Forgetting Is Not Forgiving

Though it had been four or five years since my older brother had died in an auto accident, I was always a skittish passenger when my high school friends and I headed out in the car. One Saturday a youth club I had joined headed 45 minutes down the highway to some favorite climbing rocks in the desert. Our trip had adult chaperones, but my driver was another high school girl. I found myself repeatedly gripping the car’s arm rests each time she passed cars on curves.

My stomach was in knots the whole picnic at the prospect of riding back with the same driver. Finally, after our picnic, I approached the middle-aged couple who had chaperoned our outing, confiding to them that I preferred to ride back in a different car, if possible. After talking together, they agreed to take me back in their car.

I honestly don’t know what motivated their actions, but for some reason they must have concluded that I needed to be taught a lesson for my pickiness. As we rode back to town, the husband drove like a maniac. I prayed earnestly for safety as I watched the speedometer needle climb to 90, 100 and beyond. When we came up behind another car, the wife shouted, “Get out of the way, you pigs!” When they finally dropped me off in the city, safe, but shaken, I walked home. I told no one what had happened.

Fast forward about thirty-five years: I was visiting in my hometown and guess who I ran into while out one day with my sister? It was the elderly Ms. Get-Out-of-the-Way-You-Pigs.

For the first time in decades, I recalled what this woman and her husband had done, only this time from the viewpoint of a parent. I pictured how I would feel if they had taken one of my children on that wild ride. Honestly at that moment I wanted to whack this woman on the head.

Not right away, but upon reflection, my indignation and anger gradually changed to thankfulness. I was thankful that God had used this chance meeting to bring up forgotten hurt and un-forgiveness in my heart toward this woman and her husband. I had work to do. Working through my anger toward a feeble old man and woman taught me a few things.

First, not thinking about a wrong suffered is not the same as forgiving. When I stuffed this event deep down into my subconscious as a high school student, I wasn’t forgiving. When I finally forgave them, I recognized a wrong suffered and agreed with God to release them from paying for that sin that Jesus has already paid for.

Second, forgiveness is a process. Honestly when I first wrote about this event five years ago, I remembered their offense again and felt a degree of indignation and anger rising in me. I still had work to do. I had to recognize again that Jesus had died for that sin. I could require nothing more from them.  A co-worker once shared with me that people don’t hold grudges; grudges hold people. If I don’t lay my hurts on the altar once again, I am the one who will be in bondage, not my offender.

Finally, forgiveness does not erase the consequences of a sin. If someone hurts me, I can forgive them, but that forgiveness does not require me to place myself or others in a position of danger. In the case of these chaperones, had I told my parents what had happened, they would have rightly asked that these folks not chaperone youth trips.

Do you live with the weight of unforgiveness in your heart? Ask God for the strength and perseverance to start the process of forgiveness.

“Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32.

This blog first appeared in 2017 on this site.

Photo “hurt feelings” by f. frankokat is used under this license: Creative Commons Legal Code.

Beth Barron and her husband have worked cross-culturally for decades, first in the Middle East and now in the U.S. She teaches English to refugees and uses her writing skills to advocate for them. Beth enjoys writing, biking, vegetable gardening and connecting heart to heart with other women. She is involved in her church's External Focus ministry. She and her husband have three adult children, two daughters-in-love and three grandsons. Beth graduated from Rice University in Houston, attended Dallas Theological Seminary and is committed to life-long learning.