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How Can I Forgive When I Can’t Forget?

October 14, 2013 by  
Filed under Forgiveness, Patti Armstrong

How Can I Forgive When I Can't Forget?

While many people believe forgetting an injury is part of forgiveness, Fr. Justin Waltz, pastor of St. Leo's Church in Minot, ND, suggested just the opposite. In fact, he stated that forgetting is not even possible. “The only type of forgetting I have heard of is stuffing,” he said during a retreat presentation and added, “The hurt is not gone, it is just buried deep within.”

Since forgetting is not an option given our memories, Waltz said that God has provided an even better remedy–the divine transformation of a resurrection within our souls. He pointed out that Christ himself retained the wounds of his crucifixion. “Had he wanted to, Jesus could have healed his body so completely that even the scars did not exist,” he explained. “Christ is not ashamed of these scars, rather he wears them as his testament to his victory over sin and death.”

Transforming Pain

By keeping the scars, he said that Jesus taught us some great truths about suffering. Christ suffered a brutal and humiliating death but resurrected while retaining the scars. Since he has gone before us, Waltz explained that through faith in God, we can trust that nothing is beyond his healing, no matter how deep or how painful. “God goes beyond forgetting. He transforms us and brings us out of the tomb into the light of the resurrection, not only healed but victorious.”

Waltz stated that God’s healing begins with faith in him to heal all things. “Just for a moment, imagine what sort of life and power would be unleashed in your heart if you allowed God to transform your pain into victory,” he said.

He laid out some of the essentials for recovering from hurts. Regarding those that struggle with the concept of a loving God, he explained that God does not desire our suffering, but it is a fallen world. “God created free will and when he did, this, he tied his hands,” Waltz explained. Through human free will, sin and death entered the world. “But in every circumstance that evil occurs, God has created an out, even death in which he has created a place where there is no death, pain or suffering,” he said.

“Forgiving God really comes down to not holding God responsible for something that he did not do. When we do this, we allow God to do the very thing that God does best–set us free from the pain.” Waltz said to recall that God shows us only love and mercy even to the extent of sending his only son to suffer for our sins and save us.

Whatever the pain we want to overcome, Waltz pointed out that part of the transformation that can happen is when people use their pain, regardless of whether it came from others or their own bad choices, as a good to help others. He used the example of speaker Carroll Everett who came to Bishop Ryan High School and shared with the students that her life took a dark turn after she had an abortion. She began abusing alcohol, her marriage fell apart and she started working in the abortion business. After her conversion, she was transformed and now uses her past to speak out for life and help others to heal. Those who have suffered pain are usually the ones most effective in helping others overcome the same pain. Waltz cautioned, however, that before the transformation, people need to forgive themselves. “The remedy for forgiving ourselves simply lies in allowing Christ’s mercy and forgiveness to conquer our self-regret and self-hatred. It’s as if he reaches into our very hearts and pulls us out of ourselves and into his life. Then, who are we to accuse what he has forgiven?”

Finding Peace Little by Little

After the resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus gave us the gift of peace, “Peace be with you.” (John 14:27). According to Waltz, it is that peace that people can find through forgiveness. He said for post on how can i forgivethat forgiveness does not mean forgetting and nor does it mean necessarily reconciling in all cases when we must forgive others. Instead, he explained that forgiveness of others means removing the debt they owe us. In the Gospel of Matthew 18:23-35, the parable of the unforgiving servant shows that forgiveness means removing a debt–that we no longer hold a person’s debt against them. In the story, a servant is forgiven a large debt but then he goes out and refuses to forgive a smaller debt. Thus, just as Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins–a very large debt–we must forgive others.

Waltz stated, “It is the very remedy that we seek in order to move on and reconstruct our lives–leaving behind the old and embracing the new.” He acknowledged that forgiveness is sometimes beyond us so that we must begin with the desire to forgive and lean on God to take us the rest of the way, little by little, day by day. “But when in the darkness and the hurt we can find it in ourselves to even whisper ever so gently, I forgive you, it’s as if there is a genesis of new life that begins and this new life is far stronger than the one that has been taken from us.”

One problem with healing in our culture according to Waltz is that people often don’t understand that it takes time and unlike drive-thru restaurants and the Internet, it’s not an instant process. “The body does not heal quickly and frankly nor does the soul,” he stated. Another problem he said is the tendency for people to want to bury and ignore old wounds. “It is much easier to be angry and resentful or to just cover it up then to have to go through spiritual surgery,” he said.

Waltz made three recommendations he has seen help people with the process of healing. The first is to go to confession since it is a sacrament of healing which brings life to souls. The second, for those with deep wounds, is counseling with a Catholic psychologist who practices his faith. And the third way is to relate to Jesus in prayer, especially through the Mass. “Tell Christ about the pain and placing that pain into his healing wounds,” said Fr. Justin. “Jesus is the power to help forgive others and he is the power that will help you forgive yourself, for he is love, he is mercy, and he is our healing.”


Art for this post on How Can I Forgive When I Can't Forget?: Mosaik mit wiederauferstandenem Christus [Mosaic showing the resurrection of Christ] San Martino della Battaglia (Italy) Ossuary, Beinhaus, 1880, photographed by Wolfgang Sauber, 23 July 2012 own work, CCA-SA 3.0 Unported; Am Beichtstuhl Bild aus Seite 151 in “Die Gartenlaube”. (In the Confessional Image from page 151 of journal Die Gartenlaube), Heinrich von Angeli, 1874, PD-US published in the U.S. prior to January 1, 1923, author's life plus 80 years or less; Wikimedia Commons.

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About Patti Maguire Armstrong

Patti Maguire Armstrong and her husband have ten children. She is an award-winning author and was managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press's Amazing Grace Series. Her newest books are: Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families, a collection of stories to inspire family love, and Dear God, I Don't Get It and the sequel, Dear God, You Can't Be Serious, children's fiction that feeds the soul through a fun and exciting story. Patti's Blog Facebook. Twitter.

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  • Clare Cotter

    Well said! Thank you.

  • Jeanette

    “By keeping the scars, he said that Jesus taught us some great truths about suffering. Christ suffered a brutal and humiliating death but resurrected while retaining the scars. Since he has gone before us, Waltz explained that through faith in God, we can trust that nothing is beyond his healing, no matter how deep or how painful.” This statement gives all of us much hope.

    In the past, I had a terrible hurt in the form of a deep betrayal done to me by someone very close. I ranted and raved over the injustice at first but over the years, by asking Jesus to help me forgive, He has healed those scars. We all have suffered at the hands of others but when we can honestly pray for the one who has hurt us so badly and really wish them well, then by the grace of God, we can recover complete peace again. Thank you so much for this inspiring post. God bless you! And Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canadian readers. We have much to be thankful for!

    • LizEst

      Happy Thanksgiving to you and all Canadian readers as well, Jeanette! God bless you!

  • Rosemaid

    Forgive and forget we’re told. Forgiveness is an act of will not a feeling. We can forgive the trespass but it is only the hurt from it that we forget. After asking the Lord to help me forgive whatever, sometimes many many times, I know that when the hurt finally leaves that I have truly forgiven the person who had caused me the pain. God bless one and all. <

    • LizEst

      Oh, I love your little diagram of the fish! First time I’ve seen that. Thanks.

      • Rosemaid

        Lizest, I sure wish I could claim it was MY fish but it is fun isn’t it?
        > It can swim this way too (teehee).

        • LizEst

          Very clever! < This one has Christ in its heart!

          • Rosemaid

            That’s the Best yet!

          • LizEst

            All the glory to the Lord…after all the fish is a Christian symbol!

  • Mary

    This is beautiful. Thank you! I think I will print it out and give it to those to whom i try to explain the concept of forgiveness – often they think that forgiving means saying the hurt doesn’t matter or that what the other did was ok or no big deal. I also love the affirmation that forgiveness often takes time, is a process and doesn’t always require reconciliation. I have found this to be the case in my own life and often ask God’s assistance in this by praying for those who have injured me. Forgiveness is not some off-the-cuff thing we do, it is serious business and our own salvation depends on it!

    • LizEst

      Yes, forgiveness often takes time…but, we can and we must learn to forgive quickly from the cross…just like Jesus did. Forgiveness is a decision of the will, not a feeling. The more we practice forgiveness, the more we exercise our “forgiveness muscle”, the more grace we will receive to forgive supernaturally. It’s not something we can do of our own. It’s something we are given the grace to do…if only we will cooperate with that grace.

      God bless you Mary.

      • Mary

        Agreed! But some wounds are deep and can take years of prayer and assistance from the Holy Spirit in order to forgive. Our brothers and sisters need to know that this is ok – that they are not bad Christians because it is taking time and true effort to forgive. Depending on the level of pain inflicted even mature Christians can struggle. Johnette Benkovic of Women of Grace once shared that her spiritual director told her to begin with praying for the desire to desire to forgive. And sometimes one can even think they have forgiven only to have something trigger an emotional response from the event – a blessing in disguise – a gentle reminder from the Holy Spirit that our work in forgiveness is not done! Peace

        • Camila

          Mary, there are scarred and healed wounds in me that the accuser loves to point to when I’m with those I have deliberately forgiven. All will be peace and thoughts will come like “oh, but remember what he/she did to you” … “remember the pain”….”remember how terrible a betrayal”…. he goes on and on…. my response “yes! I remember, and I have forgiven them, every bit of it, I command you to the foot of the cross” “blessed be God, and may He reign in my heart always” – the accuser will work hard to try to keep wounds alive – but you gotta work hard too and renounce him and any lure he might give to cling back to what has been forgiven. This, i believe does not show that I haven’t forgiven. I agree with LIz, be deliberate and quick to forgive, say to yourself “I FORGIVE, period” — the feelings are a gift of God not a necessary requirement for forgiveness.

          • LizEst

            Yes! …and this is why the Lord tells us in Scripture we must forgive seventy times seven! Thus each time the hurt is brought up to us, we must forgive it again and again …until some day we can look at the betrayal, the wrongdoing and say, “Yes, I see it. It was not right. It was outrageous. Truly, by the grace of God, I have forgiven them and will continue to forgive them…just as the Lord continues to forgive us. I love them because you love them, Lord. And, I thank you, Lord God, for what took place because it has brought me closer to you, to the cross (the narrow gate) and all the graces I am so thankful to receive from you. Blessed be you most Holy Trinity. May you be glorified now and forever.”

            …one thing, though, we must never engage the devil in conversation. It’s very dangerous. Too dangerous for me! It’s safer to call on the Lord, our Blessed Mother, Saint Michael and all the saints.

          • Mary

            So we should never say anything to Satan?! Because I have to my children to say “in the name of Christ begone from me” or “get thee behind me, a child of God”. Is this dangerous for them – are they somehow more vulnerable because of it?

          • LizEst

            We’ve had this discussion on this blog many times but you may not have been here for it. Yes, it is dangerous to engage Satan or any devil. And, it makes whoever does it more vulnerable because of it. Why? Because we are not as smart as they are. And, demons are very cunning tempters and liars. They are much more intelligent than we are and have been studying human beings for a long time. Have your children say something like, “Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus, deliver me from all evil.” This way, they are calling on the Lord God to deliver them rather than talking directly to a demon or demons. Even exorcists only command demons in God’s name. And, even in this round about way, they do so as little as possible and only when absolutely necessary.

            ps. Please read what Jeanette says above as well.

          • Jeanette

            Yes, it is dangerous to engage the devil in conversation as he can trip us up. St. Faustina, when she recognized she was being tempted, would say, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt amoungst us” and that would be enough to dispel the bad spirits. I know, I know, that was St. Faustina, the super Saint, but we can learn much from the Saints so I have tried to remember to adopt that habit too.

          • Mary

            God bless you,Camilla, and may his peace remain with you! I do not experience this and so these are not the triggers to which I am referring, but I am grateful that he, in his wisdom, has given you incite on how to deal with it. A new study about healing the wounds of the heart is supposed to be coming out and I cannot wait to be able to offer it to people. Forgiveness is such a difficult and misunderstood topic.

  • This article is one of the most useful I have ever read about coping with forgetting. The fact that we do not have to feel guilty over not being able to forget, that wounds do leave scars but that we don’t have to be ruled by those scars is very freeing.

    • Rosemaid

      Yes scars mean the injury is healed and eventually they no longer hurt. If I do revisit the scar I can praise & thank our Good God because I know He is the one who did it for me!

  • Patti Maguire Armstrong

    I love the saying that when you forgive, you set a prisoner free. It is you.

    It seems that everyone struggles with forgivness but some have greater difficulty doing it. Others have great issues to forgive. I have interviewed family members of murder victims who have found it within their heart to forgive. It was not easy but it brought them freedom.

    One woman I know, is an activist against Capital Punishment even though her daughter was murdered. She pointed out that those that fight for Capital Punishment as opposed to Life in Prison, are continually dragged back into court and must relive the pain over and over. She has seen it destroy people’s lives and marriages. Not forgiving and seeking revenge ends us killing us from the inside.

    That is not to say that it is easy or that those who struggle with traumatic experiences. Even little slights are hard but Jesus showed us mercy and we must do the same.

    In the movie, “Amish Grace” there is a beautiful explanation of the how important it is to forgive. This is about the story of the October 2, 2006 shootings of ten Amish schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, PA.

    “Hate is a very big thing; a very hungry thing with sharp teeth and it can eat up your whole heart with no room left for love,” one of the fathers said to his daughter, Ida, who was struggling with forgiving the one who killer her sister.

    He explains further, “We are lucky. God understands this so he is the one that will hand out the punishment so we don’t have to carry around this hate if we don’t want to.”

  • Jean

    Last night, I came home from church very upset. A leader of a church group I am involved with has been shunning me for years, and I keep going back with outstretched arms hoping this time I will be accepted. Last night, we were told that we should see God’s hands in our lives, even in our sufferings. God disciplines the one he loves, you know. If we are enduring suffering, it is because God permits it. Imagine, being told by someone who cruelly excludes you and dismisses you that this suffering is coming from God? Well, the pain was extreme in this moment, I can tell you. I want so much to help and participate and give my service to the Church in this group, and yet I am kept on the peripheries looking in all the time. When I got home and sat in my normal place, where I keep the beautiful face of Jesus on my desk, I could not even look at Jesus I was so angry at him. I literally pulled the coverlet in my chair over my head, blocking him out of my heart. Then this morning, I open your article and read, “Forgiving God really comes down to not holding God responsible for something that he did not do”. I just cried like a baby when I read those words. All I can say is thank you. This is not God’s fault.

  • Maria

    Thank you Patti.

  • Thank you for reminding us that God did not create us with a Delete Button to erase painful hurts and memories. Instead I believe He wants us to offer all of them to Him and ask Him to give us the Grace to cope and continue forgiving Seventy Times Seven every Day.

  • Carrie

    I don’t understand how God would not be responsible; could someone explain further? There are probably lots of books out there I should be reading, and maybe it can’t be clarified in a comment section anyway. Doesn’t He employ suffering to purify us and free us from attachments? Aren’t we supposed to bear our pain knowing that, even if our abusers meant to hurt us, God meant it lovingly for our ultimate good? I could see how God might not be the source of false messages we might imbibe about the world and ourselves through suffering, but surely He is responsible for the trial itself?

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