Forgiveness: Why Is It So Hard?

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Jesus taught us to pray this way: Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy. May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us today the food we need, and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us. And don’t let us yield to temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. (For yours is the Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory forever and ever. Amen!)

One of my daily practices is to pray the Lord’s Prayer. It is such a simple prayer, and yet also very profound because it touches on so many important areas of life. When I began the practice I worried that with the daily repeating of the prayer it would lose power, but instead the opposite has taken place. As I repeat the prayer daily I find myself swept up into its words and it becomes more and more powerful with each recitation. I find that the Spirit keeps prodding me at different moments, calling to mind areas of my life in need of improvement. Sadly, or maybe I should say thankfully, today was one of those days.

forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us…

This same phrase seems to smack me in the face more times than I care to admit. The first part, forgive us our sins, is not a difficult thing to pray at all. I know my sins are many. While I’m sure I am blind to many of my shortcomings, in my heart I know I am far from perfect and in desperate need of forgiveness. I am always amazed that in spite of my issues, God still loves me and I believe forgives me of all the many mistakes I make.

It’s the last part of the phrase that seems to sneak up on me; as we have forgiven those who sin against us. That’s the key isn’t it. I know I need forgiveness, I’m desperately in need of forgiveness. I’m thankful that God treats me as I desire and not as I deserve. I hope that others will grant me the benefit of the doubt when I make a mistake. So if I know I am in need of forgiveness, why is it so difficult for me to grant forgiveness in return? Why do I want to harbor a grudge? Why do I want to hold on to the anger? Why am I so unwilling to cut others some slack, and grant good intention?

I know I need to forgive. I hear the words of Jesus that follow the Lord’s Prayer, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.” I know that my forgiveness is somehow tied to my willingness to forgive others. I know what God desires of me, and yet it’s still so hard to forgive. Because the pain hurts, and the wounds cut deep. The action of the offending party caused pain; sometimes life altering pain. At times I think I have forgiven. I’ve mentally gone through stages and steps of forgiveness. And then as I pray the words of Jesus, faces and names come to mind and I start to realize, maybe I haven’t forgiven yet.

It’s like the parable that Jesus tells of the unmerciful servant. A man who has just been forgiven a great debt goes and has a fellow servant thrown into prison because he can not repay a smaller debt. The unmerciful servant is clearly wrong. How can one not show mercy after receiving so much mercy? But I find myself having some sympathy for him because I think, maybe it didn’t register. Maybe he was trying but sometimes forgiveness is just so hard. Because I realize that too often I am that man. I am the unmerciful servant. I don’t mean to be. I want to forgive. I strive to forgive. I even believe I have. Until something happens and the scar gets ripped open and I realize the wound still needs healing, there is still work to do.

So as I pray the Lord’s Prayer the Spirit reminds me, there is still work to do. Forgiveness is not a trait that can be mastered. It’s a life long process of trying to be like God. Thus I ask and pray for the same Spirit that has revealed my shortcomings to me to transform the hurt in my life and heal the wound that enables me to forgive.

And I continue to pray…Father, forgive my sins, and send your Spirit to transform me as I strive to forgive others.

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