When I heard the word that Sunday morning – and I don’t even recall the context – my mind went wandering. My mind went to thinking about the man who fathered me but had no place in his life for me, not even to acknowledge me. I thought about, and have continued to consider, the ways in which my life has taken shape (or been mis-shaped) by the absence of a father figure. And I have been thinking about forgiving him. I am now in my 69th year and this – coming to terms with an absent and non-relational father – is a very long process. But now I think I have come to a new level of understanding.
We’ve all heard the wisdom that the forgiveness is more for the wronged party than for the wrong-doing party. When we fail to forgive we continue to be bound up, not free, constrained by our hurts that continue to fester – if not constantly, then often enough to be bothersome and draining. And of course forgiveness for one who is no longer living is conceptually even more challenging. As a believer in the afterlife, I have often wondered whether or not my father and I might meet on the other side of earthly life…and if we did, what might transpire. There is no way to know.
One of the key “aha”s of my recent musing is that forgiveness is that which suggests the humanity of both parties. My father had his weak moments, and he assumed no responsibility for the outcome of his (and my mother’s) behavior. I too, have had my weak moments; I too have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God. Whose sins were worse? I don’t know. I do know that I have regrets about things I’ve done in my life. Only God gets to judge; it’s not my job – or yours. This is the message of the story about Jesus coming upon the woman caught in adultery who was about to be stoned by the men of the village. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Those men too, saw their own short comings, and walked away. Recognizing our equal footing in the sinful category has opened my heart; I no longer feel judgmental, only sorry that both my father and I could have done better.
Recently I read this (extracted) by Kayla McClurg of Inward / Outward: “Over and over it happens. The familiar ground upon which we walk erupts, and we are heaved into quavering knees lockdown. What we can depend on is that Jesus will find a way to interrupt our fear and bring us into a deeper experience of peace… The kind of peace he brings into that locked post-resurrection room, the disciples huddled in fear, carries both a gift and an assignment. He breathes on them the Holy Spirit, and reminds them of their calling to forgive…
The nature of the journey is that we will wrestle sometimes with fear; we will lock down our minds and hearts. The state of the world, our communities, our own trials and unfulfilled dreams, will blind us to the breakthrough. We long for peace, for evidence of the resurrection, yet we are apt to miss it because it shows up as an assignment—to forgive. We struggle to find peace in our lives, in our world, because we do not understand yet that peace is the by-product of being sent as Jesus was sent. It is the fruit of humility and self-sacrifice. We can learn to believe in what we cannot see; we can practice what we have not yet learned: forgiving ourselves, forgiving one another, making real God’s life in the world.”
Current events have also prompted me to think about forgiveness: the Boston Marathon bombing trial; the trial of Aaron Hernandez; the Pope’s recognition of the Armenian genocide. And coincidentally, I am reading a novel that tells the story of a young girl in captivity during World War II and her experience with the Nazi leaders – some of whom were kind, many of whom were heartless. Forgiveness in the context of mass killings is beyond my ability to understand; I was not a victim. I leave the judgment to God.
In the book I’m reading, The Story Teller by Jodi Picoult, there is an old man (Josef Weber) in the novel befriended by a young woman; his reputation in the community as a teacher and friend is celebrated by all. She subsequently learns from him, of his part in the Nazi war camps (his name then Rheiner Hartmann). The young woman is torn apart when she learns of his war efforts – her grandmother was in one of those war camps as a young girl. At one point she admits the loves Josef, and hates Rheiner. This too, was helpful to me. I do not believe the man who fathered me was a bad man. He raised his own family and by all the accounts I have been able to learn, raised good children. Even I, who he did not raise, turned out not so badly! Genes may account for some of that…
Those of you who may read this will of course, need to draw your own conclusions about forgiveness, and if there are people in your lives you have yet to forgive, determine if your life might be freed up by that act. But for me, today I declare with sincerity of heart, that I forgive Bailey Monroe Hall, the man who fathered me. I have lived, and continue to enjoy a good life, growing in wisdom, learning to be free.
I feel better already.