I’ve been reflecting on a big moment in Joseph’s life. It was just after Joseph’s son Manasseh was born and Joseph explains why he gave his son this name: “God has made me forget all my hardship” (Gen. 41:51). Oh, blessed forgetfulness!
God gives each of us a memory with two primary functions. First, our ability to remember is so we can recall the things we need to know. We use our memories to try to remember the flow of our sermon notes each time we preach. Before that, memory helps us remember where the church meets every Sunday morning. The other function of memory is the opposite: We use our memories to forget some things.
Bob Pitman, my elderly preacher friend, says the years have gathered up against him and he has become a very good forgetter. “In fact,” Bob said, “I have become almost a perfect forgetter.” Joseph had forgetting in mind when he named Manasseh. Joseph effectively was saying, “I am a perfect forgetter because I refuse to allow some memories to burden me.” The Hebrew word kineshni also might be translated “oblivious to” or “unmindful of.”
There are some things in our memory banks we do better to let go, especially because we preachers and pastors are given the added call to be role models. What things should we ask God to help us remove from our memories? Reflecting on my 40-plus years of pastoral ministry, I can think of at least four, one of which may surprise you:
Forget your sins! “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Each time I come to that verse, a conversation with Valerie* comes back to me. Valerie, who had committed her life to Christ as a teenager, was approaching middle age. For more than two decades, she had carried the burden of a momentary moral lapse on a high school graduation trip. When I pointed out John’s inspired words to her, she said, “I’ve read that hundreds of times, but I just cannot forgive myself.” I reminded her that because God had forgiven her, she effectively had set a higher forgiveness standard than God Himself. We are all sinners, and we need to confess; and then, having received God’s forgiveness, forgive ourselves.
Forget criticisms! As preachers, we will be the targets of critics no matter what we do. C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters instructs Wormwood to become a church faultfinder. That has been a good strategy for Satan—one he still uses. Mean, ugly, jealous attacks are part and parcel of life for ministers. They hurt, but we must practice forgetting them. Otherwise, we will find ourselves ministering on the defensive, and that never works! By intentionally forgetting them, we can demonstrate the love and mercy of the One who called us to preach and who said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Forgive your critics, forget the hardship of whatever they said or did, and move ahead. Oh, blessed forgetfulness!
Forget your own goof-ups! Given the number of times we speak and act in public, it should not surprise us that we will say and do some things that come under the heading of Dumb! Every time it happens, quickly apologize and ask forgiveness. Then move forward. Forgive yourself. Imagine what a terrible difference it would have made if Paul had continued to beat himself up emotionally for all the things he did before he encountered Jesus. Instead, he chose to count all those things as rubbish (see Phil. 3:8). Learn your lesson, then intentionally forget what you did and allow the gospel’s unique peace to reign in your heart.
Forget your successes! We all enjoy recognition and commendations. However, when we bask in past achievements, we become self-centered bores and our whole future looks as if it happened yesterday. See those great moments as stepping stones to the new successes God has planned ahead. Thank God for what you did, and put your hand in His great hand for what He has in store for you. Paul, remembering his successes, said, “One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).
Keep your mind focused on “whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).
*Name has been changed.