We are to forgive others, but the journey can be difficult.
I needed to forgive my father. But for the life of me, I could not figure out how.
Trying to settle the score
When I was young, my father was abusive to my mom and sometimes to us kids as well. I was infuriated when I saw him hit her in the face. I screamed at him to stop, but he refused to listen. Sometimes he left us for months at a time, moving to another state for a while, just because he felt like it. He was usually out of work but would get a part-time job to save up money—usually to spend on himself. My dad also had addictions besides being incapable of thinking about anyone but himself.
So my mom did it all. She worked full time, came home, and started dinner. She did the laundry and mowed the lawn. She was his opposite. I remember one cold fall day. It was so windy and rainy outside. My mom needed to get the plastic up on the porch windows to help keep the heat in. As the rainy, blustering wind blew in, her hands freezing, she covered those windows. She was an example of endurance. She still is.
Eventually my mom talked to the pastor, and my parents got a divorce when I was ten. It was a huge relief. For the first time we had peace. I came home from school every day with a sense of freedom. We were finally free from the drama.
But unfortunately, it didn’t last long. My dad started causing trouble again. Every time he came over, I would scream at him. If he brought his laundry, I would take it out of the washer and throw it on the lawn. If he came for dinner, I would put it back in the fridge. I was angry at him for all he had done, and I thought I had to settle the score.
Years passed, and it was time for me to go to college. I moved on with my life, never speaking to my dad and avoiding him at all costs. I became an adult. When I got married, he was not invited. I had children, and I made sure they never met him.
Breaking down the walls
For about 15 years, I managed to avoid my dad. I would have avoided him forever if I could. But then I worried that he might make it into heaven somehow. How could we exist together in heaven—forever? To me, this problem was impossible to wrap my head around.
Then in a Bible study, the topic of forgiveness came up. My dad popped into my mind. I felt like God was telling me it was time to forgive. A few weeks later, I heard a sermon on forgiveness. The pastor said, “Forgiveness is not saying it’s okay. It’s NOT okay. God does not condone sin. He is as upset about it as you are.”
At that moment in my mind, it was like a stone wall collapsed. It was such a huge relief to know that God was not asking me to let everything slide and let it go. That was not what forgiveness was about. I learned that God and I were on the same page! I felt a release inside. That was the first step. I realized later that God was a just God. I didn’t have to say that everything my dad did was okay and just sweep it under the rug.
But that was not quite forgiving him yet. I found that I had a couple more walls. I knew I was still not ready to face my dad, yet I feared that God would want me to face him.
But our heavenly Father is so gentle and kind. He did not make me do it . . . yet.
The next year I achieved another milestone on my forgiveness journey. It was through an illness. I had the stomach flu. It was so awful. I was exhausted. Every cell in my body felt wrong. I prayed for healing every time I threw up. Eventually all I could do was lay there and ask for help. I said to God. “Please, you came to earth and healed so many people. I know you can do this for me. Please. I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.”
But that thought shocked me. I wondered, Would I wish this on my father? This was a crack in my anger and resentment. God made me think about how much worse hell would be for my father than the illness I was experiencing. I had said I didn’t want him in heaven with me. But God did not want to send my father to hell. He doesn’t want to send anyone to hell. He made me understand forgiveness from his perspective.
I came to see that I wouldn’t wish even this on my father. And I was able to release my hard feelings about the past. If God could forgive him, so could I. I gave up my hatred and my vengeance and finally forgave my dad.
From that point on, I began to feel better—physically, spiritually, and emotionally. God was carefully guiding me on the path of forgiveness.
So was I ready to face my father now? Not quite. I was still uneasy about opening up any doors of communication. So I waited on God.
Overcoming the final barrier
The next summer, I got a phone call from my sister. She said, “Dad’s not doing very well. He’s in a nursing home, and they don’t think he is going to live more than a day or two.”
I was overwhelmed with the feeling that I had to go to him. I could not let him leave this earth without telling him that he’s forgiven. God was setting the stage.
Within an hour I was on the road. I spoke to God the whole time, trying to process my thoughts and organize what I was going to say. I didn’t know what my dad would look like; it had been 15 years. I didn’t know if he would be awake or asleep, but it didn’t matter. I had to tell him he was forgiven.
I felt God was with me on this mission as I pulled up to the nursing home. The nurse showed me to his room. My father was asleep. When I saw him, I wanted to ask if this was really my dad. He used to be a big man. This man was reduced to almost nothing. He was a skeleton with skin. I barely recognized him and saw only a slight resemblance in his face. The nurse gave me privacy, and I briefly looked around his room. Only a few belongings. Just a card or two from my mom. I sat down next to him and took his hand. Surprisingly enough, I started with, “I’m sorry.”
I was able to release my hard feelings about the past. If God could forgive him, so could I.
Tears began to flow, and I confessed all my regret about the past: “I’m sorry I didn’t invite you to my wedding. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I had children. I have two boys. They like baseball, like you. I’m sorry I never came to see you. I was afraid to face you. But I want you to know that you are forgiven. I forgive you. Jesus forgives you. And I want you to know that God wants you in heaven with him. I want you in heaven too. God loves you, and he wants you.” I cried as he lay there.
I looked around the room and saw bulletins from the chapel. Apparently, he had been going. I read him the verses. I sang him a song. I found a Bible on the windowsill and read it to him. I realized God had been working on him over the past couple of years, taking away everything my father had and filling the empty space with God’s grace. God was the only thing my father could turn to. He was reduced to nothing. His vices, his will, his freedom, his health—they were all gone. I just wanted my father to know that he had God’s forgiveness.
I talked to my father for a couple of hours. He only made noise when the nurses repositioned him. I believe all he could do was listen to me. I talked to him until the rest of my family got there, and then it was time to leave. But I was able to say everything I needed to say. God is so good. My sister and mom stood behind me as I spoke my last words to him. I said, “I will see you there with Jesus.” And with that I kissed him on the forehead. I turned, and my mom looked like she had been released from 30 years of guilt. I had a feeling this was an answered prayer for her too.
He died two days later. We went to his funeral, and during one song, my mom, my siblings, and I held hands as a family. To me this symbolized that we made it through. This was closure. The past was no more, and for me the future held hope and understanding—all because of God’s boundless forgiveness.
The author’s name is withheld at her request to protect the privacy of her family.
Volume 107, Number 05
Issue: May 2020