What is it to forgive? I looked it up.
To forgive: to stop feeling angry or resentful toward (someone) for an offense, flaw, or mistake. Seems simple enough, but what if the offense is perceived as unforgivable? Does that mean that the offender is no longer worthy of love? Do we say, “I can love them but never forget and forgive?”
If so, then we hold a piece of ourselves protected, as a hostage. These have been on my mind in the recent events of my life and my family’s.
Forgiveness, like love, is a choice.
It doesn’t “just” happen. Like when we stub our toe on the corner of a chair. Those just happen. No one really wants to experience that on purpose! I have been taught to love my neighbor since I was a child. To forgive the school and neighborhood kids, and the basics of forgiving so we fit in the world. It is what we are taught we are supposed to do. But I don’t remember learning how to let go of those angry feelings or the resentment. I followed the rules because it is how I learned to get along, fit in, look good, and sometimes control. However, to deal with the anger/resentment, I only learned to bottle them up.
In 2016, I learned of the power of choice. Choosing to forgive didn’t magically dispel the bitterness, resentment, anger, and betrayal I felt towards the offender, but it did give me a release from that of bitterness. I was choosing to forgive a memory, something so far gone from my present life, but in my anger, I was keeping it alive. It became a choice I took daily, then weekly, then monthly until, like a memory, it became fleeting. Yes, it would pop up and I would be reminded, but I was no longer triggered by my past, so that when some new conflict arose, it was dealt with in honesty and love. Being human comes with a guarantee of being offended or offending others. Why is this so relevant to my life now, almost 5 years later?
My dad died on January 25, 2021.
The last day I was with him was January 10th. It was a Sunday, midday, and he called out to me and my sister from his bedroom to come be with him. He was in bed, as he had become weaker as his illness became stronger. We both got into bed with him and proceeded to just be with him. We watched TV, we talked, we laughed, and we took pictures of us hugging our dad – pictures of us next to him, in bed, as if we were children wanting to be next to their dad. That is one of the last memories I have of my dad. This loss highlighted the gift of forgiveness in a way that struck me as incredible, miraculous, and joyful, and has moved me to tears of gratefulness.
Remember the unforgiveness I held onto? It became decades of holding a grudge against my dad. It stemmed from my childhood and became a permanent stamp of mistrust and unwillingness to be fully present with my dad. I had been robbing myself of love, connection, joy and all the things that come with being open and available. I took that step towards forgiveness, never fully understanding the gift it would bring me 5 years later. I remember my sister telling me one day as I despaired over losing so much time, not being aware of how I kept myself away from family, she said, “God has a way of restoring time back to us.” From 2016, my relationship with my dad changed dramatically—he became a source of wisdom to me and in my many questions on God, my mom, what he saw in me as a child, he was available to me. He loved me so much that he never asked that I stop asking questions. My Dad was the source of so much and his love was something I could now see fully. The past no longer had power over me. The day he called us to the bedroom to be with him, the day I crawled into bed with him and my sister, the day we took pictures of us hugging our dad—that was the day my childhood was restored to me in a way I never could imagine.
When I look at those pictures now, I see the child I have always been to him. My age never mattered; I was his child. Those hugs I gave that day were from a child’s heart. A child that has always been present and still is; she is the curious part of me that lives and wonders about the world and everything in it. My sister was right. God has a way of restoring time to us when we let go of control. In 2016, I forgave my dad, and in 2021, God restored my childhood by giving me a new memory.
What do you hold from your past that lives in your present?
Are you willing to choose to forgive—to trust God to bring restoration in your life?
I have learned that what I imagine God will deliver can be greater than anything I can think of.