STEP SEVEN CONTINUED: Choose to forgive those who hurt us in the name of religion.
Instruction: Forgive and forget.
This platitude has been used over the years, but is it good advice? When the pain of abuse, religious or non-religious, is severe, such as in the case of sexual, physical, verbal, or mental abuse, forgetting is not only nearly impossible but also not necessarily a good thing to do. Probably a more accurate catchphrase would be to “forgive and forgive,” because often the abuse comes back to wound us over and over. Sometimes this is triggered by an event or a discussion, and, at other times, it seems as if it simply comes without a trigger. One thing for us to remember is that forgiveness is first a decision, and the emotion sometimes takes a while longer to catch up with our choice to forgive.
The “forgive and forget” refrain seems to understand that when the emotions catch up with the decision, we have reached the point where we have forgiven, and the pain is no longer raw. We can recall the incident without giving into the pain it caused in the past. Forgetting the incident is not realistic or even good advice. After all, our memories serve the purpose of preventing us from repeating unwanted behavior. If we touch a hot stove, we will get burned. We don’t want to forget that hot stoves can burn us. We do, however, want to reach the point where we understand that the stove was doing what it was designed to do—generate high levels of heat. Initially, we might rage at the stove and want to throw something at it, but we know this is senseless. The stove was being true to its nature. We learn from the incident, and our memory allows us to avoid repeating the experience in the future.
Most religions and religious leaders are doing what they think is right. Most have no desire to change or to become anything other than what they are. If we have been “burned” by them, we forgive, remember the incident so as not to repeat it, and move on. They were being true to themselves, but we must now be true to ourselves. We can forgive and forget in the sense of releasing the pain while still holding onto the memory.
Take time today to rethink the concept of “forgive and forget.” Is it realistic? Perhaps try on a different expression such as “forgive and release.” Or, in some cases perhaps a better idea is to “forgive and remove.” If we continue to get hurt or abused, perhaps we should remove that person from our life, or remove ourselves from his or her life.
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Our purpose is to help individuals to heal who have been injured by religion or the religious. We welcome your comments and questions.