Then [Stephen] knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he died.
Acts 7:60, (New Living Translation)
"I can't forgive that person." Have you ever heard those words? Have you ever said them? Forgiveness is not something that comes naturally to us. When others have harmed us, we have trouble letting it go.
Remember as children when we would have a spat with a friend. We would go running home, and the first thing out of our mouths would be "I'm mad at (insert name here)! I'm never talking to her (or him) again!"
What happened next? Our parents would listen patiently while we explained the reasons for our eternal anger. Then, they would take us back out in the yard, listen to both sides, and give us a stern talking-to about the value of our friendship. It would be something like this: "Now, you two have been friends for a long time. You're not going to let a little thing like this stand in the way of years of friendship, are you? Now, go ahead - say you're sorry and shake hands. Now, don't you feel better?" Chances are we didn't feel better - at least not for a while. But soon, we started talking to each other again, and before we knew it, we weren't angry with that person anymore.
Stephen, a first-century leader in the newly-forming church, was outspoken about his faith in Jesus Christ, so much so that the people dragged him outside the city and stoned him to death. In his dying moments, however, he could have called down the wrath of God on his persecutors or he could have cursed them for their unfair actions, but he chose a different way. "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." Like the words of the Jesus as he was dying on the cross, Stephen reaches out in love rather than revenge to ask God's forgiveness for those who were taking his life. No bitterness. No sound of wrath in his voice. Just gentleness and forgiveness. By the help of God's grace, Stephen could do something that on his own, he may not have done - he prayed for their forgiveness.
What is eating at you today? Are you angry with someone? Ask God to help you forgive that person, and then make a conscious effort to support that person in some way, such as saying a prayer for that person. You may be surprised that the next time you hear that person's name, the hairs on your neck do not bristle quite as much. God can help us do what we cannot do on our own, even forgiving others.
Whom in your life do you need God's help forgiving?
Jan McCoy is associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Covington. She may be reached at email@example.com.