What to Do When Memories Won’t Go Away

A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.
–Proverbs 19:11

What are we to do if the memories of our sins toward God and others, or other people’s sins toward us, won’t go away? Let me give you some practical suggestions I have found helpful.

First, release those memories if possible. It is true that every experience is chemically and electrically recorded in our brains, but it’s also true that some of the trivial hurts we experience can be dismissed from our consciousness if we choose not to dwell on them. Somebody came to me after a church service and said, “Pastor, I want to ask your forgiveness for something I said to you two years ago.” Well, I didn’t remember what they said. Either when they said it I was preoccupied with something else, or I didn’t think it was that significant. I just let it go. Therefore, it wasn’t part of my consciousness. Whenever possible, we ought to dismiss minor offenses. That’s why Proverbs 19:11 says, “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.”

Second, recall your own failures. Admittedly, some of the past wrongs done against us can’t be easily dismissed; they require action. In a former church I served, one of the leaders was caught in immorality. A church member told me, “I can’t look at this person without thinking about what he did. Every time I see that person I think about the sin he committed.” I said, “Let me give you this suggestion. You are not going to be able to quit thinking about that. So whenever you see that person and remember what he did, I want you to recall a sin you have committed–a secret sin so embarrassing that if it were displayed for the whole church to see, you would crawl under the pew. Whenever you look at that leader and recall his sin, remember your sin as well.” That’s what Jesus had in mind in Matthew 7 when He said, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (v. 1). Jesus was not saying, “Never make a judgment about anyone or anything.” Instead, He was saying, “Don’t pronounce a final condemnation of declaring that somebody is beyond God’s forgiveness.” He continued, “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you” (v. 2).

Third, when memories of an offense won’t go away, remember your past act of forgiveness. Do you remember the Westerns that used to be on television on Saturday mornings? I watched them all the time, and I even had a little toy set of gun and holsters that I used to wear. The good guys in those television shows never went around with only one gun; they always had two pistols. And when they would confront the evil guy, with lightning speed they would pull both pistols out of the holster. We need to use that same principle whenever we are confronting painful memories. Yes, it is true that we are likely going to recall what somebody did to us, but with lightning speed, we ought also to pull out the other pistol and remember that we forgave that person. Don’t ever pull out one without pulling out the other.


Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Forgiving without Forgetting” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2015.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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