Forgive & Forget: Healing The Hurts We Don’t Deserve, by Lewis B. Smedes
Right from the beginning, this author makes it clear that he knows his reading audience: “Somebody hurt you, maybe yesterday, maybe a lifetime ago, and you cannot forget it. You did not deserve the hurt. It went deep, deep enough to lodge itself in your memory. And it keeps on hurting you now (xi).” And, truth be told, this is an author who knows his audience, as this is one book (and a fairly early example, coming from 1984) in a fairly popular genre . This is a book that knows its place within the larger context of the works on the subject, and an author that speaks about forgiveness from the best point of view to have, of someone who has struggled to forgive others, and someone who knows deeply what it is like to be forgiven. From this perspective, and from someone who has read a great deal of literature on the subject of forgiveness and related concerns and internalized them, the result is a compelling book about what it means to forgive, and the process of forgiveness from both sides, and the eventual goals and purposes of forgiveness in the face of a world that often seeks to dodge the problem.
The contents of this book are pretty comprehensive, especially for a book of about 150 pages. The book begins with a fable of the magic eyes, and closes with a brief conclusion called a postlude. The rest of the materials are of the book are made up of four parts. The first part of the book talks about the four stages of forgiveness (hurting, hating, healing, and reconciliation) and some nice things that forgiveness is not. The second part of the book talks about forgiving people who are hard to forgive (invisible people, people who do not care, ourselves, monsters, and God). The third part of the book talks about how people forgive (slowly, with a little understanding, in confusion, with anger left over, a little at a time, freely or not at all, and with a fundamental feeling). The fourth part of the book gives reasons to forgive in the face of those who think forgiveness to be a copout from the need for justice, such as the way it makes life fairer, a better risk than revenge, stronger, and fitting faulty people like ourselves. The author never forgets to remind the reader that we are both in the position of needing to be forgiven and needing also to forgive, pointing out to the reader that the Gospels consistently connect our forgiveness with our forgiving, something that ought to give all of us pause.
Given that forgiveness and reconciliation are not exactly new subjects to write about, and probably were not even remotely new in the 1980s when the author was writing this book, does this book deliver the goods? Is it worth reading more than thirty years later? In a word, yes. What makes this book worthwhile? It manages to combine personal experience, evidence of having done impressive reading and research, sound biblical exegesis, and practical tips. All of these make it a worthwhile book, even if the subject material of the book is not very pleasant. What sort of things does this book talk about forgiving? The murder of family members by police/military action. Rape, sexual abuse, bullying, adultery, and so on. This is not a call to forgive people for being slow in traffic, as irritating as that may be, but for serious offenses that wound people for their entire lives and that have generational ripples. Forgiveness and reconciliation are by no means easy matters, but this is a good book to encourage people to go through the process, as difficult and awkward as it is for all of us. As the author reminds us at the close of his excellent book, “If you are trying to forgive; even if you manage forgiving in fits and starts, if you forgive today, hate again tomorrow, and have to forgive again the day after, you are a forgiver. Most of us are amateurs, bungling duffers sometimes. So what? In this game nobody is an expert. We are all beginners (151).”
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