For most of my life I dreaded Father's Day. Picking out a card for my dad was difficult because he was never what you might call a "Hallmark dad." I couldn't in good conscience buy a card that praised his love, guidance, and character. It would be a lie. I always looked for a message more generic and brief.
Although I was his only child, my father had other things to do besides spending time with me or with my mother, for that matter. He was emotionally distant and usually physically absent. Our relationship was always strained and often rocky, and was further damaged when he left us when I was 16. The divorce and his remarriage quickly followed.
For the next 10 years, I floundered myself. Young, wounded, and unsaved, I made some poor choices, including a teenage marriage that didn't last. Being deserted by both my father and my husband sent me into an emotional tailspin. To my father's credit, he helped me financially when I had nothing, and he adored his grandson. We tried to get along, but he couldn't bring himself to express remorse for what he had done nor could he communicate well with me. Sometimes, his words were like an ice pick stabbing my heart over and over again. I'm ashamed of the fact that my responses were often just as sinful. I seethed with anger and my resentment sometimes boiled over.
Then something wonderful happened. Shortly before I turned 26, the hand of the Lord was heavy upon me and I was dramatically saved. As 2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us, "For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation …" My sins were forgiven, my burdens were lifted, and I was a new person in Christ. God also blessed me by bringing a Christian man into my life to marry, and another son was born.
I don't remember exactly when, but there came a time in my new Christian walk that I knew I had to forgive my dad. My mother had. Frankly, the process wasn't easy. My dad had never said, "I'm sorry," but it no longer mattered. My relationship with Jesus Christ compelled me to make that choice even if the feelings didn't come all at once or even if he never apologized.
I also started praying for my dad's salvation. I prayed and I prayed for 30 years. There were times I felt like giving up and there were times that he still said hurtful things, like making fun of my faith, but I clung to the Scripture that God is "not wishing for anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
Finally, when dad was 83, some incidents forced me to draw some boundaries in our relationship; I told him I would no longer allow him to speak to me in such a disrespectful manner. I also implored him to think about eternity and God's goodness and mercy toward him. Dad had survived World War II, a heart attack, and a bypass operation and was still driving and working part time. If that's not proof of God's patience, I don't know what is! I also apologized for the times I was a disobedient and rebellious child. He stormed out and slammed my front door, but I could see that he was crying.
Something must have sunk in, because Dad called me one day and said, "Guess what I did? I got baptized." I was so stunned that I didn't say anything at first, but then I asked him, "Have you repented, have you accepted Christ as your Savior?" His "I think so" bothered me, but Dad had quit school in the eighth grade, didn't read well, and his spiritual knowledge was so limited. I decided not to preach to him, but leave the rest up to God.
Even though it didn't happen like I thought it should, I have really seen a change in my dad. He is kinder, gentler, talks to me with tenderness, and is truly sorry about the past. The other day, he took me to lunch and the little girl in me had the urge to grab my daddy's hand, so I did. We walked into the restaurant hand in hand, trophies of grace and reconciliation.
It's now a pleasure to go to the card shop to pick out a card for my dad. I can truthfully give him one that says, "You're a great dad."
If you need help with the process of forgiveness, check out Nancy Leigh DeMoss's book, Choosing Forgiveness.
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