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My mother used to say, “In order to forgive another’s offense, you must also forget about it.”

Forgive? Yes! Forget? No

I believed my mother until I became a teenager, at which point I questioned everything and couldn’t see how forgetting was possible. The fact that I even thought about forgetting told me I still remembered. And if the memory popped into my head unbidden, there wasn’t much I could do about that apart from think of something else, which didn’t change the fact that I hadn’t forgotten.

However, as an adult, I felt guilty for never mastering the principle my mother taught me. Then one day in early adulthood, I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and my conversion gradually cleared up many previous misconceptions not only about  Jesus Christ, but also about religion and all its parts—including the forgive/forget conundrum.

Two Main Aspects of Forgiving

I now know there are two main aspects to forgiving, neither of which involves forgetting.

  • The first one involves our need to be forgiven.
  • The second is our need to forgive others.

Both types of forgiving are vital for our mental, spiritual, and physical health.  Long-held anger, resentment, or hatred hurts us more than it hurts the one committing the offense. It has been said, “It’s not the snake bite that kills you – it’s the venom.” Forgive the snake and deal with the poison within.

A modern-day Apostle, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, said, “If we have sinned or made mistakes—if we have made choices that we now regret—there is the precious gift of Christ’s Atonement, through which we can be forgiven. We cannot go back in time and change the past, but we can repent. The Savior can wipe away our tears of regret and remove the burden of our sins. His Atonement allows us to leave the past behind and move forward with clean hands, a pure heart, and a determination to do better and especially to become better” (EN).

What is the Atonement?

The word “Atonement” refers to the agony suffered by our Savior, Jesus Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane and His subsequent crucifixion and resurrection.

A modern-day prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, says, “The great Atonement was the supreme act of forgiveness. The magnitude of that Atonement is beyond our ability to completely understand. I know only that it happened and that it was for me and for you. The suffering was so great, the agony so intense, that none of us can comprehend it when the Savior offered Himself as a ransom for the sins of all mankind” (LI).

How Do We Forgive?

Exactly how do we forgive both ourselves and others—and is forgetting the sin a part of the process?

Forgiving ourselves is often harder than forgiving others, but both depend on the same source for resolution, and that source is the Atonement of Jesus Christ.

Through repentance and sincere prayer (and sometimes an interview with the bishop of the local LDS Church), it is possible to begin the process that will result in personal forgiveness.

Forgiving someone else follows a similar course. It can include a meeting with the bishop if further help is required, and involves earnest prayer and an honest desire to forgive the offender. The Savior has already taken the burden of everyone’s sins upon Himself and has the power to heal and change us, wiping away our hurt and damaged feelings so that we may feel peace.

I know these things to be true because I have used the Atonement this way and witnessed the peace that follows forgiveness. But despite all this, I still remember some things I’d like to forget. The question remains—is this a problem?

Forgive? Yes! Forget? Sometimes

Today, as a senior adult, I don’t think that forgetting matters too much anymore—not if we have felt the soothing warmth of the Spirit that allows us to honestly forgive the other person, or to forgive ourselves as the Savior forgives us. I believe the Savior when He tells us He no longer remember our sins when we repent, but while I’m a mortal here on earth, I no longer feel guilty about my memories that occasionally come to mind.

Sometimes, the memory does go away, and that’s great. On those occasions when it doesn’t, we can be grateful for today’s changed circumstances. As long as we no longer allow bad memories to destroy our lives with bitter feelings, we can move forward in happiness. We do this by choosing not to dwell upon a memory if it should come to mind.

All this does not mean we tolerate or excuse a sin in any way, but that we have removed its effects from us and have allowed the Savior’s Atonement to cancel our pain through the Christian principle of forgiveness.

More about “Forgive and Forget”

“Forgive and Forget” was written by Anne Bradshaw. The subject “Forgive and Forget” is important to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you would like to know more about Mormons with no obligation, please click on the following links: