“Forgiving is a journey; the deeper the wound, the longer the journey”
“We do not forgive because we are supposed to; we forgive when we are ready to be healed.”
Lewis Smedes, in The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How, published by Moorings, 1996
When I was a child, my father required me to beg forgiveness from him and from God. Most often after a beating, or as the so-called resolution of a sisterly argument about an alleged offence. This was often tricky, because I knew the facts as presented weren’t quite all the facts.
I’m grateful forgiveness isn’t a required event. Especially forgiveness of my father.
I didn’t know it then, but my process of forgiveness began the day I confronted my now-deceased parents about being shamed, humiliated and silenced. The process isn’t yet completed, but I’ve made unexpected, life-giving progress.
The meeting I set up with my parents took place the eve of my 50th birthday in 1993, more than 23 years ago. During the meeting I asked for my father’s apology, with no expectation that he would apologize. My husband, my sister Diane, my mother, and a trusted pastor witnessed the conversation between my father and me. It lasted for 1 ½ hours.
My father refused to apologize for anything. He wasn’t interested in revisiting what happened between the two of us or between him and my sisters. He’d already done all his business with God, privately. Nothing I said or did would change his mind.
I was on my own, without my father’s blessing. Disappointed but not surprised. Still determined to work on my healing.
We say punishment should fit the crime. Even so, I believe forgiveness must fit each situation, especially those with life-changing consequences. This isn’t about mistakes or forgetfulness. It’s about the Big Stuff we wish had never happened to us.
Forgiving my father has been a long, sometimes painful process. I’m not yet there. Still, looking back, I see several areas of progress. Sometimes with lightening-speed insight; most of the time with determination, grit and courage to take the next painful look at him and at myself.
Since that historic meeting in 1993, I’ve made progress in at least the following areas.
- Acceptance of the life-changing enormity of what his behavior meant for me then and now
- Interest in my father’s life story
- Appreciation for his wounds, including his determination not to ask for help
- Awareness of his deeply rooted shame
- Compassion for him as another human being
I was surprised at how much more comfortable I became around my father, even though his opinions about me never changed. I enjoyed being in interview mode, though I didn’t always like what I heard. I was also comfortable being in the compassion mode. Especially because he carried many griefs, sorrows and disappointments similar to mine.
Nonetheless, I knew this change for the better wasn’t yet forgiveness, much less reconciliation. It was more like a cessation of warfare and a sometimes uneasy truce. I still had work to do.
To be continued….
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 5 April 2017