There was nothing that unique or special about that day that might have precipitated what transpired. To make a long story short I was struggling to figure out how to renew the auto insurance on my car, to avoid receiving yet another ticket. I was 20 to 21 years old, and for my young dreamy mind this was a maddening frustrating process. The tasks were pedestrian. So why were they so difficult for me? What was so different, so wrong about me?
And then a thought, sudden and simple, occurred to me — one that surprisingly I had never had before: “I bet these are the kinds of things people learn from their father… like playing ball or changing a tire.” For the first time in my life I recognized that there might be real tangible effects, limiting ones, from growing up without a father, as my brother and I had; and that this might still be affecting who I was and how I was showing up in the world.
That simple thought snowballed into a major emotional catharsis that day for me. I was truly grief-stricken over it, for the very first time, precisely because I was never aware that growing up without a dad had any effect on me whatsoever. The realization helped fuel my already out of control rebelliousness. My angry young man persona now had true purpose.
I made the most of it, played the part well, and for a brief spell, it worked for me. As long as I was willing to stay confined to that identity. Which I wasn’t for too long. As much as I enjoyed being a rebel with a cause, I also had a vision for a much grander purpose for my life. One without anger or sadness or resentment necessary to fuel my passion. I recognized that for whatever reason I was meant to be one of those people who was “happy”.
The thought horrified me I’ll admit. I was so accustomed to genius being associated with grief and pain. And yet there it was, in the back of my mind, a soft loving voice constantly inviting me to be kind, caring, loving, tolerant and compassionate to everyone; to let go of the heavy burden of lamenting how unfair life is and instead to start celebrating how uniquely special it was.
In order to do this I was going to have to forgive. Everyone. Including my father, who abandoned my mother and me and my younger brother when I was 3 years old. This forgiveness required releasing a lot of pain. I learned that there was no way over or under it. I had to go through it. No way to escape it through denial or pretending or affirmation or force of will or even prayer. I had to dive into it and feel it fully in order to finish it up and become the master of it rather than its victim. This is an emotionally painful process. But entirely worth it. Freedom lies just beyond the other side.
Sure I was feeling hurt and resentful… chances are he might be feeling guilt. I would release both impeding beliefs from our shared consciousness. Let us both off the hook. After all, was I really any more ethically or morally better or without sin than he?
Forgiveness is a releasing of the need for a resolution by someone else. You have to be okay with creating your own resolution. For me that resolution was becoming a truly happy person, regardless of having a father or not; someone so satisfied and thrilled by life that they have plenty of free attention and energy to be there for others — even a father who wasn’t there for his kids. I decided that if my dad wasn’t capable of being a good father that I would have to do it for both of us.
Though I sometimes fought it, I enjoyed this new me. Joy is lighter and feels better than righteous pain. And it seems to exist in us naturally and effortlessly. The more we unconditionally love, care for, tolerate and understand others, the more joyful we feel. And vice versa.
Forgiveness is a natural result of this way of being. So in this respect, the ability to forgive is a bountiful blessing, one that not only leads us to a lighter more joyful and happier life, but also one that improves the world around us.
Gifted with this knowledge, it would be very difficult to compel me to NOT forgive when given the chance.
Friends and members of our Christ Church family have prepared these daily reflections as a means for you to consider how forgiveness informs your faith walk during this holy season. They are a richly diverse group from many different geographies around our nation and globe, formed by a wide variety of traditions.