Elusive Forgiveness

“It’s a story of love and forgiveness,” wrote Amy on January 14, 2014. I didn’t know her from Eve before she posted the Amazon review of Before the Door Closes: A Daughter’s Journey with Her Alcoholic Father. Going forward, that evaluation remains the single hinge of our relationship. She could not know that one of her words wearied my mind. Was it true? Is my memoir really, as she described, “a story of love and forgiveness”?

Love, I agreed, comes through, but I could not get a handle on forgiveness. Where was forgiveness? The word is mentioned only once in the book, and that is in a passing reference to my mother. Like an annoying fly stubbornly buzzing around my head, the conundrum nagged me. For a year I swatted at it.

Why would I forgive my father? What was there to forgive? What had he done? That abusive, depriving alcoholic in our family was not my real father. He was what my mother had dissected:

Mama once told me as she looked through the window at my father staggering to the front door, “He is like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.”

That’s how she mentally sectioned her life. If Daddy was drunk, he was Mr. Hyde, embodying all that was wrong, evil, sinful. If Daddy was sober, he was Dr. Jekyll, goodness and peace and healing. While hating Mr. Hyde, Mama knew at the end of her endurance, he would metamorphose again into Dr. Jekyll. (p. 75 of Before the Door Closes)

Preserving my mother’s coping effort, I compartmentalized my father. That took care of Mr. Hyde. But what about forgiveness when my father was sober? When he was “Dr. Jekyll”?

True, he was not beating my mother, and there was more money for food then. But emotionally, I still tiptoed around him for fear I would trigger an unpredictable explosion. Weren’t there things to forgive during the sober sprees? Like “putting me in my place” when I was thirteen and was so excited I would soon have my own room and no longer have to share a bedroom with three brothers.

Following Daddy from bare room to bare room while he inspected the newly built house, I was surprised to be greeted by a pink shower curtain hanging up in the only bathroom. “Oh,” I spontaneously said, “how nice of them to give us that.” Hitting me like a thunderbolt, my father’s voice boomed, “Nobody gave me anything! I paid for everything you see. There’s nothing here that was given to me.”

Had I forgiven him for the times he made me feel what I thought was wrong? Did not have value? Should be shuttered? There was no red-letter day proclaiming I had said to myself or him, “Daddy, I forgive you for all that you did and said and didn’t do and say that hurt my feelings.”

Amy, though, had read forgiveness in Before the Door Closes. If indeed I had forgiven my father, how could I know? Last month I heard how on a CD.

“If you are seeking revenge–vengeance is yours, and you are seeking to pay back–forgiveness has not occurred,” Dr. Tony Evans said in his message “The Detours of Pardon.” He went on to explain that forgiveness didn’t mean I had justified what went wrong or excused it or ignored it or pretended that it didn’t happen.

Finally, I had a grasp on how Amy could think I had written a story of forgiveness. Revenge is not in the book.

Had I forgiven and forgotten? Obviously not! The book’s flashbacks attest that my memory of past hurts was intact, but I neither wanted nor attempted to pay my father back or get even. As his caregiver for the last two years of his life, I used all my energies and resources to ward off neglect and abuse.

No revenge. That’s what God meant when he made His sweeping promise:  “I, even I, am He Who blots out and cancels your transgressions, for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25 AMP). Isn’t that an oxymoron? How can Omniscience not remember our sins?

God does not forget our sins but treats us as if they are forgotten in that He is not out to get even–to pay us back. There is no revenge in God’s forgiveness. He forgives 100 percent. And there’s nothing elusive about that!

Christ died once for our sins.
An innocent person died
    for those who are guilty.
Christ did this
    to bring you to God,
when his body
    was put to death
and his spirit
    was made alive.
(1 Peter 3:18 CEV)


8 thoughts on “Elusive Forgiveness

  1. I am still thinking about all you wrote so well in this post. It may be the case you did not have a resounded moment of forgiving your father, but you had an ongoing attitude of forgiving him by the absence of revenge and not desiring to get even.
    I agree that forgiving does not mean denial of pain and hurt. It’s healthy to remember that pain, at least in the right measure for a good purpose.
    I liked the comparison with our Lord you draw.


  2. Silvia, you have summarized very well what the post intended to convey. I am glad the post is still living in your mind. If you have other insights, please share them with us. Sometimes the message the reader receives goes beyond even what the writer had thought.


    • Ain’t that the truth, Judy! Not two people read the same and get the same from any given book or passage. That’s why I love a book club I’m in, we are reading the words of this educator, Charlotte Mason, and when we share, we all bring different angles and points that enrich each other.

      I surely will add anything else that comes to me.


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