Recently I read about a woman who, when she was a freshman in high school, was villainized by her friend’s mom. Kim Tingley described the experience as a cruel campaign by the mother to spread misinformation. Although she never fully understood the underlying reason, Kim tried to forgive and move on. “In the years since,” she said, “I’ve tried to gain perspective…and yet, 15 years later – 15! – thinking about her still makes my heartbeat quicken and my stomach knot.”
That’s not healthy. It also raises an important question about forgiveness: if we still feel upset by the thought of the person, or the offense, or the circumstances that caused hurt in the first place – even though we’ve expressed forgiveness toward the wrong-doer – is the forgiveness complete?
This is where forgetting comes in. But is forgetting attainable?
If we’re forgiving an old friend who has apologized for wrong-doing, the answer might be yes. But what if there’s been no apology, or the offense was so terrible and the hurt so deep that we can’t imagine forgiving, much less forgetting? Are we prepared to hold the remnants of a grudge for years to come?
We know how Jesus would answer that question. The same man who encountered people who betrayed him, people who wanted to malign and stone him in spite of his healing-driven ministry, insisted that people should love one another, as he did. That’s impossible to do if you’re harboring the feeling that someone is unlovable.
Which brings us to the concept we have of others, and the feeling that we can’t forget about a wrong done or about the wrong-doer. Is such a concept permanent, or can it be changed? If it can, what is our role in changing it?
In an article titled ‘Love Your Enemies’ Mary Baker Eddy addressed this very issue, beginning with a few thought-provoking questions: “Can you see an enemy, except you first formulate this enemy and then look upon the object of your own conception? What is it that harms you? Can height, or depth, or any other creature separate you from the Love that is omnipresent good, — that blesses infinitely one and all?”
We set the stage for complete forgiveness by shutting out (forgetting) the human opinions and emotions so common to the human mind, and instead opening our thought solely to God, divine Love. We might be surprised at how much kindness and thoughtfulness we discover is here to be expressed when we’re conscious of God’s goodness, and insist that all of us have the capacity to be the purely loving being – the creation and likeness of God – that we actually are.
On this basis, Mrs. Eddy saw unforgiveness as resulting from a misconception of the infinite goodness of God and our relation to the Divine, therefore as something to be expunged. Nothing can make us believe we’re cursed with a hurt that has become a part of us.
Indeed, MBE understood the importance of forgiving and forgetting, as this unpublished letter to two of her students, Ellen & John Linscott, indicates: “Be happy together, help each other, never resent a wound from anyone, but leave it to God to avenge and heal…Forgive and forget every wrong. If this is not done, it works like remembering disease, it makes you a sinner, it grows chronic and incurable. I forgive every day, and forget, what human pride would scorn to do; but if I did otherwise it would harm me even more than my enemies.”
Forgiving and forgetting is the right thing to do. It’s the right way to live life. Those who do so attest to the weight that is lifted, the healthiness that is felt, and the love that fills the heart. That’s to be expected when we feel closer than ever before to the source of Life and Love.