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Don't forget to forget

Some people have astonishing memories and will remember the names of the cup-winning team from 1970 or the price of sugar in 2000

We would probably not be far off the ball if we said that one of the most common instructions that we either tell others or are told by others is “Don’t forget”! Every day no doubt we come across the saying: don’t forget your meeting today. Don’t forget your lunch; don’t forget your mum’s birthday; don’t forget we are going out tonight; don’t forget to make that appointment! Then we tell our children regularly not to forget their homework, their manners, the periodic table, their sports kit, their teeth brushing and much more! However, readers may be delighted and encouraged to read here that there are in fact some things we really and truly must teach our children to forget.

Let us not forget at the outset that the Bible tells us to forget. Paul says in Philippians 3:12-16 that if we want to succeed (or as he puts it, if we want to be perfect) then one thing we must do is forget  —  our natural inclination would suggest that we should remember everything if we are going to succeed, but, no, we are told that one key thing we must do is forget.

Of course, it would be accurate to say that some of us have absolutely no difficulty in forgetting; we need no second invitation — even if we have forgotten the first one! If there was an A level in it, we would get A*s! We are past masters at it — experts! There is no need for any practice or indeed reminder. We go into a room and forget why we went there! We start a sentence and forget how we were going to finish it! We forget appointments, names, events, payments, you name it, we forget it!

On the other side, though, many people do have difficulty in forgetting certain things.  Some people have astonishing memories and will remember the names of the cup-winning team from 1970 or the price of sugar in 2000. However, that is not important, even faintly amusing. There are though some really hard things that people cannot forget. It is such people in particular who are exhorted to forget certain things, most especially to “forget what lies behind”. In essence, we must forget two things, namely our failures as well as our successes.

Firstly, we must forget our (and others’) failures, sins, disappointments, hurts. If we have them ever before us, we can become paralysed by guilt. We can feel  so bad, so awful, so useless, careless, hopeless, loveless, (or are made to feel so bad by those we have failed) so much so that we cannot do anything – and end up increasing the failure and disappointment by not doing anything. The failures are gone; we must move on. We must not let them hold us back. 

We also become paralysed by grudge. We hold onto failure tightly and perversely won’t let go, so much so that we cannot do anything else. We have to let go. We for our part can seek and gain the forgiveness of those we have failed and of the Lord – and it is then up to them. As for God, He forgets (Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west” - in other words an immeasurable distance (as there is no east or west pole) - “So far does He remove our sins from us”. Micah 7:19 says “You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” - and He has placed a “No Fishing” sign there! They are gone. We can’t control whether others forgive us but that is their problem, not ours.

Secondly, and equally we must also forget our successes. In sport, the most dangerous time is the moments after we have scored. Again, there are two reasons why. With our successes, we can be blinded by glory. We think we are brilliant, unbeatable; we believe the hype and do not see the dangers that are right in front of us. They only lead to us falling. But we can also be blinded by greed. We want and demand more for ourselves. We do not think of others and bring them further failure. 

Some might argue that we should not forget our failures, so that they challenge us constantly to focus on not repeating them as well as encouraging us to know that we can succeed. However, such thinking can go disastrously wrong. So we must forget our failures so that we do not become downhearted while we must forget our successes so we do not become big-headed. “Forget what lies behind”, Paul says – after all, they are, in truth, lies! Indeed, they lie on the ground and trip us up. Readers will perhaps forget this before finishing reading this paper – that is fine. But they (and our children) must not forget to forget what lies behind! Please tell children not to forget to forget.

  • Tim Middleton is the executive director of the Association of Trust Schools [ATS]. The views expressed in this article, however, are solely those of the author in his private capacity and do not necessarily represent the views of the ATS.
  • Email: tim@atszim.org website:  atszim.org

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