How to Forgive When I Can’t Forget


Saint_Thomas, CaravaggioWhile many people believe forgetting an injury is part of forgiveness, Fr. Justin Waltz, pastor of St. Leo’s Church in Minot, ND, suggested just the opposite during a retreat he gave. In fact, he stated that forgetting is not even possible. “The only type of forgetting I have heard of is stuffing,” he said during a retreat presentation and added, “The hurt is not gone, it is just buried deep within.”

Since forgetting is not an option given our memories, Waltz said that God has provided an even better remedy—the divine transformation of a resurrection within our souls. He pointed out that Christ himself retained the wounds of his crucifixion. “Had he wanted to, Jesus could have healed his body so completely that even the scars did not exist,” he explained. “Christ is not ashamed of these scars, rather he wears them as his testament to his victory over sin and death.”

Transforming Pain

By keeping the scars, he said that Jesus taught us some great truths about suffering. Christ suffered a brutal and humiliating death but resurrected while retaining the scars. Since he has gone before us, Waltz explained that through faith in God, we can trust that nothing is beyond his healing, no matter how deep or how painful.  “God goes beyond forgetting. He transforms us and brings us out of the tomb into the light of the resurrection, not only healed but victorious.”

Waltz stated that God’s healing begins with faith in him to heal all things. “Just for a moment, imagine what sort of life and power would be unleashed in your heart if you allowed God to transform your pain into victory,” he said.

He laid out some of the essentials for recovering from hurts. Regarding those that struggle with the concept of a loving God, he explained that God does not desire our suffering, but it is a fallen world. “God created free will and when he did, this, he tied his hands,” Waltz explained.  Through human free will, sin and death entered the world. “But in every circumstance that evil occurs, God has created an out, even death in which he has created a place where there is no death, pain or suffering,” he said.

“Forgiving God really comes down to not holding God responsible for something that he did not do.  When we do this, we allow God to do the very thing that God does best–set us free from the pain.”  Waltz said to recall that God shows us only love and mercy even to the extent of sending his only son to suffer for our sins and save us.

Whatever the pain we want to overcome, Waltz pointed out that part of the transformation that can happen is when people use their pain, regardless of whether it came from others or their own bad choices, as a good to help others. He used the example of speaker Carroll Everett who came to Bishop Ryan High School and shared with the students that her life took a dark turn after she had an abortion. She began abusing alcohol, her marriage fell apart and she started working in the abortion business. After her conversion, she was transformed and now uses her past to speak out for life and help others to heal.

Those who have suffered pain are usually the ones most effective in helping others overcome the same pain. Waltz cautioned, however, that before the transformation, people need to forgive themselves. “The remedy for forgiving ourselves simply lies in allowing Christ’s mercy and forgiveness to conquer our self-regret and self hatred. It’s as if he reaches into our very hearts and pulls us out of ourselves and into his life. Then, who are we to accuse what he has forgiven?”

Finding Peace Little by Little

After the resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus gave us the gift of peace, “Peace be with you.” (John 14:27). According to Waltz, it is that peace that people can find through forgiveness. He said that forgiveness does not mean forgetting and nor does it mean necessarily reconciling in all cases when we must forgive others. Instead, he explained that forgiveness of others means removing the debt they owe us.

In the Gospel of Matthew18: 23-35 the parable of the unforgiving servant shows that forgiveness means removing a debt—that we no longer hold a person’s debt against them.  In the story, a servant is forgiven a large debt but then he goes out and refuses to forgive a smaller debt. Thus, just as Christ died for the forgiveness of our sins—a very large debt–we must forgive others.

Waltz stated, “It is the very remedy that we seek in order to move on and reconstruct our lives–leaving behind the old and embracing the new.”  He acknowledged that forgiveness is sometimes beyond us so that we must begin with the desire to forgive and lean on God to take us the rest of the way, little by little, day by day. “But when in the darkness and the hurt we can find it in ourselves to even whisper ever so gently, I forgive you, it’s as if there is a genesis of new life that begins and this new life is far stronger than the one that has been taken from us.”

One problem with healing in our culture according to Waltz is that people often don’t understand that it takes time and unlike drive thru restaurants and the Internet, it’s not an instant process. “The body does not heal quickly and frankly nor does the soul,” he stated.  Another problem he said is the tendency for people to want to bury and ignore old wounds. “It is much easier to be angry and resentful or to just cover it up then to have to go through spiritual surgery,” he said.

Waltz made three recommendations he has seen help people with the process of healing. The first is to go to confession, since it is a sacrament of healing which brings life to souls.  The second, for those with deep wounds, is counseling with a Catholic psychologist who practices his faith. And the third way is to relate to Jesus in prayer, especially through the Mass.

“Tell Christ about the pain and placing that pain into his healing wounds,” said Fr. Justin.  “Jesus is the power to help forgive others and he is the power that will help you forgive yourself, for he is love, he is mercy, and he is our healing.”


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  • Beautiful! Your article parallels what I have been counseling my children – the true victims of an unwanted and unsolicited divorce – about forgiveness and letting go. Most all are adults – or soon will be – and this “Holding on” is going to be a burden to them into their adult lives, if they persist in retaining this lack of forgiveness. We’ll see what happens, for my words have so far fallen on deaf ears. Life is not as forgiving as Parents must be, but then Parents Love and forgive without expecting the same in return. It’s what we do and where my kids may ultimately find their Truth.

  • Mrshopey

    I have put down many a book that mentions forgiving God. I wish they would get away from that and stick with what they mean (or not).

    • Mrshopey

      Other than that, I really liked the advice. It is so true esp healing, it takes time.

      • Patti Maguire Armstrong

        Thanks for your comments, Mrshopey. Any message on forgiveness does need to include those who are holding a grudge against God. I helped put on the retreat (annual) in which this talk was given and the response was very powerful. People came in record numbers, (close to 400). While many struggled with forgiving people who hurt them in numerous ways, there were also those who struggled with why God let them suffer. So forgiving God is something people can relate to even though the word “forgive” may not be completely accurate to use in this case.
        The feeling of unforgiveness towards God is a pervasive issue and is ongoing. I also co-authored the “Amazing Grace for Survivors” book in which people overcame tragedy to ultimately grow closer to God. But the initial reaction was very often anger at God–Why did you take MY child…Why me? The difference between survival and living in anger boils down to accepting God’s will. In effect, forgiveness is perhaps not an accurate word because it’s more about acceptance and trusting that God allows things for a reason. But in the human heart, letting go of the anger is the issue and is akin to forgiveness, although God does nothing wrong so you are right, he does not need forgiveness.

        • Mrshopey

          In that light, how you explained it, maybe I need to pick those books back up! Thank you. I couldn’t square in my head forgiving God who is all knowing and loving. But I sure was angry at Him and the list was starting to grow!

  • Barbara

    These kinds of pieces are so important to evangelizing in our culture. As a child of divorced parents myself as well as a survivor of abuse, it’s an important part of healing to be able to forgive. And since forgiveness is a kind of surrender, it’s very counter-cultural. Thanks for writing.

  • existentialiste832

    Excellent and helpful article, Ms. Armstrong. Thank you for sharing. I loved what you posted to Mrshopey on what really ‘forgiving God’ is and in relation thereto, may I please share this light from one of the great masters of perfect abandonment to God’s will. She suffered a great deal but always took delight in it and for that, she was always happy. St. Therese of Lisieux teaches us that only through perfect abandonment to God’s will can one truly be happy and remain in a profound state of peace.

  • European Qoheleth

    A good article but what a pity her own website is yet more US conservative boilerplate. The world could do with more charity even toward people supporting terrible things like the so-called right to choose an abortion.