What have I done? At one time or another we all face the fact that we've done something wrong and need forgiveness for it.
Nearly two years ago, I felt this keenly. I longed to be forgiven for something I had done that turned out very badly. I prayed to know what to say and what to do and even what to think. That's when I was arrested by this line in the Lord's Prayer: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." It was that two-letter word "as" that caught my attention.
How well had I forgiven those who had wronged or injured me? In some cases, I had forgiven people completely. In other cases, not at all. It wasn't just big things that I hadn't forgiven. I sheepishly admitted that I still held a few grudges against those who had slighted me years ago in truly trivial ways.
I looked up the Lord's Prayer in the Gospel according to Matthew. After teaching this prayer to his students, Jesus added bluntly: "For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
I asked myself how I wanted to be forgiven for what I've done wrong, for my mistakes, for my unkind words, for my selfishness, for all my faults. It was the easiest question I've ever had to answer. I wanted to be forgiven completely, utterly, no strings attached. But according to the Lord's Prayer, that's how I had to forgive others. Over many months I did a lot of mental housecleaning. One by one, I forgave old wrongs, big and small, as completely as I wanted to be forgiven. Eventually, I was forgiven for the incident mentioned earlier.
Then one day at work, a new co-worker who had made a hasty decision reacted angrily when I pointed out something that she might want to take into account. In fact, she became so angry that she grabbed my arm and shook it hard. Although I handled the situation calmly at the moment, afterward I was appalled and furious, and my arm hurt. I debated whether to contact the personnel department, but it was a Friday, and I had the opportunity to leave early and avoid making a hasty decision. I went home to think the matter through.
The first thing I did was tell my husband what had happened, and it made him as indignant as I was. I spent half the weekend stewing about this incident, my arm aching the whole time. Finally, I remembered what I had been doing for months - forgiving others as I wanted to be forgiven. I knew I had to forgive my new co-worker this way, too.
Psalm 51 is the prayer that King David prayed after he committed adultery and then had the cuckolded husband murdered (see II Samuel 11, 12). Realizing the enormity of his crimes, King David begged for God's forgiveness: "Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness.... Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities."
Reading Psalm 51, I was deeply moved by King David's abject humility, and I had to face once again that I myself was not free of wrongdoing (another word for sin). I opened the Bible to Psalm 51, and I prayed for this woman, substituting her name for "me" and "I." I prayed, "Have mercy upon her, O God.... Hide your face from her sins, and blot out all her iniquities. Create in her a clean heart.... Cast her not away from your presence.... Restore unto her the joy of your salvation."
As I prayed through the psalm in this way, I began to feel deep compassion for this individual and a great sense of God's love for both of us. He does blot out our sins and restore us to His presence. I forgave my new co-worker with my whole heart, and literally forgot about the incident. The rest of my weekend was wonderful.
A few days later, I met this woman in a hallway. Immediately, she poured out a heartfelt apology for what had happened, which I humbly accepted, grateful that no hint of animosity toward her remained. In fact, I felt as though some of my sins had been blotted out, too.