“Never forgive. Never forget.”
My heart sank a little.....ok, it sank a lot. I felt overcome with sadness. I was sorrowful, not for the event memorialized on this truck, but for what I had just read about the reaction to it. I felt sorry for the person driving that truck.....sorry for their heavy, bitter heart.
It's been my experience that you can tell a lot about a person by the bumper stickers they choose to put on their vehicles. Sometimes, I'll read a bumper sticker, and I'll think to myself.....”Out of all the things in the world, THIS is the one thing you want people to know about you?”
Now, let me be clear. 9/11 was a horrible tragedy. I don't think anyone would dispute that. We all remember where we were and what we were doing on the fateful day. That day is marked by a display of hate and brazen audacity such as we have never seen on this soil. I was born in New York City. Seeing the place of my birth forever changed.....was heartbreaking. The magnitude of what happened that day, and the impact it continues to have is not lost on me. But this post is not about that tragedy – it's about how we choose to respond to being wronged, in any situation, and it's about the true meaning of the gift of forgiveness.
I looked at those words.....Never forgive. Never forget. And the first thing that came to my mind was, “Jesus would never say that.” I thought about Jesus.....how he answered the one who asked, “Lord, how many times should I forgive.” I thought of how he prayed forgiveness for those who “know not what they do.” And I thought of how he continually forgives us. How hopeless our lives would be, had Jesus looked at our sin and said “I never forgive. I never forget.” Thank GOD for his plan for forgiveness and reconciliation that allows us the opportunity to be with him forever! THIS is hope!
It seems that, for many, forgiveness and forgetting are viewed as the same. Synonymous. They are not. I saw a quote once that read “Forgiveness is not about excusing their actions, it's about not allowing their actions to destroy your heart.” Wow. That is powerful. I think about the heart of that person driving the truck, and I wonder.....how is their heart? It must be heavy, and broken, and festering. I wanted to get out of my car, go to that person and shake them and say, “Let it go! Don't hold on to this! You are allowing the actions of someone else to ruin your heart!” Of course, I didn't do this. I sat in my car....wondering how many others were going through life, thinking they were being patriotic, when what they were really doing was yielding control of the condition of their hearts. I thought of those who could not bring themselves to forgive the one who had wronged them at some point in their lives.....the husband who cheated.....the friend who betrayed....the person who told lies......and I thought about what a heavy burden it must be to carry that hurt around.
Forgetting is something we humans don't do often when it comes to being wronged by another. I don't know that forgetting is always necessary, but remembering has to be done for the right reason. Jesus remembers our sins no more. He truly forgives, and forgets. It's not so easy for us, and that's ok. The problem is that, particularly in the situation of 9/11, “never forget” should refer to us remembering those lost in that tragedy, as opposed to remembering the tragedy itself and vengefully seeking only to unleash our wrath on those responsible for it. That longing for revenge is fed by anger and hate, and isn't conducive to true forgiveness......to truly healing the heart. Given the choice between having a lost loved one returned and exacting revenge on the one who took the loved one away, I'd venture to say that most people would rather just have their loved one back. I would. So, it seems to make sense that we should use our energy to focus on the memory of those people.....not on their killers.
When we forgive, we free ourselves, and we also acknowledge God as the ultimate judge. It affirms the fact that God is righteous, and just, and that he is the one in control. It's difficult for us to give that over to him, but it is necessary if we are to truly give him our hearts and allow him to heal them, trusting that his justice is forthcoming. In any situation, whether or not man's justice is achieved in this life shouldn't be the deciding factor in the condition of our hearts.
In his sermon on the mount in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that if we are angry with someone, we are subject to judgment. Furthermore, he says that if we are on our way to bring an offering before the Lord, we must leave our offering and first reconcile with our brother, before coming to the Lord.
Think about that.
Our hearts have to be free of anger (and inciting anger in others) in order to go before the Lord in sacrifice. In other words, God doesn't want what we have to offer until our hearts are pure. Anger is a hindrance.....a barrier between us and God. There is a time and place for anger, but there is healing and deliverance in forgiveness.
Clearly, Jesus thought this heart condition business was pretty important stuff, and indeed it is! We must be vigilant so that we don't allow our human emotions to destroy our hearts.
I've faced situations where forgiveness was necessary, but very difficult. There have been times when I've waited for an apology that never came. There have been times when I've forgiven, yet still ended up losing friends, and that's ok. Sometimes, the relationship has simply run its course. Sometimes, although you may have forgiven, things can't be as they once were. The key is to make sure that your heart doesn't pay the price for what someone else did. Take the lesson, and keep moving forward. After all, often times, when we're holding a grudge against someone, that person is completely unaware of it! They're off, living their life, not even thinking about us, and here we are, spending all this time hating them.....allowing ourselves to be hurt, and our hearts to be hardened by something they did long ago. Seems silly, doesn't it?
Today, and every day, I am thankful for a savior who forgives and forgets my sin, and who heals my heart when I relinquish my perception of control over to him. I'm thankful also, for a just, righteous, and forgiving God who sees only the cleansing blood of his son when he looks at me. Hallelujah, thank you Jesus! How I long to be more like you!