The Our Father is the best known Christian prayer and is the prayer that all Christians can pray together. Contained in the prayer is the heart of today’s gospel: forgive us as we forgive others.
“Lord, if my brother sins against me,
how often must I forgive him?
As many as seven times?”
Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
We all struggle with forgiving those who have hurt us and those we love. Sometimes the hurt is recent, but very often we carry wounds and lack of forgiveness for years and even for decades.
Often the reason we struggle to forgive is because we have forgotten how much we have ourselves already been forgiven by others and by God. The one who knows how much they are loved is able to love others, and the one who realises how much they have been forgiven will be able to forgive others.
My lack of forgiveness rarely affects the one who has caused my pain, but it has a huge negative effect on me emotionally, physically, psychologically and therefore spiritually. When I fail to forgive I am giving the one who has hurt me power to affect negatively my daily well-being. On more than one occasion this fact has shaken me awake to my need and desire to forgive.
Sometimes the one we struggle to forgive has been dead for many years and we might feel as if we have missed our chance to forgive. It is true that for a variety of reasons we may not be able to speak to the person we need to forgive, but this human conversation is not always necessary.
Forgiveness is not easy.
How can we more fully live the prayer we pray and forgive others as we have been forgiven?
Many years ago I learnt from Ignatius of Loyola to pray with my deepest desire.
To paraphrase Ignatius’ teaching and relate it to forgiveness: if you cannot forgive, then pray for the desire to forgive.
If you can’t pray for the desire to forgive, then pray for the desire for the desire to forgive.
If you cant do this, then pray for the desire for the desire for the desire to forgive.
You are probably smiling now as I am. This humour when facing our human need to forgive is very helpful. The humour shifts our focus from our own inability to forgive to the willingness of God to give us the gift of forgiveness. It is God who enables us to find freedom through forgiveness of those who have hurt us.
The wonderful reality is that when we pray this prayer for the desire for the desire, at some point in the prayer we find the words we can pray whole-heartedly. We may not want to pray for the desire to forgive because perhaps we think the other does not deserve our forgiveness. But we might be able to pray for the desire for the desire.
We forget that forgiveness is not a human achievement. The ability to forgive others is the gift of God When we find the words that we can wholeheartedly pray (even with conditions) the Holy Spirit will not miss the opportunity to begin the healing.
What have you got to lose?
Take a moment now to call to mind someone you find it difficult to forgive. Don’t worry about who was right or who was wrong, simply begin to pray for the desire (for the desire for the desire…) to forgive. Jesus is now leading you forward.
Conclude this brief prayer by thanking Jesus for all he has forgiven you for.