When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Forgiving others is a form of prayer. It is not easy for us to receive forgiveness. And it is not easy for us to forgive. Our tendency is to want to hold on to our resentments. The wounds we have sustained feel deep and permanent, leaving us believing that we need to permanently hold on to our anger. Our anger and resentments often feel so righteous and justified that we can’t see any wisdom in releasing them.
Yet, we hear Jesus, who has been falsely accused and wrongly put to death, praying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
This is the prayer of forgiveness. It is a prayer of releasing those who have wronged us. When we are given the grace to pray this prayer with Jesus, we not only release those who have hurt us, but we, too, are released. We are released from our hardness of heart. We are released from bitterness and resentment. We are freed to love and to know ourselves loved.
In Richard Foster’s book Prayer, he tells the story of a prayer found written on a piece of scrap paper in a Nazi concentration camp. The prayer is a prayer of forgiveness that shows us the open heartedness and healing grace that are the heart of forgiveness. The note read:
O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us, remember the fruits we bought, thanks to this suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits that we have borne be their forgiveness. (Richard Foster, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. HarperOne, 1992. pg 224)
Such generosity of spirit comes from the heart of God. The prayer of forgiveness is a prayer that comes to us as a gift. It is a gift that comes to us as we surrender ourselves and our resentments to God.
The prayer of forgiveness is a prayer of love. To receive forgiveness is to experience the power and tender kindness of love. To forgive is to allow the power and tender kindness of love to flow through us.
Frequently the prayer of forgiveness for those who have most deeply hurt us comes toward the end of a process of healing. When the fear, shame and guilt we have carried have been undone by God’s grace, we are released. And in turn, we are ready in a deep way to release those who have hurt us. Only when we have experienced the truth that God’s love is more powerful than any evil and any wound and we have experienced the healing power of God’s love are we set free to let God’s forgiving grace flow through us to others.
Teach me to forgive like you forgive.
Open my heart to the grace
and generosity of spirit
that Jesus had towards those
who falsely accused him
and crucified him.
Heal me so that I can know
myself to be your much loved child.
Show me that your love is more powerful
than any wrong, any hurt.
May your forgiving grace
flow into me and through me,
In a time of quiet ask God to show you who you need to forgive.
Honestly acknowledge your thoughts and feelings about extending forgiveness to this person.
Ask God to open your heart so that God’s gift of grace and forgiveness can flow through you to this person.