Could I Forgive Him?
-- When I was born, my father had not prepared a home for
a child, and neighbors had to hang sheets in one room to create
a clean nursery for me. Our house was a 10-year-long construction
project, with sawdust on the floor and open air between each step
in the ten-foot ascension up to the second, and then to the third,
My father beat the dogs and threw knives at them out of rage,
even kicking them in anger. He was drinking all the time, and
if he wasn't passed out on the couch, he was practicing with the
band at 3 a.m. or playing in a local bar.
He wasn't what I wanted for a father. He wasn't fathering me.
I remember him yelling irrationally at me when I was 8 years
old. It was terrifying. He liked to terrify. I learned to be strong
against that intimidation and not back down. I learned to fend
for myself -- even to a man 27 years my senior.
Who would ask me to forgive him?
Year after year he disappointed me. Failed me. Missed my mark.
After his divorce from my mother, he never made good on promises.
He didn't pay child support. He was late remembering every holiday.
My birthday, a day he told me was memorable and special to him,
was not celebrated with a phone call or gift on time. Instead
I got excuses as gifts—tears and "poor me" words of desperation.
I became more and more angry until my anger exploded out onto
others. I began hurting my family the way he had hurt me. Out
of my disappointment and frustration I had ironically begun to
become my father.
I hated him. I hated myself for becoming him.
Who would expect me to forgive?
When I was nearly 14 years old, I heard about Jesus in a fresh
way that I understood had personal implications on my life. I
turned my heart to Christ. But life did not get easier. I did
not find myself feeling love for my father overnight, as if a
stroke of magic had occurred.
I still hated my father, and now I felt conflicted because the
Holy Spirit kept hounding me to look at myself and think about
I heard and read about forgiveness and tried desperately to forgive
my dad. I found it impossible.
Everything in me burned. He'd hurt me. He'd left me. He'd become
such an insignificant part of my every day, while still holding
some strange control over my emotions. I was resentful.
Worse was that he was still as angry and as drunk as I'd always
known him to be. Shouldn't he have to change or ask my forgiveness
in order for me to forgive him? Shouldn't we have a reversal of
parenting roles before I forgave him? Shouldn't I see some effort
on his part?
But then I read the story of the unforgiving debtor (Matthew
Now, how could I not forgive him?
I read this biblical mandate with shocking clarity—I could
not accept forgiveness without also forgiving! The impossible
was becoming possible with God. I began to pray that my heart
would soften. I prayed for my expectations to fall away. I told
God that I didn't want to do this and that I didn't know how and
asked Him to help me. I prayed for restoration and healing. I
prayed because it was the only action I could take in my distance
from my father.
Prayer began working on me. The Holy Spirit kept working on me.
Love replaced hatred, and I began to pray for my dad's salvation
rather than his elimination.
And the good news isn't that my dad became everything I expected
him to be, or everything God wanted him to be, even. The good
news is that God changed me, and forgiving my father gave me the
freedom to love him and others in my life as well.
So many of us are blind to what we do. We don't understand the
impact our actions have on others—the recoil of our anger
or gossip that knocks others over as we walk away unscathed. We
do not see the way our actions affect others, but we're quick
to notice how others' actions affect us!
If anyone could harbor unforgiveness it was Christ, but from
the cross He cried, "Father forgive them, for they know not what
they do" (Luke 23:34).
If He could forgive, why shouldn't I?
The yolk of unforgiveness, anger, and hurt is an overbearing
burden. Its weight brings our shoulders to slouch and our hearts
to heaviness. Its darkness swallows our minds and consumes our
If you are harboring anger and unforgiveness, you know this weight.
It is a dark, heavy, foreboding shadow that drags behind you everywhere
you go. Others see it and ask about it and you defend yourself
with reasons why you share its company. But those reasons are
really only excuses preventing you from doing what is right.
Ditch the whole thing. Never reunite with it.
God's best for you includes understanding forgiveness. As imperfect
as I am, Christ is perfect. As imperfect as my parents are, Christ
is ultimate perfection. As wrong as injustices done against me,
God is righteousness. Though my parent was less than a parent,
God is the ultimate Father.
Lay your anger and resentments at the foot of the cross. It may
take time, if the damage is deep, but keep dumping it there at
the base of the cross day after day until you've disposed of all
of it. Where the blackness occupied your soul before, accept an
understanding of unconditional love as replacement.
My dad will always be imperfect. That's God's promise, because
he says that none of us is without sin—no, not one (Romans
3:12). I celebrate that His Word is true. With new vision I can
try to understand the hurts my father experienced that made him
hard. Now he has quit drinking (15 years or sobriety!) and his
life is improving.
With new vision I can try to understand my parents' imperfections
and love and accept them. It's a very freeing way to live life—dropping
away my expectations of people to look at God's expectations of
me; recognizing that God fulfills all His promises, even when
others do not; and taking logs out of my eyes before approaching
others with speck-corrections (Matthew 7:4).
Forgiveness is freedom in Christ.
Lisa your e-mail comments
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