Tuesday, December 1, 2009

as we forgive our debtors

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,

Every once in a while, for lack of some other prayer or meditation, I recite the Lord's Prayer slowly and repetitively, contemplating each line and its implications. As I get into it, I realize it's complicated enough that I probably shouldn't be working on anything else until I've lived up to those sixty-four words.

The "debts and debtors" section has always intrigued me. As a Brethren, that's how I learned the prayer, and it's how it rolls off the tongue. But now and then I stop to wonder: why debts and debtors? Sure, "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" sounds weird and archaic (though what is "who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name" supposed to be?), but "forgive us our sins" makes some sense. Why choose something that seems to imply a monetary situation, when we simple living Brethren are supposed to be more concerned with the spiritual context?

But as a conflict unfolded recently between myself and another Brethren with whom I'd entered into a contractual arrangement, the full weight of those words became clear to me. Leave it to God to reveal best at those times we'd most like to be kept in the dark.

Forgiving a trespass--or a sin--is simple. No matter how hurtful the incident, it is almost immediately in the past. And though I'm quick to anger, I'm equally quick to calm. I know there is no undoing what has been done, and to indulge in negative feelings, while darkly satisfying, is ultimately self-defeating.

A debt, however, is much more difficult to forgive. A debt is not a one-time trespass; it is a trespass that, on its own, will continue as long as the debt exists. Feeling I was owed a debt, I was torn between conflicting desires for conciliation and restitution. After all, even if could afford to let it go, wouldn't forgiving the debt mean I was allowing myself to be a doormat? How can we give up our cloaks to those who sue for our coats without inviting our neighbors to take advantage of us? (To further complicate matters, the other party believed with equal conviction that it was I who owed him a debt.)

I struggle similarly with wrongs for which I never receive an apology. I guess that's another form of debt; I usually find it easy to grant forgiveness when someone apologizes to me, but the thought of doing so when the other party has acknowledged no wrong makes me sick to my stomach. I obsess over whether they even know they've wronged me. I wonder what will keep them from repeating the same behavior.

"Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." The uncomfortable thing about the Message, and part of the reason we need preachers, is that it's most important when it's not easy. Jesus says, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). I can easily hear him saying, "If you forgive those who apologize, what credit is that to you?" The way of Jesus means looking past our pride, even when it means surrendering justice for the sake of grace. It means letting go of the need to make sure someone else "learns a lesson." It means forgiving our debtors, not just those who trespass against us once.

Ultimately, I gave up on my claim of debt. I can't really claim it was out of a conviction to forgive--it was mostly guilt and exhaustion--but maybe these thoughts played a small part. It will, at least, help me in my continuing struggle to truly forgive.

Maybe someone from Sallie Mae will read this and agree. But if not, I hope I have at least provided some food for thought.

-Nick Miller Kauffman
(My dad thought Stephen's post was written by me, so I suggest we use big obvious signatures like this.)

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