Lisa looked at me with her big, sad eyes, lips quivering, face down, and asked, “Will you forgive me?”
I melted. I don’t even remember what the incident was; I just remember what happened when I said, “Yes.” We were tangled arms in a hug of love and restored relationship.
That’s why Jesus asked us to pray, “Forgive us.” Not for shame. Not for punishment. Not for control or authority. For restoration.
What I learned from my 5-year-old daughter that day is that using the word “forgive” makes a difference.
She didn’t say, “I’m sorry” or “I didn’t mean to." Those are the ways we often try to minimize the breach. As soon as she said “forgive,” it was a confession instead of an excuse or rationalization. There was no need for lecture or power struggle. What needed to be said filled those four words, Will you forgive me.
Lisa taught me I need to use those words more often. I know when my words have hurt someone. I know when something unsettled or stressed a relationship. I know when my action or inaction created a problem for someone else. Of course I know it. That’s why I try to use any other string of words except the ones Jesus taught me to use.
But here’s the most important omission we make. We don’t ask God for forgiveness any more than we ask someone else for it. We talk about the forgiveness we received when we first prayed to become part of God’s family more than the continued forgiveness we need to ask. Whoever our words hurt, they hurt God first. That’s where we own the rupture first, before God. Forgive my careless words, I should pray immediately.
And here’s why. Because God sends His forgiveness as an empowering, cleansing love that gives us what we need so that we can ask forgiveness from the one caught in our reckless, insensitive, or downright meanness.
Forgive me. The words clear the way for a stronger, more trusting, more need-filling relationship. They bring the oneness God says should characterize our families and churches. They act in out-of-the-world ways that draw positive notice to the God we serve. It is a wordless testimony that opens the door for words we might never have the opportunity to say without asking forgiveness first.
Want to put it to the test this week? Keep score. Count the number of times you ask God to forgive your words, your thoughts, your actions. It’s not about looking for all the ways you mess up. It’s about running to your Father for His forgiving love that empowers you to live your relationships clean and unencumbered.