Forgiving What You Can't Forget - Critical summary review - Lysa TerKeurst

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Forgiving What You Can't Forget - critical summary review

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Self Help & Motivation

This microbook is a summary/original review based on the book: Forgiving What You Can't Forget: Discover How to Move On, Make Peace with Painful Memories, and Create a Life That’s Beautiful Again

Available for: Read online, read in our mobile apps for iPhone/Android and send in PDF/EPUB/MOBI to Amazon Kindle.

ISBN: 0718039874

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

Critical summary review

Have you ever experienced an event that caused you such pain that it seemed you would never move on? In ‘’Forgiving What You Can’t Forget,’’ Lysa TerKeurst reveals how she managed to process and recover from the pain caused by a traumatic event in her personal life. So, get ready to learn helpful ways to deal with the pain you are carrying.

Living with pain

    Painful events have tremendous power over our lives. They often represent a turning point, and therefore we tend to define our personal history in relation to them. Just as the birth of Christ marked the history of humankind. TerKeurst writes: ‘’Like your own personal BC and AD, which usually mean Before Christ and Anno Domini. This dating was intended to indicate a turning point in history - the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Christ. When we have personal marked moments in our own history it can feel like Before Crisis and After Devastation.’’

    The turning point for TerKeurst was her husband’s affair, which led to their four-year separation. During this time, TerKeurst went through a difficult period. She says she had no will to live - the failure of her marriage colored her life completely. ‘’The shock and heartbreak and relationship implosion impacted every level of my life. Nothing was left untouched or undamaged. And I felt the harsh realities every single day. Each morning I woke up to something else devastating,’’ writes TerKeurst. At the time, she believed that she could protect herself from greater pain and disappointment by not hoping for anything better. Bitterness and resentment became part of her life: she was sure that she could free herself from pain only if she saw those who had hurt her punished. She could not move on, as memories of what had happened kept her trapped.

    TerKeurst knew she had to forgive her husband for what he did to her. But, forgiveness seemed impossible for a long time. ‘’I am a soul who likes the concept of forgiveness ... until I am a hurting soul who doesn’t,’’ she writes. 

    Most people find it hard to forgive, as they do not understand the concept behind forgiveness. It can be observed through biblical learning, ‘’Forgiveness isn’t always about doing something for a human relationship but rather about being obedient to what God has instructed us to do,’’ assures the author. Accepting that forgiveness is just between you and God will free you of pain and help you proceed with life. TerKreust did, and she eventually even reconciled with her husband.

You do not have to forget, but you have to forgive

    In the moments of deep hurt, forgiveness seems unimaginable. Usually, that is because we want those who hurt us to suffer as we do. Yet, as long as we stick to this way of thinking, we will be unable to continue with our lives. The truth is, TerKeurst emphasizes, as long as we have faith in God, we can heal. God is the one who forgives us for our sins. And the same as we accept his mercy, we should give it to others. This way, the act of forgiving can be understood as a cooperation with God. 

    This faith in God also helps us release the desire to hurt others. What we should do is move on with the belief God will take care of everything. ‘’And even if you never see how God handles it, you know He will,’’ says TerKreust. 

    Another thing that prevents us from getting over our sorrow is the idea that we cannot forgive until we forget what happened. ‘’Forgive and forget,’’ people often say. The imperative to forget the hurtful event is actually just a coping mechanism people came up with, hoping it would help them deal with the pain. However, the Bible does not connect forgiveness with forgetting in this way, the author claims. Forgiving should free you from pain so that it does not color the good memories you have.

    Keep in mind that your healing is a process. Even if you truly forgive those who caused you pain, you will still have difficult periods. However, as time passes, you will learn that your bitterness can eventually transform into compassion. 

The author warns that those in grief need to be aware of the typical coping mechanisms that only relieve the pain in the short-term. Some of them include: replaying what happened over and over, becoming irrational about the past (believing it was actually better than it was) and refusing to acknowledge the present situation. Instead of using these coping mechanisms, keep telling yourself that God will make everything right. Abandon despair and think about the things you are grateful for.

Healing is your choice

    TerKeurst says her healing process had three phases. The first one was deep pain. During this time she believed other people could end her suffering: that they would realize what they did was wrong and repent. However, relying on others slows down the healing process. The healing depends only on you - you need to separate it from other people’s actions. 

    When you choose to obey the Lord, you become independent from the decisions of others. You are then ready to move on. Remember the healing miracles of Jesus - one of them was the healing of the lame man at the pool of Bethesda. At first, the man believed the water stirred by angels would cure him (a common superstition at the time). As he could not get to the water by himself, he blamed other people for not helping him reach it. Jesus approached this man and just instructed him to get up. The man decided to obey him, got up, and started to walk. His healing began when he ‘’placed it in the Lord’s hands.’’

    When you expect others to repent, you subconsciously do not want to accept what happened. However, acceptance is crucial for moving on. It helps you gain a new perspective on the situation you are in. TerKeurst shares her experience: ‘’Acceptance was acknowledging that the permanent ink is now dry on those pages of my story ... While I cannot change what happened, I get to choose what I now believe and how what happened changes me for better or worse.’’ 

    Finally, your ultimate goal is about creating a new perspective. Think about what you have learned from the painful experience. The author advises you to ask yourself these questions:

  1. What would a healthy version of me be empowered to do from here?
  2. How can this hurt make me better, not worse?
  3. What might God be giving or revealing to me through this that I couldn’t have received before?

I forgive you for the thing you did

    When you decide to forgive others, you need to know what you forgive them for. Once you verbalize the reasons for your forgiveness, you will feel the burden of pain lighten.  

    The therapist TerKeurst was seeing after she separated from her husband told her to take small cards and write one reason she was forgiving her husband on each one. You can do the same for the people you want to forgive. The sentences you write should have this form: ‘’I forgive (their name) for (the thing they did). And whatever my feelings don’t yet allow for, the blood of Jesus will surely cover.’’ Here are some sentences TerKeurst wrote on her cards: “I forgive Art for keeping secrets. And whatever my feelings don’t yet allow for, the blood of Jesus will surely cover.” And: “I forgive Art for breaking our marriage vows. And whatever my feelings don’t yet allow for, the blood of Jesus will surely cover.” As you write these cards, you will acknowledge what happened to you. ‘’Just verbalizing all the pain in a list of facts brought a sense of dignity back into my world,’’ writes TerKeurst. She also says the practice with cards made her stop wanting to overprocess what others had done to her.

    While dealing with her pain, TerKeurst realized her husband was not the only person she needed to forgive. For example, she felt she also needed to forgive her close friend for being judgemental and insensitive about her grief.     

    In some cases, you might not be aware that someone has hurt you until later. If you register any unusual feelings or anxiety when seeing or hearing about someone, think about  why you feel that way. Try to determine which type of sentiment you have regarding that person. You can picture a scale with the words “good,” “neutral,” “frustrated,” “hurt,” “angry,” “wishing for retaliation,” and then pick one that might describe your feeling.

Learn to forgive every day

As mentioned, forgiveness is a process, which means you will have periods when you won’t be able to forget the past hurt and wrongdoings of other people. The author says she often experiences these types of setbacks: ‘’I can’t pretend that I would sometimes rather dance with dysfunction than to have the harder conversations about boundaries. And that I would rather fixate on other people’s wrongdoings than to get honest about needing to do the work of addressing and fixing my issues.’’ However, she also emphasizes that even the forgiveness filled with hesitation and resistance is better than no forgiveness at all. So, be prepared for setbacks and do not dismiss the possibility that the people you forgave might hurt you again.

We should not think about forgiveness only when we are hurt - forgiveness is something we should pray for and practice every day. To activate the process of forgiveness on a daily basis, TerKeurst suggests you choose a verse from the Bible that addresses ‘’a theme applicable to a relationship dynamic you’re working on.’’ Then, think what both God and the enemy wants you to do in response to this verse. TerKeurst explains how she did this using the verse from Ephesians 4:29, ‘’Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’’ In response to this verse, she wrote that God wanted her to ‘’speak life over others,’’ while the enemy wanted her to ‘’tear down others with her words.’’ 

After finishing this part, you should think about whether you are making progress with this verse and on which occasions you are resistant to do what the verse is asking you to do. Finally, figure out who does not live this verse with you and forgive them for doing so. 

Final Notes

A happy and meaningful life is something we need to fight hard for. Luckily, the book “Forgiving What You Can’t Forget’’ offers valuable tips on how to do so. And, as the author of ‘’A Quiet Strength,” Trudy Cathy White wrote: ‘’Lysa reminds readers it’s not what we deal with, but how we deal with circumstances that produces a redemptive message of hope for others - a truth poignantly reiterated in Lysa’s life and the pages of this book.’’ 

12min Tip

    Forgive those who hurt you. Start your healing process by writing cards that state the reasons for forgiveness.

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Who wrote the book?

Lysa TerKeurst is an American writer and the President of Proverbs 31 Ministries. She is the author of more than 20 books, five of which made it to the top of The New York Times bestselling list: “Unin... (Read more)

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