Planting and Harvesting

Forgive and Forget

By Kersley Fitzgerald

In the movie Sarah Plain and Tall, Glenn Close plays a woman from Maine who travels to the Midwest to marry a widower with two children. Having come from a land of fish and rain, she has a hard time adjusting to slaughtered lambs and tornadoes. In the end, though, she reassures the kids she'll stay by "writing her name in the land"—literally scribing her name in the dirt of the yard.

By the next movie, Skylark, Sarah is more accustomed to life on a farm. She's traded the rhythms of the tides for the seasons of planting and harvesting. But the land is facing a drought. Neighbors are fleeing to better farmland. To get water, they carry buckets to a spring instead of pumping from their own well. Where before Sarah reacted to the slaughtering of farm animals, now she rails against the necessity of selling them before they die of dehydration. In desperation, her husband sends her and the kids to her aunts' in Maine. He stays behind, hoping for rain, but realizing he may have to join them permanently if the drought continues.

When Sarah left for Maine, she prayed that she would be able to return to the farm again. She had not only made a conscious commitment, but she was emotional invested. Her loyalties were to the farm. But she knew that if things continued the way they had, it would not be possible to live there. It wouldn't be healthy for her or the kids. And there was absolutely no sense in pretending otherwise.

Here in Colorado, we've had really bad wind storms this spring. There are two trees in our back yard, and both of them are half-dead. Shingles are peeling off our roof. Springtime in Colorado means crazy weather. Summer is for evaluating the damage and figuring out how to fix it. Our decisions are not nearly as intense as Sarah's, but I'm from Oregon. I'm all about trees. Are we going to have to cut down the only mature trees in our backyard? Can they be salvaged? Can we just prune them a bit and see what happens?

These reactions to seasons remind me of how insufficient the phrase "forgive and forget" can be. There would have been no benefit in Sarah resenting a hot, dry summer. Her anger would not have affected the sun anymore than mine would have stopped the wind. All it would have done was make us miserable as we indulged in negative feelings.

But that doesn't mean either one of us could forget the offense. Actions had to be taken. For Sarah, she had to leave a dangerous situation, not knowing if she'd be able to return. Similarly, there are times when we have to leave a dangerous person. It doesn't mean we don't forgive the person. It is possible to drop out of a relationship with no resentment. And it's possible to mourn the loss of someone who caused damage. But, depending on the situation, it is not Godly to stay with an abuser—it's foolish.

Our issue is more similar to the nature of day-to-day offenses. It may be that a relationship merely needs "pruning." My son has a friend who I adore. She's really funny and she lights up the house when she comes over. But she's also a compulsive liar. I've had to limit the amount of time she we see her, not because I don't like her, but because I need JT to have a firm foundation in the value of truth before he gets too exposed to the alternative. And, yes, I do talk to her about her lying. I just choose to not overexpose JT to someone who refuses to see the harm they're causing.

I don't believe in "forgive and forget." I believe in "forgive and evaluate." I don't believe that forgiveness means "giving the other person permission to hurt you again." I think that's foolishness. I believe forgiveness means "not allowing bitterness to keep the wound open."

But the whole "evaluate" part gets complicated. If a stray dog looks like it's about to attack, I'm not going to antagonize it. But if my friend's puppy is nipping at my hands, I'll give her my fingers. After every nip, I'll bop her nose and say, "No!" After a little while, she learns not to nip. I'm not going to move out of Colorado because of the wind or the snow or the 90-degree summers.* But I'm not going to ignore the crazy seasons, either. I'm going to evaluate and see if there are adaptations I need to make. Fix the roof? Trim the trees? Install radiant heating in the driveway so I don't have to shovel?**

It's the same with people. I can forgive an offense without intentionally exposing myself to that behavior in the future. Or, if need be, I can suck it up, either trusting that God is working in the person's life, or deciding that the relationship is worth the offense.

Our response should come down to discernment, experience, and listening to God. In Sarah Plain and Tall, Sarah's fiancé knew a windstorm and a few blown shingles were not enough reason to give up on his farm. But an extended drought might be. Similarly, a friend's sudden explosion doesn't mean the relationship is doomed. But a long, unrepentant animosity might be. The way to know the difference is to be mindful of the friend's character, but also be in tune with God. He does lead. He does have a plan. That plan may involve sticking with a cantankerous person, or it may mean running for the hills.

At the end of Skylark, Sarah's husband comes to Maine to let them know the rains came. It's safe to return. Like the woman who has seen great changes in a difficult husband, perseverance paid off. I'm not sure if our trees are going to survive their seasonal damage. But it would be foolish to keep them around if keeping them was only going to cause more harm.

*Yes, I'm a heat wuss!
**Wouldn't that be nice? Of course, then you'd have to install it on the sidewalk, too…


comments powered by Disqus
Published 6-27-11