Labor Day marked ten years since I last saw or spoke to my dad. After sixteen years of abuse, the last thing he said to me was, “When you decide you want a relationship with me, let me know.” One last mind game for the road.
So much has happened since then. My family has moved on, each of us in different ways and at different speeds. My mom punched a hole through a wall, my brother learned how to build houses, and I got a tattoo. To each his own. In many ways, we’ve spent the last decade learning how to be a new, healthy family.
We’ve also grown into mostly healthy people. The Lord truly can make all things new, and his ability to redeem knows no bounds. In the last ten years, I’ve watched as he strengthened the bond between a mother and her children, salvaged a boy’s childhood, and brought healing to the broken hearts of a wife, a daughter, and a son. The Lord has transformed my family for our good and his glory and, in the process, he’s taught me things of far more value than an idyllic upbringing. Here are a few of them.
1. Sin is hereditary.
We are all born into sin (Psalm 51:5; Romans 5:12; Job 14:1-4). There is no disputing that. From conception, sin is our nature. On top of that, there is something to the phrase, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Children do inherit specific traits from their parents, and those traits contribute to the unique sin weaknesses that each of us face.
For a long time, the idea of turning into my dad was my biggest fear. I couldn’t face the thought of being anything like him. But the truth is, I am a lot like him. I have his knack for procrastinating. I have his temper, his tendency toward pride, selfishness, and arrogance. I even have his high cholesterol.
If left undealt with, un-nailed to the cross of Christ and laid down daily, those things will rule me like they ruled him. The day that I dismiss any one of those faults as “just the way I am” is the day my fear will become reality.
2. Choices are not hereditary.
I have some good memories of my dad from when I was very young. We used to sing John Denver and Peter, Paul, and Mary songs in the car on the way to preschool. When I was in the first grade, he dressed up like a ninja on Halloween and picked me up from school early to go trick-or-treating. Sometimes I wonder if it was an effort for him to be gentle and loving in those moments. Why were there so few of them? Was it just easier for him to be angry and hostile? I always come to the conclusion that it was a matter of choices: choosing to serve the Lord verses choosing to serve self.
Though we cannot escape our sin nature this side of eternity, we are not totally helpless against it. Scripture is very clear about our role in resisting temptation and that the Lord is faithful to pour out his Spirit of freedom from the bondage of sin (1 Corinthians 10:13; 2 Corinthians 3:1; Galatians 5:16; James 4:7). I’m convinced that had my dad truly loved the Lord and sought his will above his own, the fruit of his marriage and fatherhood would have reflected that. No matter his struggle with sin, the Lord would have given my dad the grace to choose him, had that been his desire.
That is my comfort. I can’t do anything about who my dad is and that he is part of me. But I can choose to seek the Lord and his righteousness.
3. Closure is not necessary for forgiveness.
Closure used to be really important to me, and I think that’s because I had it confused with forgiveness. The hardest part about the past ten years has been forgiving my dad. Initially, I prayed that the Lord would change him and lead him to repentance for what he’s done to my family. I envisioned him giving me a call or showing up one day, full of remorse and asking for my forgiveness.
That would be closure. Then I could forgive him.
But slowly and graciously, the Lord changed my prayer. He led me to an understanding that Christ-like forgiveness is always required and often unmerited. Though my dad has done nothing to merit forgiveness, I must forgive him. There’s no other way around it. If I can’t forgive my dad, regardless of the circumstances, then I don’t understand the gospel at all (Matthew 6:14-15).
[tweet_box design=”default”]An unwillingness to forgive means we don’t understand the gospel at all.[/tweet_box]
I think it’s natural to long for great resolutions of reconciliation. In Scripture, we see the stories of Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, the Prodigal Son, and we want that kind of closure. But what do we see when we look at Jesus’ story? He became the reconciliation. He took on the sins of a world that had done and could do nothing to merit his forgiveness.
4. Trust is for the Lord, not for people.
I’ve been asked if it’s difficult for me to trust people, particularly men, after life with my dad. Honestly, it is. But I’ve discovered that I don’t need to. In Scripture, we’re not commanded to trust each other. We are to strive to be trustworthy because it is godly, but the Lord is clear that we are to trust him, alone (Psalm 118:8; Proverbs 3:5; Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 146:3).
I can trust that the Lord is sanctifying others like he is sanctifying me. I can trust in his sovereignty over relationships, that he works all things for good. And I can trust that his grace is sufficient to cover the weaknesses of others and my own. The Lord, alone, is worthy of our trust. He is the only one with a spotless record as the keeper of our hearts.
5. I have a new inheritance.
As I reflect on the last ten years, I think the most beautiful thing I’ve learned is that I have a new inheritance. I was born into a broken marriage and an abusive home. So in a very concrete way, my earthly inheritance was defiled. But because of Jesus, I have been
…born again to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfailing, kept in heaven for me, who by God’s power is being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:4)
That is nothing short of miraculous. I’m thankful that I’ve had such a palpable representation of the spirit of adoption that we receive as believers (Romans 8:15-17). I will probably never experience the love of an earthly father, but as a fellow heir with Christ, I can cry, “Abba, Father” to my Creator and Sustainer, with full faith that I have his love for eternity.