…and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:32 NIV
What are you giving your Dad this Fathers’ Day? How about something that will cost you nothing…except your pride and your need to be right? Something worth more than all the shirts and fishing gear and steak dinners put together? A gift that can yield you both peace into eternity?
Most of you know my father was an alcoholic. “Bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor” (vs. 31) echoed through our house on many nights, sending me under the covers, trembling in fear.
But he wasn’t always like that. When he was sober, he shared my love of history and a good story, enjoyed singing funny songs to make us laugh, cherished his beloved football and baseball games—first on radio and then TV.
I never knew which man was walking in the door at the end of the day.
I now understand things I didn’t know back then—how my great-grandfather had abandoned the family when my grandfather was little, leaving a sad legacy of men not knowing how to be fathers. How my father was forced by the Depression into a job (in sales) he was completely unsuited for, how he fought down the fear of rejection and failure every day in order to make a living. How he worked in a milieu saturated by alcohol, one in which a man was measured by how well he could “hold his liquor.” How admitting he couldn’t and getting help to overcome it was more humiliation than he could bear.
Knowing how life wounded him helps me forgive him. Bible teacher Joyce Meyer, who knows a few things about forgiving a toxic family, says “Hurt people hurt people.”
Life in this broken world wounds us all. We all then do things which hurt other people—usually the ones closest to us. We all fail to live up to the potential God created in us.
That’s why Jesus came.
On the cross I believe He took all our failures, imperfections and sins upon Himself. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God pours His blessed balm of forgiveness on my wounds, offers me love and healing and acceptance without condition.
How can I then refuse to offer that same forgiveness and love to my father?
My Dad never repented. It doesn’t matter. My Dad never asked for my forgiveness. That doesn’t matter, either. I forgive him as God through Christ forgave me.
So we are both free.
FATHER GOD: Through and because of Jesus, I forgive my father for his failure to be the Dad I needed. May my children forgive me. Amen.
First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” June 16, 2019.