Let It Go

Let It Go

I confess, I have young children; even typing the words “let it go” cues up the song from Disney’s Frozen in my mind. While it may be fun to belt out in the shower once in a while, that sentiment – “let it go” – is much easier sung than done.

After my first service last Sunday, a friend asked me, “Why is it easier to forgive than to let go?” Had there been a bit more time to talk between my services, we could have had a conversation really wrestling with the question. Since that wasn’t possible, however, I’ll use that question as a writing prompt.

The acts of forgiveness and letting go are intimately related, though the relationship is a bit unbalanced. You can’t truly forgive without letting go, though you can let go without forgiving.

Forgiveness has two parts. First, in order to forgive someone, we have to release them from the debt they have incurred (physical, financial, or ethical). The person doing the forgiving must come to terms with the reality that they will not be made whole by the debtor. That is to say, they will never pay you back – and you stop trying to get them to do so. That leads to the second piece of forgiveness…

Second, the person doing the forgiving has to release their desire for justice or vengeance into the hands of God (or for my atheist friends, into the justice of the universe).

The two parts may seem similar, but there is a difference. The first involves restitution. The second involves our human desire for exacting vengeance.

In order to truly forgive someone, both of those things must happen. There is no forgiveness if we release the debt and hold on to vengeance, or if we release vengeance and hold onto the debt. To do one and not the other will ultimately result in misery, namely your own.

That said, I think what my friend may have been getting at was perhaps “forgetting” the transgression. If that is the case, I am sorry, but there is no such thing as “forgive and forget” for human beings.

The only one I know with the power to “forgive and forget” is God. While the bible talks about this attribute in several places, Hebrews 8:12 is what springs into my mind: “For I will be merciful towards their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” For God (and especially for us), this forgetting is a good thing.

To “forgive and forget” from a human perspective, on the other hand, is essentially to not learn from the experience. If we don’t learn from those injuries, if we forget about them, our ability to survive is greatly reduced. For God, survival isn’t an issue, so forgetting is very beneficial.

Forgiveness (both parts) doesn’t mean that we remain close or become friends with the offending party. In truth, attempting to do so may keep your wounds from healing.

Early on in my ministry I trusted a parishioner, whom I considered a friend, with the knowledge of my struggle with depression. In the moment they responded as any friend would, but at the next leadership meeting of the church, this person tried to use that knowledge to have me removed from my position. It broke my heart. I was angry and I wanted to make them hurt the way I was hurting.

Eventually, I had to forgive them, but I didn’t forget – which is to say, I would never again trust them with personal information. I distanced myself from them. I let go of the relationship and only interacted as much as I had to in the confines of my ministry.

We don’t keep in touch. I no longer share my life with that person. And while it hurt, both to have been betrayed and let go of the friendship entirely, it was what needed to be done. Because I cannot forget what happened. And because of it, I am wiser than I once was; I exercise a lot more caution in what I share with others.

So to my friend who wants to know how to let go… it ain’t easy, but forgiveness never is, and letting go is a part of it. It takes prayer and discernment, and it takes the commitment to learn from the hurt and make changes to help avoid that situation in the future. Sometimes forgiving (letting go) means cutting off a relationship be it with family, friends, or even careers. Forgiveness isn’t just about the release of debt and vengeance but also the willingness to learn and change from the experience.

Hope that is helpful, friends.

Pastor Mike

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