The gift of forgiveness for Father's Day
Cutting the cord of grievance
"I forgive you, dad."
It was a drizzly July afternoon in 2002 when I spoke those words. I had made a journey to visit my father in Jekyll Island, Georgia. My dad had spent most of his life as a Southern Baptist minister and I remember him regularly railing against the sins of adultery and divorce from the pulpit.
Given my dad's position on these sins, it was a shock to my young system when he came home one day and told my mother that he wanted a divorce - because he had met, and fallen in love with, another woman. At the tender age of 9, I lost my father. Sure, he was still alive and living just a few hours away from me, but for all intents and purposes, he was dead to me. He rarely called, and when he did, it was because he either needed something or wanted to berate me for some choice I had made as a teenager.
I recall going through all those emotions of grief – anger, denial, bargaining, and depression. It took me decades, however, to get to that final stage of acceptance. Refusing to truly accept my father's decision to abandon our family left me stuck in my anger. I could not find it in my heart to forgive my father, so I took my anger out on the world around me. I could not accept his decision to move on, so I had no peace about it and kept obsessing over the injustice I felt at his leaving.
It wasn't until my late-30s that I uttered those words of forgiveness to my father. I had held that anger for nearly two decades, and even after saying them, there was healing left to do. (Still is, if I'm honest.) My permission to begin that healing came in the form of nearly losing an important relationship over my continued outbursts of rage. I was given an ultimatum to get myself under control or hit the road.
I found help through a teacher named Wayne Dyer. His story of forgiving his father was the permission I needed to do the same. Dyer says his dad was, in short, an asshole, who had abandoned his family when Dyer was about as young as I was. He lost track of his father over the years and when he realized his need to forgive him, he had to go on an arduous journey to find him. He did finally find his father. In a graveyard. He decided, though, that it still wasn't too late to forgive, so he made a pilgrimage to his father's grave.
I realized that if I was to heal this debilitating anger and put my life on a more positive and loving path, I needed to make the same journey of forgiveness for my dad. I wanted to be free from my anger, but more than that, I wanted my dad to be free from my anger, as well. Spiritual teacher Emmet Fox wrote that when we hate anyone, we connect ourselves to them "by a cosmic tie."
"The one person perhaps in the whole world whom you most dislike is the very one to whom you are attaching yourself by a hook that is stronger than steel," Fox writes. "You must loose him and let him go. By forgiveness you set yourself free; you save your soul. And because the law of love works alike for one and all, you help to save his soul too, making it just so much easier for him to become what he ought to be."
This is the power of forgiveness. It's not just for us, but also for the person we have tied ourselves to through our anger or hatred.
"Forgiveness," A Course in Miracles says in Chapter 3, "is the healing of the perception of separation." In forgiving my father, I could see that we are not that much different. True, we share DNA, but we share an original goodness and innocence as well. My father's actions had nothing to do with me and everything to do with his own misguided ego leading him to destroy his marriage and family. How can I be angry at someone who simply lost their way in this world?
On that rainy day in July, I stood at the foot of my father's grave. He had died when I was 17-years-old, but I kept my hatred for him alive for the next two decades. The torment of living with all that anger and hatred had taken its toll on me physically, mentally, and spiritually. I could not spend another minute in that mental and spiritual hell. Sadly, the revelation that forgiveness was the only key that could unlock that prison came too late for me to share it with my father while he was still alive. Still, like Dyer, I needed to say my piece, so I could finally have some peace.
I thought I was all ready to do it - to stand before his grave and say the words, "I forgive you. I let it go." The only problem was, when I got there, I realized that wasn't the case at all. I realized that I was still angry - angry that he had left, angry that he had betrayed me and my mother, angry that he had revealed himself to be such a hypocrite and a liar, and angry that he had shattered not only my trust in pastors, but my trust in God.
Standing there in the rain, I told him all about it. I know I probably looked like a crazy person, ranting at a grave - but it was what I needed to do before I could let it go and leave the prison of grudges behind. Finally, after I had finished venting my anger and pain, I breathed a heavy sigh, and said with all sincerity, "Dad, I forgive you."
If I didn't know it before I knew it in that moment that God is a drama queen. Just as the last syllable fell from my lips, the clouds parted, the rain stopped, and sun appeared brightly in the sky. I even think I heard some angels sing. This is what happens when we finally forgive - the heavens part - relief comes - and we are freed from our grievances.
Who are you holding a grievance against in this moment? Who are you keeping cosmically tied to your through your hatred of them?
Forgiving doesn't mean the offense didn't happen. Forgiveness doesn't mean you were wronged in some way. Forgiveness does mean that you realize whoever you hold a grievance against acted from a place of unconsciousness. They couldn't see the truth about themselves – that they are formed in love, peace, and joy just as we all are. Our forgiveness seeks to restore us, and them, to right-mindedness, where we see the offense for what it was – an ego-induced error in judgment.
A Course, in Chapter 2 says: "The statement 'Father forgive them for they know not what they do' in no way evaluates what they do. It is an appeal to God to heal their minds." (ACIM, T-2.V-A.16:3-4)
That day, standing before my father's grave, my mind, heart, and soul were healed, and I believe his was as well.
What is standing between you and that forgiveness that can heal the world? Only your belief that withholding forgiveness solves anything. As we forgive, we are forgiven, and we are restored to the true Unity in the Holy that we all share.
Forgiveness, as poet e.e. cummings tells us, comes when we let it all go:
let all go - the
big small middling
tall bigger really
the biggest and all
things - let all go
dear - so comes love
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Take 20 with Candace
This week’s Take 20 is from Jubilee! Circle's June 12, 2022, celebration: “The Barrier of Blessings.” Perhaps the biggest barrier we use to block God’s Love for us is … ourselves!
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The Motley Mystic is an online community for people who have realized that the truth speaks with many voices. There is no one religion, philosophy, institution or dogma that captures the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. No one needs to swear allegiance to one line of thought or belief to discern Truth, because Love is the only thing that’s real. That’s what we explore at the Motley Mystic - all the tools and strategies we need to remove our barriers to Love and live fully as our true, Divine Self.
Candace Chellew is the founder of Motley Mystic as well Jubilee! Circle, an interfaith spiritual community in Columbia, S.C. She is also the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians published in 2008 by Jossey-Bass and the founder and senior editor emeritus of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for LGBTQ People of Faith. She is also a musician and avid animal lover.
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