Thanks for your sympathy: I find a verified case of “Influenza A” plus pneumonia can put a serious dent in my week. Or month perhaps. So just a quick note to say thanks and continue the conversation.
Glad you looked ahead in the Lord’s Prayer to prepare yourself: the “modifiers” in the clause about forgiveness are far more bracing than those on addressing God as “Father,” asking that God’s will be done, or asking for our daily bread.
… as we forgive those who trespass against us
If you’ve ever wondered about the puzzling fact that God, all-knowing and all-powerful, asks us to pray at all, this line of the Lord’s Prayer can give you a new perspective.
It doesn’t much matter which translation of the prayer you are accustomed to: whether you say “sins,” “debts,” or “trespasses,” we step up before God and make a stunning deal:
Please, God,” we say, “don’t forgive ALL my sins. Only go as far as I have gone in forgiving others!”
On the one hand, this line of the Lord’s Prayer forces us to keep our attention on our own responsibility: we are called to do the hard work of forgiving those who do us harm.
That hard work doesn’t mean pretending we have not been harmed, denying the sins others commit. Rather it means we give up our right to condemn and punish them for their acts.
Before you point out the obvious horrible extremes, this also does not mean that by doing the hard work of forgiveness relationships with those who harm us get an easy fresh start — like a “mulligan” on the golf course.
No, forgiving others is our own hard inner work where by letting go of vengeance we ourselves can cease to suffer. It is part of our own healing.
I think C.S. Lewis described the process admirably in Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (a book I’m not feeling quite up to go looking for right now). He tells his friend that after working daily for years to forgive someone a wrong they had done, he awoke to finally find that the forging was simply all done.
We do our part. We keep doing it. Eventually God brings healing.
We may well also need to do the hard outer work of steering clear of the one who harmed us. Or turning them over to the police if that is what is warranted.
On the other hand, though, notice how respectfully God treats you in this — as in all of prayer. You are lifted up to be a full conversation partner, a genuine player in the life created by God. Think of it as “fair trade” — like the coffee beans that pay the growers properly, but even more so.
You are not a pawn when you get to actually ask for what you need. And you are not a victim when you set rational limits on the forgiveness you ask for.
So praying the Lord’s Prayer, read through the modifiers, calls us to pray like a grown-up — indeed, to stand before God as a grown-up, taking responsibility for our lives and for growing into who we are called to be.
P.S. Since you still have a bit of seminary left to go, I would encourage you to see what your faculty offers on the topic of prayer. You need to take your own growth in prayer seriously as a disciple, and to be equipped as a minister. The people in your congregation will need to grow in prayer, and it is you who will be called to teach them.
If you find your school doesn’t offer much (which, I’m sorry to say, is fairly common) I’m offering a non-credit class on prayer this Lent. It is a slice of what I taught at the seminary level for years. Check it out through this link — registration is open through Ash Wednesday.
(This post contains an affiliate link.)