Forgive us our debts/trespasses/sins as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass/sin against us.
Forgiveness is one of those words within the Christian faith that has a long, complicated history. I myself can barely say the word "forgiveness" without hearing my mom's voice sternly saying, "Now, say you are sorry." All of the sudden I am six years old and just broke my brother's favorite toy growing up. Forgiveness has become synonymous with such emotions as guilt, embarrassment, resentment, and frustration. Sometimes forgiveness has an "ought" quality to it. We know we 'ought' to forgive that co-worker for stealing our idea or throwing us under the bus at the last staff meeting, but really we'd rather stay angry for just a little while longer.
Of course, a lot of good work has been done around forgiveness too. We say that forgiveness does not mean forgetting the pain that another person caused us. Forgiveness means more than saying 'sorry', there needs to be reconciliation. Or we talk about forgiveness being a process day by day.
But this line of Lord's Prayer is about a particular kind of forgiveness. Actually it is about two kinds of forgiveness. The first part of the sentence has to do with someone or perhaps God forgiving us. Let's face it, that might be the hardest kind of forgiveness. I am much better giving forgiveness than I am receiving it. When someone says to you, "I forgive you," we get all aflutter. Wait, you think, what did I do that was so wrong? And while I am at it, I think I should be forgiving you for that thing you did...that's right...that thing... I think you know that thing you did. When we seek forgiveness we realize we are not in control, we don't have power, and most of the time we really don't like that. But, if I am being honest, most days I say some boneheaded thing or do something that I am not fully proud of. And most of the time people are Midwest polite enough and don't embarrass me by saying they forgive me.
The second part is that we are suppose to forgive in a similar portion to which we are forgiven. To be honest, I rarely want to reduce faith to some kind of mathematical equation, but it seems to work here. I know I am forgiven many times (to be sure by God but also by the church members who I seek to be in ministry alongside). So, why is it so hard for me to let go of the frustration I feel when I have been wronged? Because of that power thing above...only now I have the upper hand and I get to say when and where and how the forgiveness will be granted.
Maybe forgiveness isn't as hard as I have made it out to be above. Maybe you find it easier. For some people such graciousness is truly a trace of God's grace. But for others (and this is where I find my tent pitched more often than I care to admit) forgiveness is a tough spiritual practice and we need community of faith to practice it. To even mess up the practice of forgiveness so we can try again...and again...and again. That is what church is...or could be about...if we take this part of the Lord's Prayer to heart. And if we do, I suspect we would sense a trace of God's grace in our lives.
Blessings and peace
Note: the above painting is Rembrandt's Return of the prodigal son based on Luke 15 which is a great passage about forgiveness.