Remember To Forget

Posted: October 5, 2009 in thriving
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Press on!Press On!

In the Disney movie Hercules, Hades hair busts into flames when he gets angry. But it isn’t just the god of the underworld who spontaneously combusts.

We all have fire in us. We all house residual emotional embers. We all carry incendiary memories. All heads occasionally flame.

Friends turned out not to be friends. Financial losses beyond our control occur. People close to us die. We fail to parent or spouse as we should. Embers smolder in the rubble.

But there is an extinguisher for this. We can still thrive.  To do this, we must learn to forget some things. The remedy for a firey past is to let some fires go out, to put them behind us.

Forget it. Forget it? That’s problematic. What does forget mean? It can’t mean erase completely or permanently from memory. Short of brain damage, and we don’t want that, we can’t and won’t forget loved ones lost. We can’t and won’t forget former friends who stabbed us in the back.

Traumatic, difficult things are not forgotten, and really shouldn’t be forgotten, a lost son, a betrayal, a mistake. The Apostle Paul never forgot that he persecuted Christians, referring to it in writing. The fire in his past was often on his mind. But he also spoke of “forgetting what lies behind.”

I remember driving to work one day when I was in high school. It was a two lane road. I came up behind a slow car. I accelerated to pass. Then I saw, another car coming straight at me.  I couldn’t make it around the car I was passing. I braked, hard. My car went into a slide. Off the road, spinning around — I came to a stop in a cloud of dust. I was shaking. I drove to work, very carefully. I continued to drive carefully — for about two weeks.  But I haven’t forgotten. I am informed by my driving memories.

Recently, a friend came to dinner in her sports car. She offered to let me take it for a spin. I did. I felt a calling to explore the potential of the turbo-charged engine. It was a caged beast. It needed to be let out. I went fast but not too fast. My right foot, it knows.

Fortunately, there is no wipe for driving memories. If there were, we wouldn’t learn from our mistakes. We couldn’t identify with others pain.

Then what does it mean to forget what lies behind?

To forget means not call to mind in a way that will hold us back  “Forget” means to not let the past drag us down, burn us down, keep us from the future God has for us. It means to not fall into a disabling grief. This is a choice we can and should make.

There is a need to say, “I am getting on with my life. I am living post-crash, post-fire!”

Clara Barton, founder of Red Cross, was once hurt by a friend. When she seemed unaffected, later, someone asked her, “Don’t you remember that?” She replied, “I distinctly remember forgetting that.”

How does one do that? To forget, first remember. This may seem counter intuitive. It is not. To forget a hurt, take it out and feel it, for a time. Say out loud what you feel. Write it out in a journal.  Find a safe person to tell.

It is okay to remember losses, to cry, to feel sad for a time, to grieve. But then, to be healthy, we must put them away. We call this the compartmentalization of grief. Hold it, then put it away in a mental drawer.

In other words, remember to forget.

There are 2.5 million annual deaths in the United States. Each directly affects four other people, on an average. For most of these people, the suffering is finite — painful and lasting, of course, but not  disabling

Skip to next paragraphSome people, however — an estimated 15 percent of the bereaved population, or more than a million people a year — fall into  “a loop of suffering.”  They go back, around and around. They can barely function.

This extreme form of grieving is called “complicated grief disorder.”  It has no redeeming value. It steals the present and the future.

Perhaps, we all get stuck at times in a loop of remembering, suffering our loses and mistakes over and over again. Then our heads are on fire, with the past.  We are suffering from a complicated grief disorder. To break out, we must put a psychological foot down. We must choose to set aside what we remember and press on.

Say we have a lost relationship. It is wise to look forward to the new relationships ahead for us. Say we have made a mistake. We can look forward to choosing not to do that again. Say we have been sick. This can purge us of our focus on things and center us on the core of life, relationships, God.

Want to thrive? Press on. Press forward. Keep driving. Occupy yourself with new plans, school, work, church. Don’t loop back very much. Loop forward. Remember to forget.

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