Have you ever heard these words from your child? Or perhaps have you used them yourself recently? We tend to forget more than phone numbers, appointment times, and where we left our keys. We often fail to do things we promised to do or fail to fulfill a responsibility because we forgot about it. And of course, everyone forgets. We are human after all. As Shakespeare famously wrote in Othello, “But men are men; the best sometimes forget.”
I like Edgar Allan Poe’s advice: “If you wish to forget anything on the spot, make a note that this thing is to be remembered.” That works for me far too easily!
But is “I forgot” a good excuse for failing to do our duty? Many children masterfully use a well-placed “I forgot” because they know it will make their problems magically disappear. But children often learn this technique after watching adults use it with consummate skill.
We must remember our children’s frame and recognize that there will be times when they forget to do their chores, pack their lunch, finish their homework, or say please to their little sister. Some children are more forgetful than others. However, we should never allow our children – and teachers should never allow their students – to form a habit of an easy “I forgot” that makes responsibility go away.
There is a fascinating passage in the book of Deuteronomy in which the Lord speaks to Israel and warns them to remember Him. “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God” (Deut 8:11). An odd thing to say. How could God’s people forget the One who carried them on eagle’s wings to rescue them from oppression? They would forget Him “by not keeping His commandments.” Disobedience carries with it an implicit forgetfulness, whether willful or negligent. But God would not accept “I forgot” as an excuse for Israel failing to obey Him. Instead, the Lord called on Israel to remember His acts, His commands and promises, His calling, His gifts – in short, He summoned them to remember their relationship to Him and everything that comes with it. He disallowed forgetting as an excuse for disobedience.
“I forgot” may be the reason that a child’s homework did not get done. But in fact the forgetting is a euphemism for what actually happened. “I disobeyed you by not being mindful of your authority and did not do what I was required to do. I deserve the consequences and have no excuse.” How would a home, a classroom, or a school change if this were the way our children spoke? What if we adults used these words as well? We don’t do ourselves or our children or our students any favors when we allow “I forgot” as an excuse for not doing the right thing.
I have forgotten so many duties and promises in the course of my life that were it not for the grace and forgiveness of God and of others, I would have fallen apart a long time ago. We all need to be kind and merciful toward one another, and especially toward our children. We need to embody in our homes and our school both a culture of love and compassion and also a culture of responsibility and duty if we will create a culture that honors the Lord. But let’s remember to put “I forgot” in its place.
Now where did I put my keys?