Even if we have done the work of forgiveness, when the dying coals of pain, bad memories, and negative experiences are fanned to life by some reminder from the past, it is not always our first response to douse the flames, especially at the holidays. Sometimes we had rather just cozy up to the fire, make some s’mores, and warm our indignation by the roaring fire of our hurt and self-justification.
When we do, we find ourselves engulfed in the raging blaze of a private circular conversation that begins and ends with the misdeeds of others and our need for emotional vindication. We just cannot seem to forget what has happened to bring us to this place of misery. The fires of our memory easily find the oxygen to live on, especially when we grieve.
And though we may master forgiveness, for most of us forgetting is sometimes much easier said than done. When our heart is broken by the death of one we love, we remember the state of our mind and heart at that time in life when we were most wounded and vulnerable. For some, that time may be now. We may still duck and run when we see those who have hurt us or added to our pain, but we waste valuable emotional energy when we tenaciously remember the misdeeds of others. When we hang on to inept words that have wounded or hurt us, or harbor resentment toward those who have tried to comfort us but have said exactly the wrong thing, we are the only ones who suffer. They are oblivious or have forgotten. The best response of our spirit is to forgive and to forget. When we do, we feel relief, almost immediately. The burden of our grief somehow feels lighter, less weighty, a little more manageable. When we allow ourselves to forget, we take an important step toward rebuilding our life from the ashes of our grief.
If we are exhausted by all the emotional “fire drills” and are ready—really ready—to let go and forget, mentally we “stop, drop, and roll”. By doing something proactive, we direct our mind away from negative, destructive thoughts. To do this, we simply “forget to remember”. Try taking this approach when unpleasant memories from the near and distant past resurface from time to time. It seems they always do at the holidays. Scraping back through the unpleasantness of what is over and done is an easy habit to fuel. The outcome will always be the same, no matter how often we stir the ashes. Forgetting to remember is a valuable life skill that can be mastered by anyone with practice and repetition.
It is important to be very intentional about recognizing the cause of remembering to be able to enjoy fully the cleansing effect of forgetting, “You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away” (Job 11:16 NRSV). The art of forgetting is extinguishing the fire before it can rage into life and threaten our spiritual equilibrium. “Forgetting to remember” is like having a handy fire extinguisher strapped to our tool belt—it’s an essential piece of survival equipment, a lasting takeaway from our singular experience of love and loss and grief.
When we think about forgetting the hurtful, harmful events and incidents in our life that we need to release, this is the best holiday gift we can give to others and to our future selves. The one now lost to us in death will always be part of our life. We will never, ever forget the goodness of a life shared, blessed by God’s great gift of love, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 10:2 NRSV). Whatever our relationship—intense love, sad disaffection, or somewhere in between—in grief we are sustained by our best memories, those that are better remembered rather than forgotten. This is the sacred trust of life kindled together through the grace of God’s love.
When we forget the forgettable and hold fast to our most cherished unforgettable memories, we experience the life-giving joy of God’s steadfast love and divine comfort as we grieve, now and at the holidays, “…they shall name him Emmanuel, which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23 NRSV).