We are not too old to take courage.
We are not too late to sacrifice.
We are not too lost to reach out to each other and linger on the rim of time.
– Ann Voskamp
As I read those words this morning I was thinking instantly of my relationship with my Dad — gone since May, 2003. He was a tortured soul in many ways or perhaps I just didn’t understand him.
It was when he was dying that he admitted to me that he often felt righteous in his anger and raging at us. All this reminded me of something I wrote several years ago. I share it now.
Forgiveness of grave acts of injustice can feel like an abstract concept to those who have not experienced those acts. (PRISM magazine)
My pastor said yesterday … that anger and the need to retaliate when someone has hurt you is “normal” even as normal as the reflexes a doctor checks when she taps on our knees during a check-up. Normal.
I hate that word – “Normal”. I don’t understand the use of it. It is a bit reckless to say anything is normal these days when people have such diverse experiences and upbringings. But think I understand what he was trying to say, that a wish for vindication when you have been hurt is a healthy response. But even that doesn’t sound quite right. It is a human response?
But what response should one have to being hurt or abused or rebuked or shamed or yelled at — retaliation? No, I think he means a human response to lighter stuff. If you are being gossiped against it is “human” to want to strike back.
When I think about my childhood, I think the healthy response is to shrink and cower.
One learns to hide, to disappear, and to not be the object of Dad’s attention. Perhaps this response is not “normal” but it sure was reflexive for me. That’s why it is hard to hear that wanting revenge is a normal, human response. If that is indeed what my pastor meant.
Then, as I look back, I see that THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES when I wanted a sort of revenge with my father and mother. I have carried fear of my father for as long as I can remember and an anger at my mom for not protecting us. And a kind of fury. I used to have rage dreams all the time. On the really rare occasion I will have them still, but they are thankfully now years in-between.
The powerlessness that comes from having a father who never admitted he was wrong creates that anger and sense of worthlessness.
It is not worth trying to explain yourself.
It is not worth having your own opinion.
It is not worth expending energy because nothing really matters, nothing really matters at all.
I am so glad I am past that.
It’s just too bad my father had to die for me to come to this place.
I carry a huge feeling of loss that I never knew sweetness in my relationship with my dad. I loved him out of fear and a wish to please him. I know he loved me. But he just – couldn’t – help himself? If it is true he couldn’t help himself, I wish he could have let God help him.
I miss him now, as I ponder what could have been. He really was a dear man, loved by so many around the world who were his friends and never knew the secret rage he carried inside him. I’m glad that many people didn’t know – in a way – because Dad accomplished many good things, helped many people, was loved by many. God why did you take him so young? Sixty-two?
I hope it wasn’t simply so that I could live. No, I don’t really think God works like that. It was a convergence of events coming together to give him cancer and take him. And my ability to heal, to forgive — I have to believe that I might have come to it even if my dad was still here. Perhaps it would have taken longer, but it would have come. Eventually.
I have forgiven my father and then I think of my mother who still has a story to tell. I don’t know if anyone would believe her, but she has so much in her life story that could be helpful to others. Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation, caught between a person who does good things and has their secrets. A Christian leader who means well but whose home life isn’t right, isn’t right at all? That’s our story
IN THE END what needs to be said is this: Forgiveness is what each Christ follower is asked to do in response to the forgiveness Jesus extends to us. It is not easy. It can take a long time. It often depends on the emotional health of the person doing the forgiving. It always depends on all the factors surrounding the situation and each person has to sort that out, often with the help of a pastor or a counselor.
I have been in therapy of one sort or another, off and on, for twenty-five years! Wow, that’s crazy sounding but it’s true.
Pulling back the layers of pain,
the years of stagnation and lack of healthy growth as a human being,
the crazy mixed up ideas,
the strange perspectives and opinions picked up over the years.
The times of resisting God. Or not being willing to obey God.
And finally, I came to a point of decision, for myself – without the guilt, or fear or coercion of others, but in complete obedience to God.
Forgiveness, it’s messy. It’s damn difficult. But it is so sweet, when finally healing, forgiveness and the mercy of Jesus come down.
And you begin anew. And your story continues…
I am still left with where rage comes from? What makes a daddy hurt us so bad?
I have pondered my father’s strange rage for many years. I cannot pretend to have answers and obviously I cannot ask him. But I have a friend who works with incest survivors. She has a very special ministry. My father always said that he was sexually abused as a child, by a minister in his church. I never believed him. But I asked my friend about this and she said: “When a person admits to this as an adult, they are telling the truth. They have no reason to lie.”
No reason to lie. She also said very often anger like that comes from abuse in the past.
I don’t know if it is true but I cannot ignore this about forgiveness, about following Jesus into radical loving.
Paula Huston says: “Regarding the tender souls of children, Jesus says in a passage that can be read as referring either to young human beings or to “baby” Christians: ‘Things that cause people to sin will inevitably occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.’ (Luke 17:1-3) The roots of our adult sin patterns are often to be found in the still-gaping wounds of childhood.”
So perhaps my father was hurt as a child. And I was a child, crushed by his pain and hurt, as he took it out on his family in his rage and anger.
At some point we are each responsible to work through our experiences and get to a point of healing.
Again, from Huston:
“Then, and only then (after the process to be sure) we can see the other person as “a human being, no matter how degraded, a fellow soul made in the image and likeness of the God we adore.”
“God causes his sun to fall on both the good and the evil, and his rain to fall on both the righteous and unrighteous.” (Phooey, I can’t remember the reference.)
The longer we shut up our heart against the one that has hurt us the closer we come
to losing our own heart,
even our life.
And for some even our minds.
These things happened to me in the form of depression, alcoholism, and self-loathing and disgust; a misery of life, abject poverty of soul. I was a dead man walking.
There is hope, found in Jesus at the cross. Laying those things down, the heavy burden of pain, of picturing yourself putting your pain at Jesus’ feet. If you truly give it to God, release it when you can and
be ready for miracles!
** Some people have a hard time picturing things in their mind’s eye. If that is true for you I would urge you to watch the movie THE MISSION. That movie changed my life. I believe it will give you a picture of your pain and lack of forgiveness as those heavy pieces of armor that the priest dragged up a water fall as penance. Whenever I begin to forget what my bitterness and anger, lack of forgiveness are doing to me, I can see in my mind’s eye that sack of armor. No one can live that way. No one should live that way. No one needs to live that way. I did for so long.