How to Forgive When You Can't Forget
Updated: Feb 12
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"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." Colossians 3:13
I was surprised when I saw her walking into the crowded restaurant and being seated in a table not far from mine. It had been so many years since I had seen her. It wasn't so much that I was surprised that we would end up in the same place one day—small towns make that almost impossible. I was surprised by my reaction to seeing her. Something in the pit of stomach ached with an emotion I didn't recognize. I faked a smile for the people at my table, but I couldn't concentrate on anything that was being said. I'm embarrassed to say that I was staring.
Her and her husband (my ex-boyfriend) laughed as they looked over their menus and sipped their red wine. They seemed happy and I was happy for them, wasn't I? Time had been kind to her, she looked almost exactly like she had the last time I saw her. It had been at least two decades since I had seen either of them. Yet in that moment, I felt as if I had been transported back into the past; back when she and I were the closest of friends, back before she betrayed our friendship and it was never repaired.
I looked over at my husband, who was telling a story to the couple who were joining us for dinner, and I smiled and patted him lovingly on the knee. He was still as handsome as the day I met him. I knew from the moment I met him that I would love him for the rest of my life. As I glanced back over at my ex-boyfriend, I knew that we would have never lasted. He was not the man for me. And so, it was not the fact that she was the person that my ex-boyfriend was cheating on me with, it was not the lies that he told me, it was not that he broke my heart.
It was that she broke my heart.
It was difficult when it all happened. All three of us worked at the same place and were forced to see each other all the time. The people at work took sides; they were either in my camp or hers, and I hated that. I just wanted to forget all of it. But they were always there as a constant reminder of what was lost. As close as she and I were, I have to tell you that she showed no remorse. She never apologized, never tried to make it right. Her response to me was that I needed to "Get over it."I thought I knew her so well. We had shared so many memories, dreams, and secrets. How could she just discard me like I was nothing?
It took about a year for her and I to speak to each other beyond what little we said to each other while we worked. They had gotten engaged and were getting married in the next year, and I had moved on with my life and I was dating someone else. My feelings for him had become a distant memory. Like the bottle of red wine that sat at their table that night, I had gotten better with age. I was convinced that I had forgiven her and moved on. But at the restaurant, twenty years later, I wasn't so sure.
Sometimes the cut and the wounds heal, but the scars remain. I knew that I had to find a way to make this right with God. I could not continue to forgive and not forget—I had to forgive her completely.
Strongs Concordance says to forgive means to "send away, to let go, let alone, and let be. As I began to consider how I was going to reconcile this within myself and with God, I came to believe that there are three things that one must consider when looking at letting it go.
3 Ways to Let it Go and Learn to Forgive and Forget
1. Lay it down before the Lord.
Psalm 55:22 reminds us, "Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved."
The most important part of the letting go process, was realizing that it was not something that I could do on my own. I tried that twenty years ago, and I was reminded by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that I had not completed the forgiveness process. So many times I have found myself in these types of situations where I am trying to control and handle these difficult situations on my own. I need to lay this burden down before Him and let Him be God. As I let it go and release it into His capable hands, He will sustain me and He will not let me be moved. God whispers to us to be still, that He is in control, that He will carry the burden, that He will make all things work together for our good. With His grace I know that I will be able to release what I have been holding on to for far too long.
2. Remember that I can't be forgiven unless I also forgive.
"And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Matthew 6:12. "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive other their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." Matthew 6: 14-15.
I don't know about you, but that is a very powerful statement that Jesus is making. We must forgive if we want to be forgiven. There are many things that I need to be forgiven for, as I am sure we all can say, and to know that my unforgiving is preventing me from having a right relationship with God is an eye-opener and a wake-up call. Knowing that I had to yield to what God was calling me to do, I stood up from the table, excused myself, and went over to where they were sitting. They were both very surprised to see me, and I think it took a moment for them to realize who I was. It's funny how you can be carrying such a strong burden over someone, and they have completely forgotten it and you in the process.
We spent a couple of minutes with small talk about our lives and our kids and how long it had been since we all worked together, and as my heart was pounding, and my hands were sweating, I spoke up and said, "Hey I know this is going to sound crazy, but I just wanted you to know that I forgive you for what happened all of those years ago."
They looked at each other with a puzzling glance. They did think I was crazy, but it was okay because I was obeying the voice of God and He was with me. She pursed her lips and squinted and replied, "Ok?" And I knew that she didn't realize what I had been holding on to. She also didn't realize how good I felt in that moment; in the middle of that busy restaurant, I was free!I apologized for interrupting their dinner and went back to my table feeling light as a feather; burden gone.
3. Forgiveness doesn't mean that what she did to me was right.
As I made my way back to my table, I had forgiven her, I had let it go, I was free from carrying this burden any longer—but that doesn't mean that I condone what she did to me. She hurt me and betrayed me. To this day I have trouble trusting other women in the early stages of a friendship because of instances like this one. I put up a wall and it takes a lot for someone to break through it. I feel the need to protect myself from ever letting a friend wreck me again.
Maybe it is the same for you. When you forgive someone, it doesn't mean that what they did to you was okay. But we forgive because we are commanded to forgive. "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Ephesians 4:32.
Remember that forgiveness is for you, not for them. She didn't even know what I was talking about, and so my coming to her in humility and forgiving her, meant nothing to her. Whatever she did to me in the past, she will have to reconcile that one day with God.
IT WAS FOR ME!
God wants us to be unburdened by bitterness and unforgiveness. He wants us to be free. He wants us to be in harmony with Him, to show others grace and mercy, and be forgiven us as we forgive.
I pray if you are carrying the weight of bitterness or unforgiveness, that you will find the courage to follow these three steps and be free. You don't need to carry it around with you anymore. Forgive and forget and let it go....
Say this prayer if you are struggling:
Father I lay down (person's name) to You. Lord, I am having a hard time forgiving them. I want to forgive, but the pain keeps me from moving forward. But today, I choose to give it all to You; the pain, the bitterness, the desire for revenge, I give it all to You. Lord, heal every part of me that is being affected by this situation. I release them and all of my pain to you now. In Jesus' mighty name.