God has the memory of a dog. I suppose that sounds sacrilegious at first glance, but I do have a point in saying it, and it's a flattering point.
Dogs have the unique ability to forget in the blink of an eye. There's a joke that goes something like, if you put your dog and your wife in the trunk and leave them there for a while, which one will be happy to see you when you open the trunk? The truth is dogs don't hold grudges, and they certainly keep no record of wrongs. I can attest to that with my dog, Juno. Even if I yell at her the morning for some infraction with regard to her behavior, she will be jumping up and down with joy to see me by the end of the day when I return.
God is has a similar mentality (is it a coincidence and dog and God are anagrams?). Even when we mess up on an epic scale, he is jumping up and down when we admit our mistakes and ask for forgiveness. He keeps no record of wrongs, so why is it that we humans can't keep life simple like our dogs do?
Forgiveness is a God-directed mandate. For Christians, there is no other alternative than forgive and love. But let's face it; the whole "forgive and forget" mentality is hardly a successful philosophy. It sounds good and is a palatable epithet in Christian circles, but the practice and philosophy do not generally go hand-in-hand. The vast majority of us will claim to forgive, and may even be sincere about it, but forget? Not a chance.
While God may have the memory of a dog, we humans have the memories of elephants; we never forget. We may be earnest in our intention to be the "better" person and may even forgive. .repeatedly, but we tend to suck on our hurt as we do a lozenge for a sore throat. Here's another simile for you; like the stink of last night's supper, the offense lingers in our minds and worse, in our hearts, planting the seeds of bitterness in the fertile, broken soil of our hearts. There are enough metaphors on the subject to illustrate the situation, but I think you get the point. As humans, we don't like to let it go. The question is why?
There is a significant quote that definitely explains the situation: "They may not remember what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel." As humans, memory and emotion are irrevocably intertwined. One of our most basic needs is belonging, and when we are rejected (through embarrassment, bullying, exclusion, etc), an emotional trench of hurt is carved into our minds and hearts within seconds. Filling this trench seems like an insurmountable task, and it can takes years or a lifetime to do.
There are people in my life who have hurt me so deeply that their mere presence is enough to conjure an extreme emotional reaction. For example, twenty-five years ago, my high school principal hurt me deeply and embarrassed me. Even now, I cannot exchange a glance with the man without feeling the initial flare of anger. It's been twenty-five years. I do not think about what happened anymore, and it has definitely not destroyed my life in any way; however, the emotion connected to the person is still just as strong.
Even though I am ashamed to admit it, there are people with whom I go to church who conjure the same strong emotions. Without getting into details, I was betrayed by several people whom I trusted, including my pastor, and forgiveness has been a bitter pill for me to swallow. The hypocrisy, both my own and those who offended me, has been paralyzingly difficult to bypass. Although the incident is definitely no longer on my mind, proximity has made the healing process next to impossible for me. Seeing them each Sunday is like ripping the scab off the wound each week; it never seems to heal. Although I have forgiven the act, the emotional reaction I have to these people does not allow me to forget. I have listened to Joyce Meyers repeatedly admonish me to not be a victim to my emotions, but I have yet to be successful.
And then to compound matters, the quote, "They may not remember what you said, but they will never forget the way you made them feel," has convicted me in another way.
For the past twenty years, I have been a high school teacher, and this is a quote that alternately inspires and haunts me. I wish I would have heard it twenty years ago when I started teaching, but then, again, would I actually have attended to it? Twenty years ago, I was a 22 year old newb who was trying to establish a presence and credibility in my classroom. In my quest to do so, I was more concerned about commanding the respect of both students and colleagues. In so doing, I know that I alienated, embarrassed, and discouraged students along the way.
One example that comes to mind is a young woman (who is now a friend on Facebook) who was in my speech class. At one point, I had written "Good attempt" on a speech evaluation I did for her. The intention behind the comment was to be encouraging, but she was offended and deeply hurt by it, as I later found out. As you can tell, I still feel badly about making her feel bad about herself, and this incident occurred well over ten years ago. And this is one incident in which the student let me know that I had hurt her. How many other students have I discouraged that I don't even know about? With that in min, the quote now inspires me to really think about what I say, how I say it, and when I say it.
So, how do we, as humans, become more like dogs than elephants when it comes to memory. Like everything else in our lives, it is a choice. It is our daily cross. It is my daily cross. Tracing back to the Garden of Eden, we humans live our lives according to choice and consequence. It is my choice to get sucked into the toxic emotional toilet that keeps me from true forgiveness, or it is my choice to focus on forgiveness first and to love, as I am commanded to do. God doesn't leave any wiggle room when it comes to this issue; it is either one way (His way) or the other (destruction).
Last night, my husband and I went out to dinner. When we returned, I was dismayed to see that Juno, our pug-rat, had practically scratched a hole into our recently-purchased leather couch. Of course, Juno was scolded, banished to the floor, and had to sleep in her kennel. Her tail was down, and her sad brown eyes illustrated her remorse. This morning, she raced out of her kennel and licked my face as though she hadn't seen me in years. Even now, she is snuggled up next to my thigh as I write this. Whatever happened yesterday is completely forgotten, and she loves me every bit as much as she ever did. She lives for my affection and a kind word. Sound like anyone else you know? Indeed, God has the memory of a dog, and we would be wise to follow suit.