“Forgive and Forget:” we’ve all heard this idiomatic phrase. Perhaps we’ve even uttered it to ourselves when faced with someone who has wronged us, or offered it as a polite consolation to others. But can one truly forgive AND forget? And do we even want to forgive and forget? I was faced with this very question during Daniel’s—my pastor–sermon this weekend.
In Isaiah 43:25, it is written, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.” Many people take this as the basis for “Forgive and Forget.” After all, if the Lord of all creation, says He wipes out our sins and forgets they ever happened, who are we to hold a grudge against someone who has wronged us? Only here’s the thing, such a simplistic approach that verse completely disregard’s God’s omnipotence—He knows all that has happened, is happening, and will happen…with that knowledge, how would He be able to just “forget” sin? When it states, “remembers your sins no more,” that doesn’t mean He’s choosing to forgive and forget—He’s choosing to forgive us of our sins as a means to restore our relationship with Him; choosing not to hold our sin against us anymore. He wants to separate us from our sins so that they can no longer ensnare us—keeping us from a relationship with him. Furthermore, He wants us to extend His level of forgiveness to those we encounter. When we think about forgiveness, we must no longer think of forgetting, but of restoration.
With that in mind, I revisited a prompt I learned when training for the Body Project at the NEDA conference last month: “Please write a letter to someone in your life who pressured you to conform to the appearance ideal. Please tell them how this affected you and indicate how you would respond now, in light of what you have learned.” I knew immediately who I needed to forgive and restore; my bullies. I hold an inordinate amount of resentment towards these individuals—many of whom I haven’t seen in at least ten years, and none of whom deserve to have control over me anymore. This summer, many people asked me if I would be attending my ten-year high school reunion. My answer was always the same, “No one at Lakota liked me when I was there. Why would they like me ten years later?” Clearly I’m a master at forgive and restore. I had neither forgiven nor restored. In fact, any time my school’s name is mentioned, a feeling of intense sadness and indignation invades my heart. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed that that is my reaction. In an effort to forgive and restore, I’ve written an open letter of forgiveness to my former bullies.
I forgive you. That’s right; I forgive you. Right now you’re probably wondering why I am forgiving you all for being horrible people, for giving me ingenious nicknames like “cow” and “whale,” for making a party game out of calling my house, for making me eat lunch alone for all those years, and for the myriad other malfeasances you committed—not just against me—but to so many others. You may be pondering why “Rumpke Recycling” or “Dairy Queen” is forgiving you and is grateful for the abuse you inflicted. While many of you are likely still questioning who I even am; as you’ve likely forgotten—or chose to ignore—your past transgressions. Your past behavior—as malicious as it was, and may, very well, still be—actually made me stronger. Though your treatment of me plunged me into a seemingly inescapable pit of depression, anxiety, self-harm, eating disorders…it allowed me to seek and develop the very tools I needed to escape.
After being subjected to your harangue and torment, I grew to believe that I deserved to be treated in an unfavorably and destructive manner. I learned to hurt myself before others could seize the opportunity. I believed—albeit falsely—that hurting myself before others inevitably would, would make the pain more tolerable. However, the only result of that attempt at self-preservation was self-destruction in the form of twenty years of eating disordered hell, self-harm, and isolation. In gong through that hell, however, I learned of the inherent worth given to me by God and used your torment as the very foundation upon which I built my life and career.
In seeking refuge from the effects of your degradation, I grain invaluable knowledge and tools. If it weren’t for your wrongdoings, I may never have learned how strong, determined, and loved I could be. I’ve discovered that I’m imperfect and that what makes me worthy of love—because everyone is imperfect and we’re all deserving of love. I have come to disregard the negative, hurtful comments of others, while not continuing my negative attitude towards myself either. Asking for help, I’ve learned, is a necessary aspect of a healthy life—not a sign of weakness. Gone are the days of hurting myself before you could hurt me. Instead, I’ve constructed a support network of individuals who genuinely care for me and reinforce my commitment to recovery.
As a result of my efforts in recovery, I’ve acquired a job I adore and which also makes great use of my life experiences, education, and empathy. Everyday I have the privilege of engaging with teenage patients in treatment for eating disorders and share what I’ve learned from your many injustices. Likewise, these incredible souls teach me. Together we are overcoming and learning to love our authentic, raw, vulnerable selves.
So while you may have attempted to subjugate my life and though I may have missed twenty years of my life to an eating disorder, I stand here today as living proof. Proof that self-care is essential—regardless the opinions of others. Proof that one can rise from their past—from your tragedy, I have triumphed. Although it was painful at the time and was painful to remember, your bullying set me up to be the person I am today. And today, today I am improving. Know that you are forgiven.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.