No family is perfect. Sometimes I hear people speak of someone from a “dysfunctional family”. I know what they mean when they say it. However, in the truest sense of that term, all of us have “dysfunction” in our families. It is called sin.
Because of our selfishness, pride, and anger we often hurt one another just because of the sheer amount of time we spend together. It is inevitable. If we choose not to forgive, the only alternative is a spirit of resentment and bitterness and being alienated from those closest to us. Relationships self-destruct because of the unresolved conflict of past hurts.
My father was a strict disciplinarian. He wasn’t the type of parent that told you three or four times to do something and then when that failed would begin to count, “One….two….three….four….don’t make me say five – or else!”. We were expected to comply quickly to what he asked of us.
Of course, there were times when I failed to do that and it resulted in confrontation and discipline. The quality I saw in my Dad over and over was a decision to be quick to let a personal offense go, whether it was in our family or with other people. He didn’t hold a grudge, wasn’t petty about issues and gave people the benefit of the doubt. Dad didn’t allow the poison of bitterness to linger in his spirit.
I see this in the heart of the father of the prodigal son (a picture of the Heavenly Father). Though his son had disappointed him, embarrassed him and hurt him deeply the father’s response was one of grace, mercy and forgiveness. When his son finally came home he was broke, filthy, without shoes and dressed in rags. Rather than a stern lecture or putting his boy on probation, he forgave him. Here’s a snippet of the story.
“And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.” (Luke 15:20-24)
These are precious verses that give us great hope because of the mercy and compassion of our great God. He forgives us and restores our relationship when we are repentant and broken over our sin. I saw this in my Dad’s life as he forgave me.
Sometimes I tell people that I got my heart from my father and my sense of humor from my mother. Here’s a story that shows both the humor of my Mom and the forgiveness of my Dad. One evening Melanie, Hoss, and I had some friends over to the house and at about 9 p.m. Dad went to bed. He had an early run on his bus the next day and needed some sleep.
We had a very small house and the living area wall was adjacent to the bedroom of my parents. There was a hallway from the living room that led to not only their bedroom, but two other bedrooms and the bathroom. So, get the picture. Dad tells everyone goodnight and shuts the hallway door and then his bedroom door for maximum quiet.
As the minutes ticked by our conversation in the living room became raucous laughter. It was led by the funny comments of my Mom. Not long after that a voice came from the bedroom (remember the wall to the living room was connected to Dad’s bedroom), “Lin, y’all need to be quiet in there! I have to get up early!” Whenever Dad was upset he would call Mom, “Lin” (short for Linda).
Mom hushed us up and we lowered our voices and laughter – for a while. Everyone in the room was a teenager except for Mom and Hoss. Soon something funny was mentioned and the laughter began to start again. Once again we heard a voice from the other side of the wall, this time a bit louder, “Lin, come here!”
When she returned she said, “Alright, we have GOT to be quiet. Cotton is getting mad because he can’t sleep”. This time we kept the noise down for a bit longer, but once again, the tickle boxes got turned over and we were trying to just snicker, but it turned into belly laughter.
In the midst of our latest hilarity the hallway door suddenly sprang open and there stood my father with a white bed sheet wrapped around him glaring at us. Mom didn’t miss a beat and lifted her hand with a salute and said, “Hail, Caesar!” Oh, man, that made us explode with laughter. Dad just turned around and shut the door and didn’t say another word. Of course, we couldn’t stop laughing for a long time though we did try to stifle it.
That’s a funny story, but it also shows the heart of my Dad to overlook inconveniences and times when his needs weren’t met. He never fussed at us about that event and even enjoyed hearing us regale it at family gatherings in the years to follow.
All healthy relationships must have forgiveness on both sides. Someone said, “He who demands mercy and shows none burns the bridges over which he must later pass”. After Dad had dealt with an issue where he had been hurt or his children had done wrong, it was over. Period. He treated us as if it had never happened.
One more story. When I was in my third year of college Dad had given me a phone card to make calls home. This was before cell phones and collect calls were very expensive. So the best way to call home and save the most money was using a calling card. Each card had a series of numbers that prefaced the long distance number you wanted to call and sent the bill to the owner (my Dad).
During this time in my life I had met Paula and we had only been engaged for a few months. I called her one afternoon and we talked for three hours! The most expensive time to call was in the afternoon during business hours. I clearly remember thinking, “Boy, that is going to be a big bill”. I was working at Radio Shack at the time and knew it was going to take a big chunk out of my check. The next time I went home (in a couple of weeks) I would tell Dad about the call and let him know about how long it was and pay for it.
When I went home I forgot about the call I had made to Paula. Weeks later I went home again and was sitting in Dad’s office talking and he said, “Son, I got the bill for the phone card and it had a call for three hours to Dayton, Tennessee (Paula’s hometown) in the afternoon”. I replied, “Oh, Dad, I did make that call and meant to tell you last time I was home and forgot about it. I’m going to pay for it; how much was it?”
The bill was over $80 – for a single call! I was horrified. No so much for the fact I had to pay for it, but that I didn’t want my father to think I had assumed upon him to care for it.
“Dad, I am so sorry. I will never do that again. I’ve got the money right now in my account to pay for it”. He said, “No, son, that’s alright. Just don’t do it anymore”. And I never did. His level voice, kindness and forgiveness made me to never want to disappoint him again. Dad did this in so many ways and circumstances and I’m sure Melanie and Hoss would be able to share their own stories along this vein.
At my father’s funeral each of the eldest grandchildren (three of them) were to talk about a quality in Dad’s life that they observed that had blessed their life. Jeremiah, the oldest grandchild, and the one that had known Dad the longest fittingly talked about his grandfather’s quickness to forgive. Jeremiah was able to verify this not only personally, but also in other situations. As I sat there and listened to Jeremiah talk, I agreed in my heart, “Son, you nailed it on the head. Dad was a great forgiver of people, even those in his family”.
Maybe that’s why he was so approachable to me and everyone he knew. I never felt like I was walking on eggs with him after a difficult situation. He had been forgiven by God and He poured that same forgiveness on us.