It was a moment that can only be described as the grace of God: Reciting the Lord’s Prayer with a dozen friends during a lunchtime meeting in Palo Alto and realizing, mid-prayer no less, that no one owes me a thing. Not money. Not a token of their appreciation. And most importantly, no apology.
I’d repeated this prayer a thousand times before, but I can’t recall ever feeling so moved by so few words: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.”
If you’d asked me even five minutes before this happened if I thought I needed to forgive anyone, I would have said no, and meant it. I’m just not one to hold grudges. That’s what made this whole thing even more extraordinary – to be relieved of an enormous burden I didn’t even know I was carrying. In an instant.
If that’s not the grace of God, I don’t know what is.
I’ve written before about folks working outside the realm of religion, including a fair number of doctors and medical researchers, who have witnessed firsthand the power of forgiveness. But to be honest, it had been quite awhile since I’d had such an intimate encounter myself.
“Forgiveness is one of those ways where we wipe clean a major threat to our well-being,” said Dr. Fred Luskin, director of the Stanford Forgiveness Projects during a conversation he and I had a few years back. “That causes the body to have more time to repair. Immune function goes up, blood pressure goes down.”
As great as that all sounds, that’s not what happened to me – at least the bit about immune function and blood pressure (well, as far as I know). I did feel a sense of relief, however, from what could be considered a “major threat” to my well-being: the reluctance to forgive someone for something that, when examined in the light of this simple yet profound prayer, could have – should have – been disposed of years ago.
The details aren’t important. What is important is knowing that forgiveness really can be unconditional, and that being indebted to others, figuratively or literally, is not nearly as oppressive as the thought of someone else needing to settle their account with me. I may have only gotten a glimpse of this, but what a life-changing glimpse it was, and one that I will likely need to draw on frequently.
There was a second part to my revelation that I haven’t mentioned. Hot on the heels of the realization that “no one owes me anything” came the real kicker: “…because God has already given me everything.”
When I think of God, I don’t imagine some superhuman periodically swooping down from the sky to satisfy my every material need but, instead, that divine state of consciousness that assures me that whatever I might need to lead a happy, healthy life is always at my disposal – including the ability to forgive.
Thinking back on this momentary yet momentous face-to-face with the Divine, it occurs to me that I also learned something about the nature of prayer itself, expressed in the words of Mary Baker Eddy:
“True prayer is not asking God for love;” she writes in “No and Yes” (p.39), “it is learning to love, and to include all mankind in one affection. Prayer is the utilization of the love wherewith He loves us.”
Giving to others what we’ve been given by God is not only natural but also essential to our well-being, and the key to living a truly debt free life.