Forgiveness

I’m looking through you, where did you go
I thought I knew you, what did I know
You don’t look different, but you have changed
I’m looking through you, you’re not the same
Your lips are moving, I cannot hear
Your voice is soothing, but the words aren’t clear
You don’t sound different, I’ve learned the game
I’m looking through you, you’re not the same
Why, tell me why, did you not treat me right?
Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight
You’re thinking of me the same old way
You were above me, but not today
The only difference is you’re down there
I’m looking through you and you’re nowhere
—The Beatles

My decision to share such a personal part of my life publicly was not an easy one.  I’ve kept this journey mostly to myself and a few close friends and family.  After all there is no need to air my family drama for the whole world and I still do not intend to do that.  My main purpose in writing about it and deciding to share it is because I have a feeling there may be a few others who are currently going through something similar or will be one day and maybe my insights and mistakes can help them. Also, its therapeutic for me to write about it.  I will be telling my story in a way that does not relive the drama and does not defame anyone because I don’t think that would be very helpful. Also, I believe in the Commandment to honor thy father and thy mother.  Its a commandment that I personally struggled with a lot in 2018 in trying to figure out what it meant in my situation.

So I’ll take you back to a Saturday in March, 2018.  My house was totally quiet.  Both girls and my husband were all upstairs napping and I had just sat down too.  My phone rang and it was my mom and my heart immediately started to pound in my chest and I got that awful feeling in my stomach.  Something was wrong.  I just knew it in my bones.

Several days before that Saturday my dad had called me to wish me a happy birthday.  I took the call and it was fine.  He was happy and nice, but I still remember quickly passing it onto my kids because I just had a hard time talking to my dad.  The truth is this had been building and building for years and had been growing worse and worse by the month.  I prayed and I prayed and didn’t know what else I could do.  That Saturday, we were supposed to have dinner with them to celebrate my birthday.  I wasn’t looking forward to it.  No, that’s a lie.  I was dreading it.  We picked a restaurant so that we would have an easy out.  I felt more in control if we were somewhere public.  It had been that way for a long time.  I dreaded the visits, the phone calls, the holidays and the kids birthday parties because there was this dark shadow of uneasiness that loomed every time I knew I’d have to see my dad.  This Saturday was no different until that phone call came.

The rest of the night is a total blur that was spent mostly not sleeping but a few minutes here and there when exhaustion finally overtook me.  Lots of crying on my part, and not just crying but big, heavy sobbing.  The evening and the wee hours of the morning were interrupted constantly with the buzz of my phone going off and my heart pounding each time trying to mentally prepare myself for what they were going to tell me.

The next morning, I realized that I was done with this.  It was all just too much.  And I couldn’t mother my children when I was so wrapped up in this chaos.  I had finally had enough.  If he wasn’t going to do something different, I was.  I was tired.  I was angry.  I was emotional.  I was a lot of things.  So I told my dad in no uncertain terms that he was no longer welcome in my life.  His reply of “Done.” seemed to agree.

I wish I could say that the next several months were full of peace and healing but they were not.  Just because I wasn’t speaking with him any more didn’t mean I was escaping the constant chaos.  My mom and sister were still in his life and it was over the next couple months that my mother and father eventually separated.

From March to July I had frequent heart palpitations.  They always seemed to hit me when I was finally sitting down and relaxed and then my chest would just start pounding in a severe and uncontrolled manner that would scare me and my husband.  They only lasted several seconds and then they went away but it was happening a lot.  I’ve had these before, so I knew what they were. I’ve noticed they tend to be more frequent during times I’m under a lot of stress.  I had more during those several months than I’ve ever had in my entire life.  And it wasn’t just that.  I wasn’t sleeping.  A lot of times it was because there was something going on and I still felt like I needed to help.  Other times my mind would just focus on things when I was trying to sleep and not let go.  I started having vivid flashbacks to things from my childhood.  Mostly painful memories with greater detail than I had remembered before to the point that I was questioning my entire childhood and having a hard time thinking of any “good times”.

My mom started proceeding down the path of divorce and she has Multiple Sclerosis and hasn’t been able to work for several years due to the progression of her disease.  I was trying to help her find a place to live that she could afford with her disability income and the money she might get from a sale of their house.  I was trying to come up with the best long term solution for her and I was incredibly stressed out by all of it.

Besides feeling like I needed to help my mom, I was also the full time caregiver of our own young children and trying to keep up a house and a marriage.  In short, I was at the verge of burn out.  I knew I was doing too much, but I also felt a lot of responsibility.  At church we’ve talked a lot about how its our duty to be caregivers to our parents.  I was also trying to heal from the pain of my estranged relationship with my dad.  I wanted to talk to a therapist, but when would I go??  It would cost us $30 per session out of pocket and my oldest was starting Kindergarten soon and I’d rather put those funds towards her gear/clothes for school.  In short, I was my very last priority.

I made another mistake and called my dad.  Why? I started to doubt my own convictions and feelings and thought maybe I’d give my dad another chance.  I’ll talk later about how misplaced Christian guilt can play into us feeling like we need to reconcile with someone much sooner than we actually should.

So I allowed a “brief” meeting a few weeks later for him to see us and my kids at our house.  I was incredibly nervous about it the whole day.  My dad came over and even though the words being exchanged seemed right, I couldn’t shake the feeling that he didn’t seem different and nothing felt different than it had before.  He had sworn that he was changing, but I immediately just didn’t see it.  I felt uneasy the entire time and couldn’t wait for him to leave.  Yet I had a hard time telling him it was time for him to leave.  I always felt like I was walking on eggshells around my dad. Even as an adult at my own house with my own family. I just was scared to say/do anything that would upset him because I never seemed to see it coming.

Then, just a couple weeks later I would see that the relationship was just never going to be what I wanted it to be.  He was who he was and I couldn’t change him to be the father that I wanted.  And I could no longer accept him as he was.  The only person we can change is ourselves and that’s what I had to do.  I told him once again that he was no longer welcome in our lives.

I wish I could say it was easy and went over well.  The truth is that neither of those things happened.  It was very hard. Yet, for the first time in my life, I had no doubts.  I knew I was doing the best thing for myself and my family and possibly even for him.  Now that its been 9 months, its getting easier.  But its still not easy.  I couldn’t see his family at Christmas because I knew he would be there.  That was tough.  A lot of people that know me also know my family and its been hard to know how to handle things when and if his name comes up.  You don’t want to say too much, but I also don’t want to give the impression that everything’s fine when its not.

In other regards things have been much, much easier.  Once I got through the initial phase and started living my life again, I realized how much of an affect he had on me previously.  I wasn’t just less stressed out, I was HAPPIER, I was a better mom, a better wife, a better friend because I wasn’t spending so much emotional energy on him.  I didn’t go to therapy.  I did do “self” therapy and when I broke my leg and had to stay off my feet I had a lot of time to do some reading.  I read some great books and several religious blogs that have really helped to heal my heart.  And taught me that I’ve been an enabler for many years.  I’ve prayed a lot. I’ve even found the new skills I’ve been developing have been helping me in so many other relationships like in my marriage and with my kids.

Christmas time was a huge joy this year without this dark shadow looming over me.  And I’m not angry at my dad anymore.  I’ve forgiven him in my heart and I pray for him every day and truly hope that he lives his best life possible.  I want only good things for him.  Yet I do not wish to have him be a part of my life ever again.  That may seem harsh to some.  I do believe that all people are capable of changing and that nothing is impossible with God.  Yet, I also believe that God gives us free will and in order for people to really change, they have to want to change and they have to soften their hearts enough to let God in.  My dad could change, but I don’t think he will.  I don’t think he wants to and that’s ok.  Its his life and he is free to live it the way he wants to.  Its up to me to say that we are not going to be a part of it as it is today.

So is all this Biblical?  I believe that it is.  I’ll use several examples from the Bible to explain my views further.  Here’s what the Bible says about forgiveness:

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. –Ephesians 4:32

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.–Matthew 6:14

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.–Luke 6:37

I could go on and on.  Scripture mentions forgiveness so many times that its not hard to find example after example.  Forgiveness is at the very heart of Christianity.  The fact that Christ took on the sins of the world and died so that we may be saved.  Many Christians, myself included get caught up in these vicious cycles because we are trying to do “the right thing” and forgive people as we are forgiven.  The problem is that you can’t just pick and choose verses and apply them without understanding the Bible as a whole, and therefore getting to the heart of God.

Forgiveness and reconciliation are separate things.  Reconciliation that happens before a true change of heart happens just enables a person to hurt you over and over again. Just because they’ve apologized and promised never to do something again it doesn’t mean they have really changed.  Often times, these patterns play out over and over again over several years as the relationship continues to deteriorate to the detriment of both people.  The person who promises to change is only saying the right things but not actually doing anything different.  So here is some more Scripture to think on.

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.–Revelation 21:18

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].–Ephesians 5:11

Do not be deceived: Bad company ruins good morals. –1 Corinthians 15:33

Like a muddied spring or a polluted fountain is a righteous man who gives way before the wicked.–Proverbs 25:26

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.–Matthew 18:15-17

So clearly there are also instructions on how to keep from people who can harm you.

In my own situation, I had been hoping all these years that my forgiveness and support was going to ultimately lead to change in my dad.  Unfortunately, that was not happening.  This was proven to me over and over and over again.  And to what end?  I was emotionally fragile and hurt and exhausted and he was the same exact person doing the same exact things.  Basically I was enabling him to keep hurting me.  Had I understood the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation sooner, maybe things would look much different now.  I can’t go back, I can only move forward.  I want to share a Biblical story here that I believe illustrates this point I’m trying to make:

In the story of Esau and Jacob, twin brothers, we see that Esau lost his birthright to his brother Jacob through some trickery and family deception.

Esau becomes so angry with his brother that he wants to kill him.

At his mother’s urging, Jacob flees to a distant land. After 20 years, while Jacob was learning some tough lessons of his own, God tells him it is time to return. There’s a lot more to this story that I’m leaving out to be concise. When Esau and Jacob eventually do meet again,

“And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him; and they wept.” Genesis 33:4

20 years is a long time to go by without seeing or talking to your family. In Jacob’s case, the time away was beneficial to him because he was tricked and cheated and faced plenty of hardships that ultimately led him to humbling himself before God and his brother. Jacob’s transformation was so astounding that God gave him a new name, Israel.

Jacob wasn’t ready to be the person he needed to be without that time spent learning these tough lessons. He had made his brother so angry at him that he literally wanted to kill him. It’s hard to think about “abandoning” family members when they’ve hurt you for whatever reason because we feel like it’s our duty to help them. Sometimes people can’t be helped but need to learn tough lessons themselves and experience pain and hurt on their own to help them be the person they are meant to be. When we continue to reconcile and keep bailing people out, it deprives them of the chance to learn the tough lessons they need to learn. And for Esau, carrying around that kind of rage was not good for him either. Just as it isn’t good for us when we keep “forgiving” people that hurt us but still feel that anger and carry it with us all the time. Sometimes time and distance is truly needed to let you forgive others with a true heart and also finally let go of the anger that you may not even realize you’ve been carrying around for sometime.

So how do you know when and if its time for forgiveness and/or reconciliation.  Well, forgiveness and reconciliation, as I mentioned before are two separate things.  Forgiveness comes from the heart.  Its letting go of the pain and hurt and anger that someone caused you and letting God handle it.  Forgiveness is freeing, for YOU.  It lets you move on with your life without carrying that anger.  It also means you have no ill will or feelings of wanting revenge toward the person that hurt you.  I have no ill will toward my dad.  I pray for him daily, as I said.  In my heart of hearts I want him to be happy and live a good and long life.  I also do not desire to tell everyone that knows him or me all the things he has done to hurt me.  Its helpful for my own healing to confide in the people closest to me about the situation, and maybe someday to a counselor or other person that I trust.  However, I’m not taking any pleasure in going around and trying to bring down his name.

Reconciliation on the other hand means a restoration of the relationship.  Maybe to what it was before the separation, maybe with some new boundaries to keep yourself safe as you wait to see if the changes are really there, or hopefully to something even better.

Reconciliation does not always happen, nor do I think its always the right thing for either or both parties.  So how do you know if you are ready to reconcile with someone and give them another chance after years and years of hurt? How do you know that someone really has changed or if they are just saying what they say to re-gain your trust.  The answer lies within the heart.

Some people when faced with consequences for their behavior will be motivated to go into “compliance”.  They will say they are sorry and they may even break down and cry and really sound sincere.  And sometimes they really ARE being sincere in their remorse.  Yet that doesn’t mean they are actually going to change.

For true change to take place, its not enough to just feel remorse or regret.  They actually need to lay down their old life and their previous self and become someone entirely new.  It happens.  I believe with God all things are possible and a true transformation CAN absolutely occur.

If you want to know what this really looks like, I think a perfect example is reading about Jesus’s disciples before the crucifixion and then after. Their complete transformation shows they are completely different and it’s proven time and time again through their persecutions and eventual executions. They don’t waiver or once go back to their old habits.

Most people unfortunately don’t change. Even if they claim to find God. The person may go through a period where they know they are being watched and will do the things they need to (compliance) but soon start to slip back into old patterns and behaviors.

Its really hard for us to see inside another persons heart and know if they are truly changed or if they are just trying to “win us back”.

History can be a great indicator for us.  If a person has repeatedly repented and then gone back to the same behaviors over and over again, it is wise to not be wholly convinced that THIS time they truly mean it.  They need to show us over time that they truly are different.  This is in the way they talk to others as well as what they say to you.  Just like the disciples, the transformation should be so evident that everyone can see it. No matter how they are tested they will never go back to old patterns of anger and manipulation.

A person that is truly changed is not going to say one thing to your face and then complain about you and your unwillingness to forgive to anyone that will listen. A person who truly is changed is not going to try to rush your healing and demand or plead or try to guilt you into a reconciliation because it benefits them. They are not going to give you excuses for their behavior or simply just “apologize for all the times they’ve hurt you.”  They will be willing to call out each offense in painful detail.  They will understand that years of lies and hurt have damaged the relationship to such a degree that a mere apology and promise to change are not going to be enough anymore.  They have to prove over time that they are changed.  And they are willing to go the distance.  Whether that takes one year or five or 20 years.  They are patient with you in allowing you time and space to heal.  And if you’re never open to a reconciliation they are willing to let you go because they truly care about you and what is best for you.  Most of all, they will not use God or God’s grace and forgiveness to manipulate you into a reconciliation because they think its time.

I will link some great online resources I’ve found explaining in greater detail what I’ve learned.

As for my dad, I don’t think we will ever reconcile. He continues to reach out to me through letters and to me it’s very evident that no true change has taken place. Not only am I choosing to protect myself from further hurt from him, but I’m choosing to protect my children as well. That’s my duty as their mother.

How would it make them feel to allow them to develop such a close relationship with him only for them to realize when they are older that he was not the person they thought he was all those years? And what if he hurts them the way he hurt me? And how do I tell them that they should never allow people to treat them a certain way when I’ve allowed my own dad to treat me that way for years?

It’s a tough thing to do and I’ve had a lot of really low lows in the last year and longer. However, I firmly believe this trial has been for my good. I’ve learned through this trial that my one true Father loves me beyond measure and alone can heal my brokenness. And I can be a help to others going through similar situations.

If anyone wants to talk further with me about this, please reach out and let me know. You are not alone in your journey. While for me, this person is my dad I know the same rules can apply for a spouse, friend, boss, co-worker or any other relationship that brings you down and takes all the emotional energy from you. We can’t change other people, we can only change our behavior to keep them from continuing to hurt us.

links to online resources:

To Forgive Doesn’t Automatically Mean To Reconcile

 

What is Repentance?

How Can You Tell if Someone is Sorry – For Real?

 

How Can You Tell if Someone is Sorry – For Real?

Understanding the Difference Between Compliance and Change

Genuine Repentance

 

 

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