Forgiving and Forgetting
“‘And forgive us our debts, as we also forgive our debtors.”’
Matthew 11:12 (NKJV)
A while ago a much-loved minister confessed in a sermon that at one point in his ministry he had felt that his prayers were being hindered. He sought for the solution and eventually came to the realisation that it was because he hadn’t forgiven his father. A drunkard and violent towards his mother, the minister had lived with these painful memories for many years.
Forgiveness wasn’t a problem, now it had come to mind; as a Christian he had exercised forgiveness to others many times. He just hadn’t thought about applying it to his own father. The main problem was that his father had died many years ago. He couldn’t just go to him and tell him that he had forgiven him, even if he now thought that that was what he needed to do. That option just wasn’t available.
So now what to do? He decided that, since God dwelt out of time, in eternity, he would pray to God about his forgiveness for his father, and God could handle it—somehow. And then he’d just leave it in God’s hands, having done all he could to clear his conscience of any residual hatred. The rest would be up to God, and he would rely on Him. His prayer was unique, in that he asked God, who forgets nothing, to help him forget. Not to forget the physical hurt to his mother and himself; human beings are not ‘programmed’ to do that. But to have the memory of the still-acute feelings of anger and non-forgiveness fade. We say time is a great healer in such cases, but those feelings actually often remain sharp and terrible throughout our lives. Hence the acute agony of those adults seeking justice against abuse when they were children.
He said it took a while, but the blockage to his prayers disappeared immediately. Today he is able to look back on his childhood and the memories are as clear, but the broken relationships are largely mended.
When we don’t forgive someone the wrongs they have done us, in the end it is we who suffer. I don’t suggest that these memories hinder our own prayers necessarily, although indications are that sometimes this may be so (see verses 14 and 15). This was a particular lesson this minister came to believe he needed to learn from to become an even more effective servant to the congregations he still serves.
Merciful Father, there is much hurt and suffering in this world today. Where such memories hinder us in our relationship with you, please help us to forget. Have those memories fade and mellow, so giving us relief from our past and leaving us free to concentrate on the present and future with you. In Jesus’ name we pray.
Study by John Stettaford
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