaning from your experience here at your blog home. You can find the details for receiving this award by following this link: http://letitbeginanew.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/the-sunshine-award/

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  8. I think it is simply a matter of the will. I have found myself willing to forgive my ex-husband, but the hurt still comes out in ways…like anger, and hurt and even insults. We were only divorced in March so, I know it will get better over time. Oddly, I forgave him very soon after he did everything he did and I felt peace that only God could have given me. I suppose there were things he kept doing that I kept needing to forgive and I couldn’t keep up the pace. Things got a lot worse in my spirit because of that. But, I’m slowly getting back on track. The thing that helped me so much at the beginning was that I thought of how I treated Jesus as His bride and how horribly I had betrayed Him over the years and how much worse I had treated Him than my husband ever treated me. Looking back, I feel more regret over how I reacted than because of anything he did to me (even though they were horrible things). I think if I had acted Christ like throughout the entire ordeal, then I could have retained the peace I had. I just hope that I can keep that lesson in my heart for the rest of my life.

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    • Beca,

      That is an important lesson to treat others well even when you are angry and hurting BUT I also would be gentle with yourself about it too. I have learned that sometimes part of healing is forgiving ourselves. So forgive you for not acting your most CHrist-like when you were most wounded. I believe God wouldn’t hesitate to forgive you. I think you bring up a good point though about how you couldn’t keep up the pace when he would hurt you again and again. I think its hard in our closest relationships to forgive again when we remember quite clearly the hurt they did to us before. It’s tough, for sure. I wish I had more insight. I truly have found some level of peace just by giving it over to God. It almost makes me laugh sometimes when I am praying and thinking of this big heavy burden that I am schlepping off into his hands — like ugh just take it! But I know He will and does and it is somehow a comfort to me. I will pray for your continued healing though and really appreciate you sharing your experience.

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  9. Only God can forgive perfectly. But although we may still have scars, I think if we have peace of soul, and genuinely pray for and try to love a hurtful person, then we have forgiven them. We may have to go back and forgive again, if the wound is re-opened, and we experience the pain again. I love what you said about God transforming your wounds into the best part of you. When we see that happen, surely we know we have forgiven as best we can. We are all a work in progress 🙂 Love the adorable picture of you and your husband!

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    • Thank you Patricia for such an encouraging comment. Since I wrote that post, I have started reading a book on forgiveness and it has been enlightening but it really is to me still an enigma, But you are right, only God can forgive perfectly and maybe we just have to make an effort to be open to doing it and with His mercy it will eventually happen. As much as I didn’t want to write about it or reflect on it – its definitely been good for me to do it and everyone’s insight and encouragement has helped so much. Thank you for being a part of it!

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  10. I found the greatest lesson on forgiveness in the book The Shack. I read it just prior to my own divorce. I found the words profound. The wounded man wants the man who has caused his daughters suffering to rot in hell. In his encounter with God, he comes to understand that God wants each of his children with him for all eternity, even the ones who have offended us and Him, and the only way that can happen is through an abundance of love and forgiveness on earth. . I believe it is the counterbalance that saves us all and allows forgiveness to bring peace. Yet I do find saying it out-loud is a reminder when the forgetting part gets in the way very helpful. (As in, ok God, i forgave this person, you heard me, please help me love them😄). I don’t find it hard to do, but I do find it to be a constant reminding of myself that its over. And, the reminder that after all the hurt and anger, nothing is worth the possibility of a seat in heaven, for all eternity. Thank you for your thoughtful words.

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    • Tricia, Your right and I have yet to hear it put so succinctly as ” And, the reminder that after all the hurt and anger, nothing is worth the possibility of a seat in heaven, for all eternity.” That’s true and powerful. I do think forgiveness is a gift that we have to seek, but that comes from God. I am in the seeking phase but trusting Him as I do gives me hope that peace will come.

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