Jesus teaches us to pray “as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12 NRSV). It is added to “forgive us our debts” as if it is a matter of fact thing, something we have already done like it was no big deal. Forgiving someone, however, can seem like a big deal, or even an ordeal. Here are three things we may think about forgiveness which may add to the struggle.
We may think, “I am just not good at forgiving people.”
Forgiveness is not a skill. Rather, forgiveness flows out of character. Consider sailing. Without wind, all the skills and techniques of an accomplished sailor come to nothing. The sailor will struggle to sail. Without character we struggle to forgive.
Forgiveness flows out of a character marked by grace. It is not so much that we learn how to forgive, but rather we become people of grace. We experience God’s grace in Christ. Having experienced great forgiveness from God we become people who want to forgive.
We become people enabled to forgive. The Holy Spirit works in us, growing the fruit of the Spirit within us. Are we growing in our character such that forgiveness is just something we do?
If we are really struggling to forgive someone, maybe we can take a breather from trying so hard. Maybe we can focus on the offence less and God’s love for the offender more. Maybe we can focus on our relationship with the offending person less, and on our relationship with God more. Then we can go back to that person from a different place, as a more Christlike person growing in grace.
We may think “I tried to forgive and forget, but there is no way I can ever forget what they did to me.”
We have some good news; forgiveness is not tied to a superpower called forgetfulness. My Mum, who now lives in a nursing home, has that superpower. You know who is not at all worried about the pandemic? My Mum. You can tell her there is a pandemic and in five minutes she will have forgotten all about it. While I am happy my Mum is quite happy, none of us want that superpower of forgetfulness and all that goes with it.
We do not normally get to choose our memories, but we do get to choose what we do with them. When we forgive someone we may not forget the offence, but we can channel every memory of an offence into a gracious and wise response.
In some cases, it is unwise to forget the offence, good memories are necessary for health and protection.
Think of the example of a husband who abuses his wife. A wife with an unforgiving spirit might say “Though you have apologised I hope you go to hell for the hell you put me through.” A spouse with a forgiving spirit, but a “forgiveness = forgetfulness” kind of thinking might say, “since you apologised again, let us start over again as if nothing has happened.” A spouse growing in grace, but having a wise memory might say “I hope you get help, repent, and become a better man. I hope you live and die in the arms of Jesus. But if you raise a fist against me again, you will not live and die in my arms. You have apologised and I forgive you, but the past offences are in my memory and my memories lead me to put boundaries in place for my safety.”
Forgiveness is not to be confused with forgetfulness. They are two very different things. If we struggle with trying to “forgive and forget,” perhaps we should stop trying to forget. Instead let us focus on responding with grace and wisdom when we face offence and when we remember.
We may think, I alone have difficulty forgiving others.
Notice that Jesus teaches us to pray in the plural. It is not “as I have forgiven my debtors,” but “as we have forgiven our debtors.” We are in this together.
There are many of us learning to forgive. There are many of us growing in grace. There are none of us who have arrived. You are not alone on the journey. This is why the experience of Christian community is important. We support one another on the journey. If we are struggling to forgive, let us take a deeper dive into meaningful relationships with people who are walking with Jesus and growing in the Spirit.
We thank God for forgiveness we experience in Christ. We thank God that he grows our capacity to forgive through His Spirit. Let us be so growing in our relationship with God in Christ that we pray “as we have forgiven our debtors,” and not “as we struggle to forgive others.”