Today’s guest post is from Leslie Leyland Fields. Leslie is speaking at the Hearts at Home conference this week! It’s not too late to join us for the conference– registration is still available!
Leslie is an international speaker who has written nine books including Parenting is Your Highest Calling . .. and Eight Other Myths That Trap Us in Worry and Guilt and Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom From Hate and Hurt.
She lives on Kodiak Island, Alaska with her husband of 36 years and the last two of her six children who range in age from 11-25. You can find her online: www.leslieleylandfields.com
Duncan and I are alone in the kitchen, sitting at the table, tense. We are having words, the kind a long-married husband and wife have when they cannot agree. We are not calling each other names, but we alternate between frustration and anger as our words trigger painful memories. Somewhere in this exchange, I feel my stomach and heart soften. I listen closely now to what Duncan is saying and what he is not saying. I begin to understand how he feels. I mentally close the door to long past hurts and relax into my chair. It is not long before we are making tea together.
Our disagreements don’t always end so easily, but it happens more these days. We are both becoming our real selves, the people we want to be, who put on the habit of forgiveness more often than the robes of bitterness. I have my father to thank. He was a supremely selfish, damaged man who barely spoke to me throughout my life. But God had something in store for me through him.
I have always believed in forgiveness, of course. Isn’t this the heart of the God? Don’t I know that God’s forgiveness of my law-breaking heart brought me this crazy life of freedom and joy and constant second chances? But—forgive my father?
And so began my return to my father’s life. I flew from my home in Alaska to Florida repeated times to visit. After he suffered a stroke, I pushed him around the rehab facility in a wheelchair, helped him in and out of bed, took him on outings in a rented car, sat with him at mealtimes, watching him eat his baked beans with trembling hands. I bought clothes for him. Sent him gifts on his birthday and Christmas. I prayed for him. Constantly.
I began to see the pain in his life. I saw that few—maybe no one?—loved him and some had done violence to him. I realized that he likely suffered from schizoid personality disorder and was incapable of loving me as I hoped or wanted. I stopped crying for myself and was able to cry for the hurts he himself had received.
I could not ignore all the harm my father had done to me and my family; in fact, forgiveness requires an honest accounting of all that happened. But I was no longer fragmented by feelings of hate and hurt, nor even the more insidious feelings of apathy and numbness. I grew into an ever-deepening realization that God’s forgiveness of me, his release of all my debts against him—uncountable debts—could heal me to release my father from his much lesser debts against me.
And I did. But this is no fairy tale. Forgiving my father’s debts did not turn out exactly as I hoped. I hoped that he would reciprocate my actions; that he would acknowledge me, thank me and even say he loved me. More, I hoped that my own forgiveness of him would lead him to seek God’s forgiveness before he died. None of this happened. Though his heart softened for a time after his stroke, as he returned to better health, he reaffirmed his unbelief and turned stonily from any mention of the gospel. Nor did he express concern or love for me, even on my last visit, when we both knew we would not see each other again.
I cannot lie and say this doesn’t hurt. But I have found God’s love so empowering, I believe we are enabled to love and forgive even those who have hurt us and cannot love us back. Here, then, is an ending I had not foreseen.
Forgiveness of my father is healing the broken and bitter parts of me and bringing me closer to my real self, the person God desires me to be: whole, not easily offended, full of mercy, quicker to forgive.
It has taken me two fathers to truly know this: one who hurt and one who continually heals. He can do the same for you.
What about you? Have you experienced the kind of pain and hurt Leslie experienced from a parent? Have you experienced the kind of forgiveness she’s experienced in any way?