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Friday, December 04, 2009

"Forgive us... as we forgive..."

When you say the Lord's Prayer, do you say "forgive us our trespasses" or "forgive us our debts"?

I've been thinking about both of these, lately. "Forgive us our trespasses" figures in the magnificent novel Home, by Marilynne Richardson, companion to the equally magnificent Gilead we're reading in the Women's Book Group. (Recommendation: read Gilead first.) The two-book saga tells the Prodigal Son story in the context of life in a small town in 1950s Iowa. The son is seen first through the eyes of his godfather, a Congregational (Calvinist) pastor, and then again through the eyes of his father, a Presbyterian (Arminian) minister.

The second book recounts an incident in which an immigrant family of Soviet Communists starts farming an unused piece of the minister's land. They do it without asking and, when confronted, revile him as a rich person who begrudges them the small living they can eke out. They accuse him of hypocrisy since he is supposedly a man of God yet begrudges their... yes, trespass.

In the story, the minister decides not to press the matter even when the family begins to build a house on his land for immigrating family members. He literally forgives them their trespass with all that entails, namely allowing them to take the land by squatter's rights.

This really made me stop and think. I don't know if I'd be willing to do that, even though I completely agree it's what a Christian saint ought to do.

And having that lodged in my head might have been an influence in my encounter this week with "forgive us our debts". I've had a small debt hanging over me for awhile, and, having recently been blessed with a second job, I had it in mind to pay that as soon as I got my first check. But in the meantime, the creditor decided it was more advantageous to write it off. Hooray!

But then it struck me: what had been forgiven me was about the same amount as a debt owed to me, one I've been collecting -- slowly and painfully -- over the last several years. The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant came to mind (Matthew 18:23-35). The servant, having been forgiven a large debt, responds by aggressively trying to collect a small one. Not wanting to be like that, I decided maybe it would be best to pass it on and forgive the longstanding debt owed me. So I did.

I can't tell you how freeing it was! I thought I'd feel like a doormat or "loser", but I didn't realize how much negativity was around the constant process of reminding and collecting. Money debts have a way of being about a lot more than just dollars and cents. They're about who's "right" or "wrong", who's strong or weak, who's polite or rude, who's needy or withholding. And the list goes on.

I thought I'd be relieved to be able to stop keeping track of the account and worrying about it. but what I discovered was the real relief was in laying down the emotional burden of the situation that caused the debt in the first place. Instead of dispensing a favor, I find I've done myself the favor.

Is there a debt or trespass weighing you down this holiday season? One you could forgive, and thereby forget? Give it some thought. It might be the best present you could give not only your debtor but also yourself.

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