We’ve all heard the cautionary admonition, “forgive and forget”. Most of us would probably agree that it’s much easier said than done, especially when we grieve. With prayer, over time we may find the spiritual grace and resolve to forgive others even as we ourselves need to be forgiven. But forgetting, well that’s another matter altogether, “But this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14 NRSV).
Even if we’ve done the work of forgiveness, when the embers of bad memories, negative experiences, our pain, hurt, and all the rest are fanned to life by some external or internal reminder, it’s not always our first reflex to douse the flames. Sometimes we’d rather just cozy up to the fire, make some s’mores, and warm our indignation by the roaring fire of self-justification. When we do, we find ourselves engulfed in the raging blaze of our circular conversation within that begins and ends with the misdeeds of others and our need for emotional vindication. We just can’t forget what’s happened to bring us to this place of misery and turmoil – the fires of our memory easily find the oxygen to live on…
But if we’re exhausted by all the emotional “fire drills” and are ready - really ready - to let go and forget, mentally we “stop, drop, and roll”. We do something – we “forget to remember”. I’ve taken this approach lately as some memories and thoughts of my mother have repeatedly surfaced. Scraping back through the unpleasantness of the past is an easy habit to get into, even though the outcome will always be the same. I’ve had to be very intentional about recognizing the cause and effect and directing my mind away from negative, destructive thoughts. Consciously I’ve extinguished the fire before it could rage into life and threaten my spiritual equilibrium. “Forgetting to remember” is like having a handy fire extinguisher strapped to the tool belt of our life. “Forgetting to remember” is a gift of grief, a life skill that’s a lasting takeaway from our singular experience of love and loss.
When we think about forgetting, especially at the holidays, it’s the hurtful, harmful events and incidents in our life we want to release. The one now lost to us in death will always be part of our life, whatever our relationship - intense love, sad disaffection, or somewhere in between. As we grieve we’re sustained by our best memories, now the precious, sacred trust of the past we once knew together with our loved one. 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). When we forget the forgettable and hold fast to the unforgettable - our cherished memories - we experience the life-giving joy of God’s steadfast love and divine comfort as we grieve, now and at the holidays.
You will forget your misery; you will remember it as waters that have passed away.
Job 11:16 NRSV
Keep me this day, O God, in the grace of holy forgetfulness. Amen.