Every week in our church service we pray the Lord’s prayer together. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that was taught to us by Jesus (Matthew 6:9-15). One line of the Lord’s prayer that most of us are familiar with is:
And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…
We know that sometimes forgiveness can be hard. I have faced some betrayals and hurts in my life, as we all have. I know I’m supposed to forgive, because Jesus tells me to do so. But it’s not as easy as it seems. I work to forgive others, but I know that I have a lot to be forgiven for too, and I hope that people whom I may have hurt have forgiven me. Notice how the FIRST part of this verse reminds us to ask for forgiveness for OUR sins, and the second part reminds us to forgive others. I remember reading in one of Beth Moore’s lessons how she used to think “God will get so-and-so for what they did.” Then she wondered if God would also get her for the things she did. She told God “never mind, I’ll just put it all in your hands.” She made me realize that karma may not be the thing to hope for. When we forgive, it can’t be with the thought that our “enemies” will be punished. Perhaps it will happen, but it shouldn’t be our concern. The truth is, sometimes there is justice in our world, and sometimes there is not. That’s why forgiveness is so important, it helps us to let go even if we don’t receive the justice we think we deserve.
When I was a young(er) adult, I had a best friend. A tragedy happened to her, and during her grieving process she stopped talking to me and completely shut me out of her life. Over the years (and decades), I asked myself what I could have done better to be there in her time of need. Not that I always focused on it, it faded into memory, but sometimes I would wonder. She was hurting and dealt with her pain in her own way, which didn’t include me. It’s only recently that I realized that she had some responsibility for the abrupt ending of our friendship, and that I had the right to feel hurt. Often we think we must forgive someone and not acknowledge our own pain in the process. This is not so. I’m not mad at this person, not at all, we reconnected years later and speak from time to time. But I have finally relieved myself of 100% of the responsibility for the tear in our friendship. Forgiveness means forgiving, but it does not mean putting all of the blame on ourselves or kicking ourselves to the curb for the rest of our lives. We can still acknowledge the other persons’ culpability. When I came to this realization, it felt like a burdon was lifted that I didn’t realize was there.
Forgiviness often involves trying to understand the other person’s feelings and motives. There are times when people hurt each other without really intending to do so, it just happens. Lives change, so friendships end. I read in a novel years ago some words that I never forgot. The character said “most people can justify their actions to themselves, and if you try to understand them and their motivations, then that will limit their ability to hurt you.” I do try to put myself in someone else’s shoes. This often helps, but some actions are just plain wrong. As a victim of a few robberies, I felt anger against the men who held guns on me and put me in such a vulnerable position. I have tried to put myself in their shoes, and I can imagine that they were addicted to drugs and perhaps had bad childhoods. It’s one reason I became a social worker. I want to help people find the tools they need to grow into healthy adults so they don’t have to resort to such harmful and dangerous behavior. I have seen how our system can harm people, and I want to have a hand in trying to fix that. The point is, I took control of what I could and tried to let go of what I couldn’t.
I believe that Jesus’ wise words were said so that people who have the need to forgive will find freedom in letting go. It is also an imperative because it reminds us that we also need forgiving. But no matter what we have done, if we come to Him and repent, all will be forgiven. Even things that we cannot imagine as being forgivable are forgiven by God. Jesus was on the cross, unjustly crucified, and in all of his pain He forgave those who crucified him. That is superhuman forgiveness.
Knowing that Jesus forgave the people who tortured and murdered him is SO powerful. It is also a good reminder to know that Jesus didn’t die for sins that we find acceptable, He died for ALL sinners who come to Him. Any forgiveness we can accomplish as humans is only a small fraction of the forgiveness God does. But when we do forgive, it empowers us. It brings us closer to God. It frees our minds to focus on positive things. It allows us to see the things we can fix and let go of the rest. Forgiviness leaves room in our hearts for more love, understanding and kindness.
Forgiviness is a personal feeling and a personal decision. It is something no one can force us to do, because we have to prepare our hearts to do it properly. But when we do forgive, we experience the rewards of peace and harmony in our souls, and we bring that peace into the world. Forgiving allows us to see the beauty in life. It is a gift.