I remember there was a story I read from a book of Christian illustration, I tried to Google it and it seems to me this story was taken from the book “Lee: The Last Years” by Charles Bracelen Flood, in that book he talked about a time after the American Civil War.

One of the stories talks about Robert E Lee (A Confederate General during the civil war) visited a woman who showed him the remains of a grand old tree in front of her home. The limbs and trunk of the tree was destroyed by the Union Artillery fire during the war.  She loved that tree and she was talking about how sad she was when the tree was destroyed.

She was expecting Lee to condemn the Union and to sympathize with her, however the old general paused and said “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and then forget it.”

When I was younger, I liked to use this example to advice people to remove the hurt and not to dwell on it. and I like to develop the topic from then and talks about letting go of the past.

But recently, I have a friend who was sharing with someone about the fact that how certain people reminded him of the hurt he encountered in the workplace. His friend who was listening said “You need to make peace with yourself..”  It let to him feeling slightly misunderstood as he is in fact no longer angry about the past.

Putting Forgiveness Into Perspective

Indeed forgiveness is something that is important for Christians,  For Jesus once said

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Jesus (Matt 6:14-15)

Jesus also said this in his sermon of the mount

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” – Jesus (Matt 5:23-24)

Therefore Paul also exhorts the church in Ephesus saying

“Be angry, and do not sin”:do not let the sun go down on your wrath,”- Paul (Eph 4:26)

I am sure my fellow friends will be able to have many more verses to show here.

Sometimes to apply the teachings are simple, especially when it comes to petty little quarrels, little dispute. I am sure it is much easier for us to say “Lets forgive and forget” and we would be find the illustration is very apt and very appropriate.

I personally believe the more we hold on to the hurt, it would actually effect our well being as well. But then hurt comes in different degrees and severity.  I remember the same friend once shared with me saying that even though the hurtful event had passed and he is able to forgive the person who hurt him. But then he cant seem to forget the incident fully.

Very often we like to say “forgive and forget” but there are some hurt that is just hard to forget.  Another illustration I have is about Ms Clara Barton, who is the founder of the Red Cross, when her friend asked if she remembered an incident where someone deed vicious things against her. She replied “ No, I distinctly remember forgetting it” (Luis Palau, experiencing God’s Forgiveness, Multnomah Press, 1985).

I feel that it takes a lot of effort and strength to be able to forget, and in order to answer like Ms Clara, it must have taken some time before she could distinctly “remember to forget”

But if you think about it, if she can “remember to forget” wouldn’t that means she remembered? 

So I guess there is a need to separate between forgiving and forgetting.

What Does It Mean To Forget?

Readers of Genesis will have remembered the Patriarch Joseph. Who was sold to Egypt when he was approximately 17  years old, when he is in Egypt, he was thrown into the prison for doing the right thing of not having an affair with Potiphar’s wife.

The bible was silent about how many years Joseph was working in the house of Potiphar, nor did they say how many  years he was imprisoned.  But the following facts can be derived

He was sold to Egypt somewhere after he was 17 years old

1. Gen 37:2 : Tells us Joseph was 17 years old when he was having a dream
2. Gen 41:1 : The Pharaoh’s dream was 2 full years after the chief Butler was released
3. Gen 41:46 : He was 30 years old when he was before the Pharaoh

30-17 = 13 years.

So the span of time of 13 years happened between Gen 37:2 –Gen 41:46

During that Period, God blessed Joseph with 2 children and he named them Manasseh and Ephraim . He gave the reason for naming his children.  He said 

“For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” When he named Manasseh

“For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” when he named Ephraim.

But yet, although he said he had forgotten, let us see when he dwelt with his brother. Gen 42:8-17 : He threw them into prison for 3 days,  he released them later saying

“Do this and live, for I fear God…” sometimes I feel that it was God who moved him to let go of that anger. I can safely say that Joseph did not forget the  fact about how he was sold by his brothers to Egypt. For he said

“I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”-Joseph (Gen 45:4-5)

We know for sure, Joseph did not forget the fact that he was sold to Egypt, I think its fair to say that Joseph tried very hard for it. So what did Joseph really forget? 

To Be Renewed Daily

Prophet Jeremiah once said this in his Lamentations

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
  Because His compassions fail not.
   They are new every morning;
  Great is Your faithfulness.” Jeremiah (Lam 3:22-23)

Jeremiah talks about the fact that our Lord is compassionate, he renew his mercies to us daily. I feel that Josephs mind was renewed by God daily. He was able to forget the pain and suffering that came from the fact that he was sold to Egypt and thrown into prison.

He did not forget those fact, but he was able to forget that anger against his brothers. This was done with the help of God, who renewed his mind every morning.

Turning Past Hurts Into Comforting Experiences

As I studied into the life of Joseph, it seems that he was able to use his suffering to comfort other. This can be seen at the last chapter of Genesis

Then his father Israel died, and his brothers were afraid that Joseph will choose to take revenge for their treachery, because they sold Joseph to Egypt.  They were so afraid of Joseph that they tried hard to remind Joseph that his father told him not to take revenge.

They even fell down before his face and said “We are your servants”

But Joseph, understanding their fear, comforted them he said

“Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” – Joseph (Gen 50:19-21)

Joseph used the facts behind his suffering, to testify the love of God, for he knew that God was the one who sent him to Egypt. God made use of his sufferings to help preserve the lives of the family of Abraham.

I believe Joseph must have undergone much thinking and much prayers, before he could successfully convert his bad experiences into one that could comfort others, and he had done it with the help of God.

Today, with the help of God, we can turn our suffering into experiences that can be used to comfort the sad, and give strength to the weary. But we need to place God in the story in order to do be successful in that.

At The End Of The Day

In our walk of life, there are bound to be experiences that hurt us. These are part and parcel of life, and we are often told to forgive one another. While Christians practiced the policy of “forgive and forget”,  let us also understand and recognized that there are some hurts and pain which are difficult to forget. 

The tolerance level of every individual is different, so it is hard for us to determine what is “Easy to forget”. Something that is really hurtful to one may be insignificant to another.  But whatever it is we have to know that there are some incidents that are easy to “forgive and forget” while there are some that is not so easy.

But we can be assured that if we were to rely on God to renew our mind, he will give us the strength to forget the pain and hatred, and he could also help us turn that sad experience into one that could encourage and exhort other brethren.

Therefore let us resolve to rely on God, to renew our minds, and to help us turn the incidents that we cannot forget into one that can exhort and encourage others.

May God help us , to give us the strength to forgive and forget, and to help us turn our sadness and hurt into edifying encouragement. May he use the sad events in our lives to help minister to the many people who are hurt and dismayed in the midst of life’s challenges.