The Power of Forgiveness

Sunday morning I shared a story from my childhood that dealt with the disappointment of my Dad not coming to pick me and my brothers up for a weekend visitation. I sat there watching from the window, feeling like the odd kid out when they picked teams at recess. I knew he wasn’t coming, but I waited anyway.

Like most of those stories, that was just the tip of the iceberg.  In fact that was a pattern that was repeated many times and in many ways for the first 4-5 years of my life, culminating with my father giving up all custodial rights to us as his children, severing our relationship. As a young kid, I was completely innocent to how that reality would shape the rest of my life.

Decisions like these can’t be easy for a parent, but they also have life-altering consequences for their children. Growing up without a relationship with my father created a wound that I would have to engage as I grew into man, husband, and father.

1 Samuel 24 was a great look into how David dealt with the wrong that King Saul committed against him. As my story unfolded, I realized that, like David, I needed to address my wounds. In my mid 20’s I was involved in a Men’s Fraternity study that provided me with some challenging truths and some great guys to help me as I navigated the wounds I had from my father.

Sunday we asked four questions from 1 Samuel 24 regarding how we respond when we are hurt by someone. Let me tell you the rest of my story through the lens of those questions.

Will be tender hearted or hard hearted? 

There is a part of a young boy who always longs for connection with his Dad. The older I got, I began to learn how deeply that wound cut me. Most people would say that I would be justified in being angry with my father for all the hurt he caused for my family. But as I reached the age that my dad was when he made critical mistakes, I began to understand how easy it would be for me to make those same mistakes. Rather than hating him, I identified with him. I never found myself angry with my Dad, and I am thankful to God for that.

Will we address the problem or attack the person? 

In the fall of 2000 I attended a Dallas Cowboy football game at the old Texas Stadium. After the game I ran into a cop on a motorcycle (my dad was also a motorcycle cop for the City of Dallas) so I asked him if he knew my dad. 

Not only did he know him, they were close friends. I asked him to pass my information along, and later that Fall my dad and I connected by phone – a pattern we maintained for a year or so. A year later, my dad was involved in an accident while on patrol that almost cost him his life. 

I decided to go visit him in the hospital, even though he was sedated and would not know I was there. I remember sitting next to his hospital bed, looking at him lying there, weak and frail. He wasn’t some villain out of a storybook. He was a man like the rest of us. A flawed, depraved man.

Months later, he called to thank me for coming, and I took the chance to ask him if we could get together one day to talk. God had been working on me and was showing me that I needed to address my past and the wounds I had from it.

Will we trust God with the outcome or take matters into our own hands?

As my meeting with my dad approached, the men in my Men’s Fraternity group asked me how I felt -  if I was scared, anxious, or nervous - and what I thought I was going to say. One guy even asked me if I thought I would hit him. 

Quite the opposite, God was showing me that I needed to forgive and express my forgiveness to my Dad. I had no idea how he would respond but I knew that my responsibility to forgive didn’t rest on any sign of contrition on his end. I was called to forgive regardless of his actions or attitude.

Will we forgive others as Christ has forgiven us?

C.S. Lewis said, “Everyone thinks forgiveness is a lovely idea until he has something to forgive.” It was my turn to forgive. We met in Bossier City and rode together to Natchitoches. We spent the better part of the day riding around campus and making small talk. 

We sat down for a late lunch at Mama’s on Front Street. After the waitress brought our drinks I told him there were some things I wanted to talk about. In many ways he was as exposed as Saul relieving himself in the cave. Lots of my family would have said, “You’ve got him right where you want him. Let him have it!”

It was one of those rare moments as a child when you have all the power in a conversation with your parent, and I could tell he was prepared to take whatever hate I was going to give.  I opened with, “I want to forgive you for things that happened when we were kids.”  When I did, his countenance completely changed. 

I went on to explain to him that, as someone who has been forgiven by Christ, I could not withhold forgiveness from him. I shared more about my faith and asked about his, a conversation he wasn’t very interested in having. The day ended well and he was genuinely thankful for the time we spent together.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the healing God brought in me that day. I had no idea how those wounds had affected me for years and years. In forgiving my dad face to face, God began healing me, and I began to experience freedom in areas where all I had known was bondage.

Are there any conversations that you’ve been putting off? Is it possible that you’re holding on to anger, and the only person it’s hurting is yourself? That forgiveness could actually bring freedom and peace to your own heart? What if you picked up the phone right now? What could change?