One of my (many) weaknesses is that I have a long memory for any actual or perceived wrong done to me. Forgiving unconditionally is one of the things that I continue to work on. I recently came across an excellent blogpost from Fr. Alexis Trader, an Orthodox priest and a psychologist, that highlights the spiritual and psychological damage that occurs to a person that hangs on to grudges, which I do all too often. I encourage you to read the entire post here, but set forth below is a summary:
Statements such as “I will forgive, but I won’t forget” and “Forgive your enemies but never forget their names” are oft-quoted phrases that remain popular to this day. They represent a tip of the hat to the virtue of forgiveness while reserving the full rights to nurse the offense well into the future. While some will view such an attitude as practical in a world where self-preservation is paramount, these sentiments aren’t supported by psychological research and are even further from the spirit of the Church.
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The remembrance of wrongs or rumination over an offense is a maladaptive, self-destructive mental behavior that brings psychological suffering and spiritual desolation. The consequences of such behavior are so serious that we should guard against nursing grudges even when we have outwardly expressed forgiveness. In this context, the quotes I mentioned at the outset of this post should be viewed as toxic poison to the mind and to the soul. They are like heavy, solid steel chains which bind us and cause us to fall into a pit of darkness and eventual despair. The only solution, recommended by both secular science and the holy fathers, is to avoid such thoughts or replace them with something better. And what could possibly be better than the remembrance of God, the imitation of the Saints, and the love of Christ? And so when remembrance of wrongs come to our mind, let us remember Christ’s command to love our enemies, which means to forget even that they are enemies, and something truly wonderful will happen. As Saint John Chrysostom put it, “So, love your enemy, for you are doing yourself a favor more them him. How? You are becoming like God. Your enemy whom you love has no great gain by being loved of a fellow servant, but if you love your fellow servant you are becoming like God. See you are doing a favor not for him, but for yourself” (Homily 19 to the Hebrews).