Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
The home I grew up in was not always a happy one. Often, it was a harmful one—untreated personality disorders, toxic dysfunction, substance abuse, and neglect. As a child, I had no category for these things. As an adult, I was able to see much more clearly through the fog of confusion and disillusionment that comes when you are part of a toxic family system—and once I did, I quickly became angry, resentful, and bitter.
There is an idiom found in some Christian circles that says “forgive and forget.” Having grown up in one of these circles, I found it impossible and frustrating to even begin to forgive those that caused harm if it required forgetting. I could surrender my story to God, I could go to therapy, yes—but forget? Can I possibly erase these things from my life and memory? Is that even what God expects from me?
Today’s Scriptures show us that in the moments before his death, Stephen follows the example of Christ on the cross. Certainly, Stephen and Jesus weren’t erasing these harms from their minds. They were, however, seeking to infuse grace into the story of those that were causing them harm and offering forgiveness in turn.
Looking at these examples, perhaps it’s not so much about forgetting, but instead seeking to understand and offer grace to those in our stories that perpetrate harm. As I look at those that are the sources of trauma in my life, how did harm and trauma in their own experiences bring them to the place of harming others? How does a lack of understanding or the presence of fear feed into how they treated others, including me? By beginning to see that the very people that hurt me were acting out of deep brokenness, I began to infuse grace into the story and offer forgiveness that was much deeper than one that forgets.
This never erases, nor excuses, the harms that were done. The presence of necessary boundaries to experience health and safety do not mean a lack of forgiveness or faith. It simply follows the model of those that came before us. By understanding that each of us experiences brokenness, including those that harm us, we infuse grace into our posture of forgiveness—freeing ourselves from the pressure to forget while embracing the freedom that comes with surrendering our hurts to Jesus.
- Are there places in your life where you still struggle with forgiveness? Offer prayers of petition to the Lord for those you need to forgive and see how the Lord works in your heart towards them.
- If you have struggles in your story that need support, safety, or resources, Willow has a team of pastors available to talk. Reach a Response Pastor here or at 847-765-5000.