"I can't forgive him. I hate him!" It wasn't a very pious attitude, but it was honest. "Him" was the thief that had broken into his home, stolen some valuables and senselessly destroyed things that had little street value, but were precious and irreplaceable.
He and his wife didn't sleep well for months.
"How can I forgive him?"
At a Bible study, he heard the story of the first Christian martyr, Stephen, who was so unfairly stoned to death. Stephen's last words jumped off the page: "Lord, do not hold this sin against [my assassins]"—an echo of Jesus' words from the cross.
It suddenly struck him that Stephen didn't ask for the power to forgive; he asked God to do the forgiving.
"God," he prayed silently, "Forgive that thief; I don't have the strength right now, and I know you love him. I'll let go now!"
Dear Jesus, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. And when we don't have the strength to feel forgiving, please forgive the people who have hurt us the most. Amen.
Acts 6:8-7:2a (NRSV)
8 Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people.
9 Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.
10 But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke.
11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God."
12 They stirred up the people as well as the elders and the scribes; then they suddenly confronted him, seized him, and brought him before the council.
13 They set up false witnesses who said, "This man never stops saying things against this holy place and the law;
14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us."
15 And all who sat in the council looked intently at him, and they saw that his face was like the face of an angel.
7:1 Then the high priest asked him, "Are these things so?"
2 And Stephen replied: "Brothers and fathers, listen to me..."