“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us…”
I pray those words of the Our Father at every mass I attend, every time I pray the Rosary (infrequent though that is), when I remember to pray the Divine Office, and every night when I join my children in bedtime prayers. Put in more modern language, they say “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.” [Apologies to my non-Christian readers. There is a fatherhood angle to this, but it’s not a secular one.]
Those words, expressive of God’s abundant mercy, are wonderful when you stop to really think about them. They are also very challenging to live out. I find them especially hard to live out with respect to my children. Do I forgive their trespasses, or am I too distracted by punishing them? I am most keenly aware of my failure to forgive as I pray the Our Father with my children at mass and at bedtime. Why? Because odds are very good that shortly before that prayer they have done things to aggravate and frustrate me.
I mean, what parents – aside from perhaps Mary and Joseph – haven’t been challenged by their kids’ behavior at solemn events, or been ready to pull their hair out by the time “Good night” has been said? I’m sure most of us wish we could live up to the example of the forgiving father in the parable of the prodigal son, but that son asked – begged! – for forgiveness. How are we to respond when people, especially our children, are unapologetic? What if contrition is absent, or at least concealed? What if the offenses are ongoing?
Well, Christ was hardly silent on those possibilities.
“Then Peter approaching asked him, ‘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.'” – Matthew 18:21-22 (NAB)
No mention of contrition or apology there. There isn’t even the expectation that the sinning as ceased. To really drive the point home, Jesus added a parable about an unforgiving servant. It’s a grave lesson.
“That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan.
“When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt.
“Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” – Matthew 18:23-35 (NAB)
God has forgiven my great debt, but I struggle to forgive the petty debts of my children.
“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…”
Epic dad fail. And what are the consequences of not setting a good example of forgiveness for my children?
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!”
No pressure. As if I wasn’t already racked with guilt, feeling like a wretched hypocrite, praying about forgiveness while still steaming about having my buttons pushed for the umpteenth time just minutes before.
I suppose the best I can muster for now is to pray the last line of our bedtime prayer as sincerely as possible.
“When in the morning light I wake, help me the path of love to take, and keep the same for Thy dear sake.”
How do you handle forgiving your children while you’re still furious about something they’ve done or said?