By Gil Mertz
Billy and Ruth Graham were married for almost 64 years and when asked for their secret, Ruth revealed that marriage is the union of two good forgivers.
Forgiveness is vital for any successful relationship, marriage and family. One of the biggest challenges of forgiveness is trying to forget the offense and not bring it up over and over again. This not only threatens our peace in the present but our hope for the future.
But is it possible to truly forget our past hurts?
We’re told that an elephant never forgets. Frankly, I don’t know where we come up with these funny expressions about animals such as sweating like a pig, eating like a horse, working like a dog or skinning a cat. I’ve never seen a pig sweat, a fat horse, a dog like mine work, and I don’t even want to think about skinning a cat, even those there’s apparently more than one way you can do it!
But I know where the expression about elephants comes from.
Unscrupulous circus trainers needed to keep these massive animals stationary and so they would take them very young and tie one of their legs to a stake in the ground with a rope. The tiny elephant would soon learn that it cannot move if it is attached to the stake. A full-grown elephant that has the strength to knock over a tree will not test the stake in the ground because it thinks it cannot move. That’s because an elephant never forgets.
Many of us are like this helpless elephant. We have total power and freedom to move on with our lives when we forgive, but our past pain is like a stake in the ground. We remain stuck because our memories are telling us that we cannot move forward.
If we cannot forget, what if we could learn to remember in a different way so that we can manage our emotions instead of being overwhelmed by them?
The Bible says in Romans 12:2 “Don’t live the way this world lives. Let your way of thinking be completely changed” (NIRV). Some translations call this the renewing of your mind, but it basically means to change the way you think.
If we can change the way we think, it will change the way we feel and as a result, the way we behave. Advertisers spend billions practicing this biblical principle because they know if they can control your thinking, they can get you to buy their products.
Jesus said in John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” So how do we get to the truth so that we can remember in a different way and find the truth we need for our lives?
One way is a simple tool known as reframing your picture. All of us see our experiences through a frame of our own choosing. It’s usually limited to our own personal biases and when we’re hurt or angry, the picture can get completely distorted from the actual truth. But if we can reframe our picture by enlarging it to let more truth in, we can remember the past differently.
Recently I was driving in a car with my wife and I was upset because a driver at the intersection pulled right out in front of us. According to the picture in my head, this crazy driver could have gotten us all killed and I was upset. Then my wife gently reminded me that I was intending to turn right at that intersection and actually had my blinker going.
At the last second, I changed my mind and decided to go straight. But all the other driver saw was my blinker to turn right and was unable to read my mind. When the frame on that picture got enlarged and I could see the truth, it changed my mind immediately.
Not long ago, I counseled with a couple whose marriage appeared doomed. He had a short-term affair, which was long over. He knew it was a terrible mistake and had pleaded for forgiveness. His wife didn’t want a divorce but she could not forget the deep pain that had been inflicted.
Clearly what he did was wrong and forgiveness doesn’t condone, justify, or rationalize his actions. But as we began to work together to enlarge the frame on this picture, we learned that the wife had been married to her job for years. She was frequently home late and her divided loyalties left a legitimate need in her husband that he tried to fill through other means.
As she could see the bigger picture beyond her own pain, she no longer saw her husband as the 100 percent villain and herself as the 100 percent victim. Though she couldn’t change the past, she could remember the past in a different way which gave her peace. This time, with empathy, understanding, and love for her husband who also was dealing with a broken heart.If you find yourself struggling to forget your painful past, try to enlarge the frame on that picture by talking to people you love and trust who can help you see things more objectively.Today their marriage is thriving because they become two good forgivers.
If you find yourself struggling to forget your painful past, try to enlarge the frame on that picture by talking to people you love and trust who can help you see things more objectively. Here are some good questions to get you started:
- Are there any details I may be leaving out because of my hurt and anger?
- How might another person’s account of the experience differ from mine?
- Did this person specifically set out to hurt me on purpose?
- Is there any way that I could have misunderstood what was said or done?
- Have I made any attempt to reach out to this person for clarification?
- Do I consider myself more worthy of forgiveness than this person?
Don’t keep rehashing a painful memory and feeling that pain repeatedly. You’ll never learn anything new, it will never help you grow, and it won’t help you change. Besides, didn’t it hurt enough the first time? Holding a grudge is a lot harder than forgiving. Take it easy on yourself and forgive your way to freedom!
GIL MERTZ is assistant to the president at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He’s been involved with full-time Christian service for nearly 40 years and draws from a vast background of ministry with international missions, humanitarian causes, public policy, and consulting.
Adapted from Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future by Gil Mertz (©2018). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.