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Maria, who loved both her divorced parents, was talking with her mother about trying to build a relationship with her father. When his previous actions that led to the divorce came up, her mom said, “It’s not something you can just forget.” Maria retorted, “You can if you try hard enough.” Is that true? Is it possible to forgive and forget?

Some things are just unforgettable. I guess that is why we say, “I can forgive, but I can’t forget.” Years ago, I remember a teenager asking me if it was possible to forget the terrible things that had happened to her. Honestly, I didn’t know how to respond. Somehow it seems like if we forgive that gives us the ability to forget. But, some things really are just unforgettable. God created us with an incredible mind. A mind that just doesn’t forget things. But, He also created us with the ability to “not remember.”

How so? Remembering requires action.

I will probably never forget some of the things that have happened to me, but I can make a choice to not remember them. For instance, as I’m writing this, certain wounds from my life are parading by in my mind. I will call that “not forgetting.” Remembering, however, is going to the next level and rehearsing in my mind what happened, and even perhaps trying to figure out how things could have been different. Remembering for me often happens in places where I am alone and quiet, like in the shower. Remembering is something I choose to do. Not forgetting is just something that happens because I’m human.

The Scriptures teach us that “remembering” includes taking action.

For instance, the Scriptures talk about God being able to “not remember” sins. How is that evenpossible? How can the God of the Universe, The supreme, all-knowing Being not remember something? It isn’t that He forgets. He doesn’t forget. But, He can choose not to remember.

When God says things like: “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins, ” and “for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more,”(1) He is actually saying, “I will not act upon those sins.” It isn’t that God suddenly forgets about us committing sins, it is that He will not take action against us for those sins.

When God remembers something, He acts upon it.

God remembered Noah and the animals in the ark and thus acted, causing a wind to dry up the water.(2) God remembered the barrenness of Rachel and Hannah and acted by opening their wombs.(3) And, in one of my favorite stories, God heard the groans of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, remembered His covenant with the forefathers and put into motion the miracle of deliverance and redemption.(4)

The Ten Commandments also include this idea of remembering and action. The fourth commandment states, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”(5) When we remember the Sabbath, we take action to prepare to keep that day separate from the other six days. To remember the Sabbath is to take action by treating that day in a special way.

So how does this idea of remembering apply to forgiveness? When I remember the offense, I can choose not to act upon it. I can prepare my mind to travel a different path than the one of anger, bitterness, disappointment or hurt. It is true that I probably won’t forget what happened to me. But, I can follow my Creator’s example and choose to not remember the offense. I can say to myself, “I will remember this offense no more.”

What are some practical ways that I can choose not to remember? When I’m in the shower, and the thoughts come swirling in, I can choose to breathe a word of prayer for my offender. I can choose to sing a song of praise because praise, as my father-in-law was fond of saying, is the ladder out of the pit of despair. I can recite a Scripture verse that will force my thoughts into a healthy place. I can choose to not rehearse the scenes over and over again. I can choose to not remember by: not letting anger boil up, not crying, not allowing bitter roots to grow up in my spirit, not talking about it with others, not isolating myself, or not giving depression the opportunity to sink its talons into my flesh.

The dictionary defines forgetting as, “failing to remember, put out of one’s mind, stop thinking about.” It defines forgiveness as, “to stop feeling angry or resentful toward someone for an offense.” So, the next time I am tempted to say, “Well, I’ve forgiven, but I can’t forget,” maybe I should remind myself that a key to forgiveness is to not give myself an excuse to rehash the offense. Psychologically, when I say, “I forgive but I can’t forget,” I am telling myself it is o.k. to think about it, to remember it, to put action to my thoughts.

Yes, some things are unforgettable. But, that doesn’t mean that I need to remember them.


1. Isaiah 43:25 and Jeremiah 31:34
2. See Genesis 8:1.
3. See Genesis 30:22 and 1 Samuel 1:19.
4. See Exodus 2:24-25.
5. Exodus 20:8
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