Slowly, I hung up the phone in my Minister's Study. My heart was pounding so hard, I barely noticed the golden rays of afternoon sun streaming across my desk. Leaning back in my swivel chair, I stared out my window. My eyes grew wet and hot as I came to the realization that I needed to go on a journey of forgiveness.
For twenty-nine years I had been harboring intense anger against my father. Like a fiery bed of simmering coals, my anger burned deep within me, where only those closest to me could see it. But now, I suddenly knew that I needed to forgive my father, at least for my own well being.
My phone conversation was one of several with a close ministerial friend. We were developing a talk for clergy and laity on the subject of Christian forgiveness. The more we talked, the more we realized that our topic was complex and often misunderstood, even by clergy.
As usual, our conversation turned personal. I had confided the painful story of my father to my friend. My parents separated bitterly when I was in high school. My father turned against his three sons. He circulated a letter of vicious lies in town to destroy our reputations and moved to Canada to avoid paying child support.
I last saw my father in 1964, when I was sixteen. After that, I spoke with him only twice. The last time, he claimed he was not my father and threatened to harm me if I ever contacted him again. Years later, in 1990, I learned that my father had died--and changed his last name!
It was now 1993. My friend knew my pain. In a gentle way we debated our subject over the phone. Citing Jesus' words, "if there is repentance, you must forgive," I clung to my anger and the reverse idea that Christians need not forgive, when there is no repentance.
My friend and I had debated this issue before. Finally, in this conversation he said, "Here's what I'm concerned about. What happens to me when I don't forgive?" This time his words struck me. Beyond my clinging to any proof text, his words spoke to my soul.
It was difficult at first, but that afternoon in my study, I decided to set out on a journey of forgiveness. For me, this became a daily journey of the heart. It was a journey of trying, with God's help, to let go of all those fiery coals I had been holding against my father. As I now realized, those coals were burning me!
My journey included prayer, self-reflection, sharing my journey with others, and my desire to be freed from re-living these nightmares of my past. Above all, I trusted our God of love and forgiveness to go with me, no matter how arduous my journey.
Weeks passed into months. Slowly my intense anger began to cool. Finally, after more than two years, a day came when I realized I no longer bore ill will toward my father. With God's help, I had forgiven him!
I still considered his actions to be wrong. But even so, what a difference! After all those years of simmering anger, I had come to a place where I felt a real sense of peace with my father's memory--and myself! This experience touched my life and faith deeply.
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Last Updated on December 19, 1997 by Rev. Dr. Douglas K. Showalter