One Sunday morning I was sitting in church listening to my friend lead the band in worship and although I am far from a good singer, I did my best to join in. I listen to Christian music on the radio and knew most of the songs they sang that day. My husband was smiling and singing next to me and as I scanned the auditorium I recognized many faces. When the worship music ended, I sat down and looked at the program. Before the message even started, I saw the title and could feel my heartbeat quicken. In large letters it said FORGIVENESS. As the Pastor began speaking, I felt as if a spotlight was on me. Nothing else was in focus; he was talking to me. He said, “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14 NLT) I started sweating and felt like I couldn’t breathe. I quickly broke my stare and looked around to see if anyone was looking at me. I gave my husband a weak smile and thought to myself, “How could I possibly forgive my parents for all the pain they’d caused me? They don’t deserve it.”
I began to fidget and move around in my seat. After years of carrying my burden and hurt from a life with an alcoholic mother and abusive father, I didn’t want to forgive them. I felt that they were going to get off easy. As we walked to the car with our four sons, my husband noticed my silence, and quietly asked me if I was ok. When we got home and had some privacy I told him, “I think the Pastor was talking to me. I am supposed to forgive my parents.” I asked him, “How? Why?” He could sense that I was struggling and suggested that I go talk to the Pastor. My gut reaction was no. I said, “Then I’ll have to tell him everything.” I was panic stricken, but knew that I had to ask him how I was supposed to forgive the two people who had caused me so much pain.
As I sat in the Pastor’s office and told him about my complicated relationship with my parents, I asked him the questions that were burning me up. “How do I forgive my parents? Do I have to go see them? After all these years how was I going to even start this conversation?” My Pastor was very sympathetic and told me something that immediately made me feel better. He said, “You’re not alone.” He then explained that by forgiving my parents, I was releasing my pain to God.
My Pastor suggested that I talk to a woman in his office who had a similar past. Telling my story again wasn’t easy, but it was refreshing to talk to someone who had faced a similar past. So after all the years of keeping everything bottled up, I told my story twice in one day. After I came up for air, she gave me a hug and thanked me for sharing. As I wiped my tears, she told me about her parents and while our stories are not exactly the same, we both ended up being hurt by the people who were supposed to love us the most. I asked her what I should do. We both agreed that going to see my parents was not a good idea, and I wasn’t comfortable calling, so I decided write my dad a letter. I felt better as I left my familiar church on that sunny day with a plan to finally forgive my parents. It sounded easy enough, but I must’ve started, stopped, and reworded my letter thirty times. In the letter, I explained that he and my mom didn’t deserve my forgiveness, but that I was tired of suffering from their actions. I emphasized that I didn’t expect anything to change between us. I referenced the Bible and made it clear that the real reason that I was forgiving them was because I needed to put my past behind me. I put the letter in the mailbox and didn’t sleep for two days. My mind raced. Did I put a stamp on it? What if gets lost in the mail and he never gets it? Will he call me? Are we finally going to talk about everything?
As I realized that it was up to my Dad to respond, a sense of peace hit me. The woman who had encouraged me to write the letter called me to see how I was doing. I responded, “I am free.” I felt that the burden of my past was finally released. As days and weeks passed by, I never heard a response from my letter to my dad, but am confident to this day that I made the right choice by sending it. Six months after hearing the message on forgiveness, my father, (age 74) died from an infection following surgery to fix his broken ankle.
I can’t help but think how different my life would be today if I hadn’t chosen to forgive.