"Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." James 1:22 (NKJV)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Week 2: Forgiving Father, Part 1

"Forgive as the Lord forgave you." -- Coloss. 3:13b

I've been in the process of forgiving my dad for eighteen years. He's an alcoholic. I don't remember exactly when he started drinking, but I think I was eight or nine years old. He would come home from work and make himself a cocktail and then drink all evening and into the night. By 2:00 or 3:00 AM, he would be sick and throwing up in the bathroom adjacent to my bedroom. I would wake up to the sound of it, thinking he was dying. I prayed for him every night for years, asking God to help him, to change things. Nothing changed. I started giving God ultimatums. "Do something. Help him. Stop this, or I'm not going to believe in you anymore, and I'm not going to love my dad anymore." And, nothing changed. I prayed, "God, just show me yourself, and I'll still believe. I just want to see you." Nothing happened. One night, I swore an oath to myself that I wouldn't believe in God anymore and that I wouldn't love Dad anymore. As a teenager, I called myself an atheist. The truth is, I believed, but I hated God. And, I hated Dad.

Dad's sin hurt me, and the hurt left scars. Being a child is supposed to be about feeling safe, protected and secure in your parents' love and protection. Children of alcoholics lose their childhood, as we're introduced to worry, fear and responsibility too soon. When I needed Dad most during my teenage years, he was in the house but his mind and heart belonged to the alcohol.

But, here's good news. God answers prayers. As a boy, I laid in bed, weeping and praying that God would show himself to me. I didn't get the response I wanted, when I wanted it. But God heard that prayer, and He has been revealing Himself to me for the last eighteen years. He did it first through a high school friend, who was kind to me and talked about life and God with me. My heart began to soften. One summer afternoon when I was seventeen years old, I was home alone and sat down determined to read the Gospel of Matthew starting at Chapter One, Verse One. Something profound happened, when I reached this passage:

Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they lead him away to crucify him.

Matthew 27:27-31(NIV). In my mind, I could see Jesus as he was beaten, spat upon, and shamed. In that moment, Jesus became very real to me. God had shown himself to me as I had asked years earlier, but this was not the God I had expected. A sorrow settled over me and then a weight came upon me---the weight of my own sin, the weight of my anger and hate for God. But, I didn't know what to do about it. As I finished Matthew's Gospel, the phone rang. It was a Southern Baptist pastor from a local church that my mom had visited. He wanted to come see Mom. "She's not home," I said. "Well," he said, "can I come talk with you?" I had never met the man. "O.K., I guess." He came over, and it wasn't long before we were on our knees, and he led me through the sinner's prayer.

Since that day, God has done miraculous things in me. He has taken my heart of stone and turned it to flesh. He's taught me about love, trust, and joy. As for Dad, I don't hate him. I pray for him and wish him well. I've learned to love him again, albeit cautiously. In my own heart, I've forgiven him. I have, however, never offered that forgiveness to Dad. I've never said, "You hurt me, and I forgive you for it. I don't hold it against you." I think I've never done it, because I'm afraid of his response. I'm afraid he'll reject it or won't care.

Today, Dad's drinking has taken him to death's doorstep. He's wheelchair bound, having fallen several times in drunken stupors sustaining leg injuries. The alcohol has almost destroyed every organ in his body. He's been in and out of detox a couple times, and quit AA. The only thing that slows down his drinking is that he can't get out of the house by himself. Sometimes he pays a neighbor to buy liquor and sneak it to him. In all these years, Dad has never said that he's sorry or acknowledged that he's done anything wrong.

What does it mean then, for me to forgive Dad as God forgives? I'm not sure, but here is what I've concluded as I've prayed about it the last week. God offers forgiveness to us all. He calls us to receive His grace and forgiveness. He doesn't wait until we come begging for it. He offers forgiveness, and then it's a question of what we do with it. Do we receive it and find grace and freedom, or do we pridefully reject it? To forgive Dad as God forgave me means that I need to go to him and offer him my forgiveness, hoping for reconciliation but willing to take the risk that it will be rejected. I believe that is what it means for me to obey God's call to forgive as he forgives.


  1. Praying for you Nathan!! ~Nicole

  2. Thanks for reading, Nicole---and for praying. Bless you.