…and How Forgiving Brings Freedom…

The decision to forgive my dad was borne of a long labor.

Although I’d always felt and said I wanted to forgive him, I couldn’t seem to actually do it.  Maybe my mind hadn’t transferred the abuse from something to survive into something to forgive yet.



I’d hidden the abuse for so long, it became acceptable in its own sick way.  I compartmentalized the abuse and split my dad into two people.  There was the dad who abused me; but then there was the dad who played cards with me, taught me to fly his plane, and took me fishing.  As children, we are dependent and vulnerable; we have no choice but to find a way to accept the abuse in order to survive.

All I ever wanted was to have a happy, loving dad/daughter relationship. It took me years before I admitted to myself just how wrong and destructive his abuse was.    I wanted to forgive him, but for a long time I thought I could only forgive if I had his apology first.

Through a long, difficult journey of self-discovery and spiritual maturing, I began to realize forgiving him didn’t even involve him. This was all about me and my attitude.  But first, I had to let go of my fantasy of reconciliation so I could fully access all my emotions.  I’d been using my fantasy as a way to avoid my underlying emotions of anger and grief.

I was angry with God for a time, wondering why He wouldn’t just wave a wand over my dad and give him the desire to admit and apologize for what he’d done.  I was mired in the belief that if I tried hard enough, dad would magically want the same new, healthy relationship I longed for.

The day finally arrived when it became obvious to me my resentment was hindering my recovery.  I decided writing a letter was a safe, tangible way to begin the process of forgiving.  I had to act on, not just talk about, my desire to forgive.  When I wrote my letter, I said I’d forgiven him ‘to the best of my ability.’  I was being as honest as I could because I knew I hadn’t fully forgiven him, but I also felt it was a real beginning.

courtesy: tumblr.com

courtesy: tumblr.com

I worked hard processing other emotions so I could get closer to full forgiveness.  My anger and grief had to be confronted first.  Dad modeled anger as the solution for everything, and I was often ridiculed for expressing grief; so anger was definitely my easiest emotion to access.  It always made me feel powerful, justified, and energized.  Grief was much, much harder.  Instead of giving me the illusion of power and energy, grief brought on depression and exhaustion.  I had to feel worse before I felt better.

Though loathe to admit it, I waited for his reply.  My new fantasy was to receive a letter saying how sorry he was and that he’d like to start over.  That he regretted his terrible mistakes and he truly wanted a new beginning.  I tried not to hope, but a child’s desire for love from a father doesn’t die easily.  I never did hear from him, and about a year after I sent the letter, he passed away.  The layers I hadn’t forgiven were about to surface.

Initially I was furious when I heard the news.  He’d left me hanging without the apology I so desperately wanted.  Then I felt relief.  I’d never have to worry about him threatening me again.  Eventually, though, a whole new level of grief engulfed me.  I would never, ever have the dad I needed.

I became a little girl again, crying for a daddy.  One who loved, cherised, and protected her.  The dad I never had.  As I grieved and accepted this awful truth, a new phase of depression threatened to swallow me whole.

The agony of grieving and processing does have purpose.  In my case it strengthened me and ultimately allowed me to reach another level of forgiveness.

Last summer Mom told me she read, and then chose not to give the letter to dad.

He Never Even Received It.

She said she decided it would be ‘too upsetting for him’ to read it.  I shocked myself when angry accusations didn’t come erupting out of my mouth.  By then I had a new understanding of how afraid she’d been of him too.  We’d both survived him in our own ways.

As I’ve relived the entire sequence of events, I continue to be amazed at my lack of anger.  This is no small miracle considering the anger problem I struggled with.  I believe it reveals my forgiveness for both of them was genuine.  This discovery comes with a great sense of freedom and will be an important part of the foundation I need to continue moving forward.

My next hurdle is to forgive myself for the destructive wake I created as I lived out my anger.  Making Living Amends is an on-going part of the process, but I know forgiving myself will bring additional freedom ~ and the ability to fully accept the forgiveness of others.

God promises forgiveness to all who ask.  He also calls us to forgive those who don’t even ask.  Forgiveness doesn’t excuse behavior or give permission to continue it.  But it does free us from the poison of anger, resentment, and shame.

How about you?  What journey of forgiveness have you taken, or do you want to take?