Don’t Be a Victim of Painful Memories
By Kelvin Banda OP – We always want to reflect on our past and be able to feel good about it; to be able to say, “I lived and did everything well.”
Some people, however, look at their past with frustration and even rage. They hold memories of anger and keep wondering why bad things happened or why those they expected to stand up for them didn’t. Some end up finding comfort in drugs and alcohol or become promiscuous. Some remain helpless, believing the world hates them.
There are many reasons why some people don’t have their painful memories healed. They might expect that those who’ve harmed them will apologise or that their oppressors will defer to them; neither is probable to happen. But the flip-side to that is a failure to forgive.
What Forgiveness is Not
Here’s what forgiveness is not: it isn’t about forgetting what was done to you; it isn’t about wiping away the memories of the offence; it isn’t about having to trust the person who injured you. The latter would not even be logical. Trust is earned, and they must earn trust again.
When one forgives a serious offence, one shouldn’t pretend that nothing ever happened. The offence is a reality. Acting like nothing happened only builds resentment and anger.
Granting forgiveness also does not give a person power over the one who is being forgiven. That would violate the entire principle and purpose of forgiveness.
The Freedom in Letting God heal Us
There’s no button one can push to erase all the painful memories or heal the festering wounds that others have caused. Redeeming the past begins with a willingness to forgive, even if forgiveness seems difficult or too much to ask. Redeeming a painful past, being liberated from the bondage of pain, is about letting go of bitterness, anger and rage.
There is always the possibility of grace to forgive — God wants everyone to be free from the pain of the past.
We need to be challenged not only to forgive, but also to ask for forgiveness for our own trespasses. Some people are good at saying, “I forgive you,” but cannot ask: “Forgive me.” That is not healthy.
It’s Not About the Other Person
The oppressors and those who have been oppressed are usually the people who cause hurt and pain to others. This happens both in religious communities as well as in secular society. So some people cannot find happiness in themselves and in others at all because of the unprocessed anger from the past.
Redeeming painful memories is recognising that pain was either self-inflicted or caused by someone else. But healing one’s pain is not about impressing the oppressor. It is about freeing oneself from the entanglement of pain.
The British author Charles Dickens noted that to be healthy, one must remember not only the pleasant aspects of the past, but also those painful memories of one’s own failings. In short, one must remember the past to seek forgiveness for it.
Addressing painful memories is a means of transforming the chaos of the past.