Did you know that when God forgives our sins, He not only forgives them, but erases them forever? Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, I am he, who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” So not only are we forgiven, but God’s grace stretches far enough to completely eradicate our sin, as though it never happened.
I want to be able to forgive this way. I want to truly forgive and forget and move on.
But I can’t.
I can forgive, and even move on for the most part. But I can’t always forget. I am only human. That doesn’t mean I sit at home dwelling on the wrong things people have done to me, or that every time I do think of it that it even affects me. But because I can remember, because this occurrence in my life made such a lasting impression, I can never truly erase that wrong. Not like God can.
When I was a junior in college, I was taking anti-depressants and seeing a therapist. It was a really difficult year. One of my roommates went through my make-up bag to borrow something one day. My medicine was in there, and when she found it she stole it from me, looked it up on her computer to see what it was, and proceeded to tell every single person on our hallway that I was crazy and I would probably try to kill myself one day, so they better watch out for me. After that, no one would look at me. No one would be friends with me. This girl had ruined my entire year at college in a matter of hours.
It took me a long time to forgive her. Eventually I did. But what she did affected me for years. I lived in fear that someone else would find out and react the same way. When I met Daniel, it took me months to even tell him about that experience, and even then I told him while preparing myself for him to break up with me, because I knew he would think I was crazy, too. And writing this now worries me just as much that the parents of a child I teach at church will see this and want their child pulled from my class as a result. Ridiculous. And yet I have managed to forgive this girl (through God’s grace alone) and live my life normally for the most part. It’s only when I hear certain words, see people that remind me of her, pass through the GSU campus when I’m downtown that those memories come back to me.
I think tragedy works the same way. On this day, September 11th, many people wish they could forget. Not even to forgive, but just to move on. To get on with their lives as they know they could if they could only stop remembering. If a song on the radio commemorating those who died in the towers didn’t bring them to tears. If every time they see a picture of the New York skyline it didn’t evoke an emotion that is inexplicable, even to themselves. If they could just erase all of these memories from their heads, they could go on with their lives and not look back.
But they can’t.
So what does that mean for these people? Are they stuck forever in this never-ending cycle of trying so hard to move on and almost succeeding, only to be stopped at the last second by something seemingly trivial, like a picture or a Facebook status?
I think the key here is not the ability to move on from a tragedy, but to accept it as something that will always affect you. That sounds ominous but it doesn’t have to be. If the effect is that you now look at time spent with your family with a greater appreciation because you know life is short, that’s a good thing. If you strive to perform your very best at work because you have seen that the ability to complete a job in a time of crisis is critical, that’s a good thing. If you wake up extra-early to do your quiet time because you realized that these times of crisis would pale in comparison to a world without Jesus, that’s a good thing.
The bad things are there, too. They will always be there. You can’t forget them because it’s impossible. But maybe you can learn to accept them, to understand that while you will eventually get to the point where you don’t even know that September 11th has come and gone, you will always remember those moments on that day because they have changed you.
Remembering the events of one of the most terrible days in history and struggling with those memories doesn’t mean you haven’t moved on or that you never will. It means that though it may be hard, you’re a different person now. Someone who has seen the worst kind of history in the making. Someone who will never forget and who maybe doesn’t want to because of the lessons you learned.
In my case, though my experience was nowhere near the scale of September 11th, it can still be a struggle when I think of that roommate. But every day I am freer from the binds of my fears and memories as I learn to accept them and give them to God. Only He can give me the ability to stop giving that experience power over me. That was a little thing and it has taken me several years. For a bigger thing, it could take even longer. But that doesn’t mean you are weak or don’t trust God. It means that you are human, that adjustments take time, and that every year it will get a little easier to accept what happened as you approach this day and these memories.
So on this day, September 11th, we do not forget. We can’t. But along with remembering the horror, we can remember the lessons we learned, the life changes we have made, and the blessings that have come in spite of the sorrow. We can remember that grieving isn’t a science and that it can take time, and that it isn’t a failure when we struggle. We can remember that we serve a holy God who does not judge us for our struggles, but asks to take them on Himself to help us through the difficult times. We remember 9/11, and we move on, carrying our memories with us.