I Thought I Knew How To Forgive

  • by Chelsea Arnold

“What if you worked on building a relationship with your father?” my mentor prompted.  

She may as well have stood me in front of the Grand Canyon and casually asked me to cross to the other side.  

I was on a Cru Summer Missions Trip in South Lake Tahoe, and my Lifegroup leader suggested that I pursue forgiving my dad. I had shared my story with her and told her about how my dad had left my mom, sister, and I.  

He had an ugly affair and ended up moving away. The time we spent together throughout my childhood is mostly an angry blur of yelling and crying. His words and deeds became imprinted on my heart as, “You are unworthy. You are a failure. No one likes you.”  

On that Summer Project, Jesus began to give me a new identity. “Chosen. Loved. Saved by Grace,” he called me. My Lifegroup leader helped me to see that forgiving my dad was the next step I needed to take.

At this point, I thought I knew how to forgive. I regularly pardoned minor offenses: my friend cancelling our coffee date at the last minute, my roommate leaving her dirty socks on the floor, a stranger cutting me off in traffic. I could sing “Amazing Grace,” with the best of them. My go-to techniques were to excuse, explain, and minimize in order to make the sin easier to forgive. The track in my head went something like, “Oh, they didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. It was an accident. It wasn’t really that bad.”  However, forgiving my dad felt too big, too personal, and those strategies wouldn’t work for me anymore.    

Clearly I couldn’t forgive on my own strength. Enter Jesus, to rock my mindset as usual. Jesus gently reminded me of all that I’d been forgiven for. I could see that my dad and I were one in the same: neither of us had any hope apart from Christ’s mercy. Instead of logically explaining away my dad’s sin, Jesus asked me to lay it at the cross. I stopped trying to make it less.  I let the sin be big, and let God’s mercy be bigger. What my dad had done hurt. It was not how God designed his Kingdom to operate. However, Jesus had taken care of it, along with my mistakes, when He died on the cross.  

This freed me up to take practical steps towards reconciliation with my dad. First I prayed for him. Simple things like, “God, bless my dad today.” I called him on a regular basis. I shared meals with him. I brought him coffee at work. Soon, I started to actually enjoy our time together. On his birthday I gave him a gift that even a college student could afford: a letter. In it, I explained how his actions had hurt me, but how Jesus had healed me. Ultimately I told my dad that I forgave him. I told him that I loved him. Today, we have a positive relationship. I sincerely cherish the days that we get to spend in each other’s company. What I thought was impossible, Jesus made possible with his mysterious, scandalous grace. 

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