Each night my wife and I say the Lord’s Prayer together. Over the years we’ve found the greatest benefit of this simple ritual is that every night we pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.”
When Jesus taught the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6, this is the only one of its petitions that he commented on. “For if you forgive others…your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others…your Father will not forgive your sins.” (6:14-15) Forgiveness is so close to the heart of God and so essential for Christ followers that their own forgiveness hangs in the balance.
Every day sin and hurt of some kind mars every person, every relationship, every family. In the normal course of a day, the friction that comes from close contact flames into animosity, little tensions blow up into big arguments; hasty words give birth to deep hurts. Without forgiveness, it’s hard to see how relationships can survive, or how families can function. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive…” becomes a divinely appointed safety valve, releasing the tensions, working through the hurts.
Of course, its one thing to pray about it and it’s another thing to do it. Forgiveness is one of the hardest things to practice in our close relationships. And the degree of difficulty increases with the degree of hurt we’ve experienced. We may easily dismiss someone leaving dirty dishes in the sink (unless it’s done day after day, of course), but when betrayal darkens a relationship, or violence threatens a family, forgiveness costs dearly.
A fallacy about forgiving is that one can do it right now. Perhaps for some small infraction, but not for the big sins that hurt and haunt. For those, it takes time, and prayer, and searching the heart. We might end up praying like the man in the gospels who seeks faith, “Lord, I’m struggling to forgive, help my un-forgiveness.”
Likewise, one of the oldest and most familiar adages about forgiveness turns out to be untrue—forgive and forget. Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting, as though we can wipe a memory from our minds like deleting a word on the computer. Forgiveness remembers and forgives at the same time. But it doesn’t remember with bitterness, it remembers with compassion. That’s what’s so hard about it.
Ultimately, our ability to forgive is related to the depths at which we know how much we have been forgiven. It is more than a momentary act; it’s a movement that flows from Jesus’ cross into our lives. If God refuses to forgive us when we have an unforgiving heart, it’s because when grace stops with us, it will stagnate like a stopped-up pond.
As we pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” we’re reminded that we all live by forgiveness. God’s grace and forgiveness is meant to flow through us, and our families, and finally, through the whole world.
First Published in Nurture by Faith Alive.
Rev. Dr. Steven Koster