Gift of Forgiving III: The beginning of forgiveness
Updated: May 8, 2019
REGRET. There’s a lot of punch packed into that six letter word. Several years back, sitting in a class for my graduate program, I realized I still harbored a lot of that powerful word. Regret. “No, you should go visit her. Not just for her good, for you!” I blurted out in the middle of class. The teacher had just shared that she no longer visited her mother, because her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. Her mother no longer remembered her.
Her eyes caught my steadfast look as I mumbled the words, “Before it’s too late.” She shook her head in agreement discerning that she had just received solid advice from someone with experience. Someone who had experience living with regret, because she waited until it was too late.
Regret is the gate to guilt. My shoulders began to bear the heaviness of guilt on that twelve hour drive to my Father’s funeral. I had waited too late. I had planned that this year I would make an effort to reach out and build a relationship with him. But I let ten months pass and I never picked up the phone. I didn’t bother to send a card with new family pictures. I didn’t write a quick letter of life happenings, seal it and send it.
I got busy and that last chance to build something new got put on the backburner.
It was 2004 and I remember that year well. Working my first full-time job out of college, I moved into a one bedroom apartment with my love. I had saved and paid cash for an SUV and we adopted a dog way too large for that tiny home. Between falling more in love, friends, work and dogs – life was running ahead at full steam.
That year ended with an engagement to the love of my life and a bittersweet realization that my father would miss another celebration.
That year was also the first time I witnessed the vibrant colors of leaves changing colors in the fall. Standing near the edge of that ridge, I took in the breathtaking view of orange and burgundy hues. A modest wooden cabin where my Dad spent the last of his years sat just a few yards behind me.
I wondered how many times he had spent on that porch peering out over the ridge. What did he think while resting on that quiet hilltop? Did he think of me, his other children or his grandchildren? Did he take trips down memory lane? Did he have regrets that danced in his mind?
Most importantly, did he call out to you, God? Did he make amends with Jesus? Did he put his demons to rest?
I learned more about my father in those couple of days than I had in a lifetime. For starters, he had an eye for finding the most beautiful place to live in the middle of a very desolate town. He was well known and liked around that small town. He told people about his children, even me. He was proud of his children. He had continued to live a full life in spite of things he couldn’t control.
He left that little piece of hilltop with the modest cabin and heavenly ridge to the Boy Scouts. He was a generous man. And he was a Johnny Cash fan.
That crisp fall day, I put my issues to rest as we placed our father to rest.
I had forgiven him.
I had forgiven the missed birthdays.
I had forgiven the distance he placed between us.
I had forgiven the nickname he always called me.
I had forgiven hurtful words.
I had forgiven.
Or so I thought...
What I would learn fifteen years later while seeking the words for this piece of writing is that Forgiveness is NOT Automatic. It’s a process. And for me it would take a span of four years to really understand just how much resentment, regret, and hatred I had buried deep down. It would take me a decade and a half to truly reconcile those feelings.
God guided me to forgive the past with my father. It was a process. And that process prepared me to forgive my Dad for the unwanted gift that I would inherit. He knew I would need a changed heart to forgive my Dad for the past, the present, and the future.
This new season would be the beginning of many things. One of those things would be the beginning of forgiveness.
When we forgive we set the prisoner free, and the prisoner we set free is us. - Dr. Lewis Smedes
I love this quote! One of the things I prayed for incessantly was freedom. Simply a request to be freed from the bondages that tied me this world. In order to be truly free, I had to learn how to truly forgive. Honestly, it was a painful process where I felt like my heart was bleeding at times. The transformation part was so incredibly hard, but that part pales in comparison to the overwhelming feeling of the freedom I earned. Every little part of the process was worth it.