My father and I look a lot alike. The resemblance to him was even more pronounced as a child when my round face, squinty brown eyes, and jet black hair announced to the world whose daughter I was. Even now the darkness still shows through reddish highlights, and my eyes will never be my mother’s blue. But the resemblance stops there. Even my grandpa once remarked, “If you two didn't look so much alike, nobody would know you are father and daughter.” The words are true, and the stinging realization that came with them still lingers in my heart. My father and I don’t have the relationship I crave. Through merciful grace, however, ours is a God of restoration and a mender of brokenness.
I was five when my dad left my family. The divorce was drawn out, and during that time I watched my mother grow anxious and depressed—so I learned how to make her laugh. I became acquainted with betrayal as my father would return home for a few days only to leave in the middle of the night—so I became a comforter to my little brother. I felt compelled to take over the role my dad had left and I resented it deeply. I was nine when he moved from Tennessee to Colorado. The distance was more than physical—I began to erect a wall used to guard myself from any further damage.
Then, when I was about ten, the real trouble began. My dad is bi-polar, and his manic highs are among the extreme in the variations of the illness. The tragic irony of the disease is that he normally lives in a state of “low-grade depression” as he once said. But the mania brings on a sense of confidence and euphoria that no drug can rival. Just when he is feeling good is actually when he is getting sick. The progression for him has always been the same: once the mania settles in he begins to drink and do terribly irresponsible things which lead to trouble with the law. He has been in and out of jail since that time. All I saw, though, was a dad who was not around, did not provide, and did not give me the kind of love for which my heart literally ached.
My anger and bitterness festered as a teenager. Why did he leave us? Why did he continually make the choices that led him to prison? Didn't he care about us? Did he even think about us? He always said he loved us, but how could that possibly be true?
Jesus saved me when I was a child, but I didn’t begin to see him clearly until my late teenage years, after my mother’s passing. In college, the Lord called me to forgive my father. I couldn't get away from the theme of forgiveness. It was in worship songs, Sunday school messages, and even the books I read for pleasure. It invaded my heart.
So, like an obedient girl, I tried to forgive my dad. I prayed. I called him regularly. I made promises to God that I had forgiven; but each time he was arrested my anger and feelings of betrayal would destroy me. I couldn't take it over and over again, and I gave up. I simply could not do it.
But Jesus never stops when it comes to the heart of his children. Over the course of a fantastic Bible study centered on the idea of breaking bandages, God showed me something I had never considered. He showed me how I had closed my heart and built a wall that not only separated us emotionally but also prevented true
forgiveness—He showed me how I had sinned against my father. God reminded me of the specific moment I made that decision, at thirteen. As I recalled comforting my crying brother over yet another time our dad was leaving, I felt how I had rejected tears and stowed them away in a dark place. I had not allowed myself to feel anything but anger toward my dad since that time, and as a Christian who believed in and accepted grace for my own sins, was I not also required to extend that same grace and mercy to those who wronged me?
A scripture that illustrated this new perspective was Matthew 18:23. In the passage, Jesus tells the parable of a king who forgives his servant for not repaying a huge sum of money and wipes his slate clean. That same servant goes out and harasses a fellow servant who owes him money. When the fellow servant cannot
pay, the servant sends him to jail. The king hears of this and, in anger, sends the servant to jail saying, “I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (ESV). I was the servant. Although the sins against me were great, the sins I had committed towards God, the ultimate judge, were far greater, and I knew that He would not forgive me if I held my father’s sins against him. For the first time, I saw my own sin in our hopelessly damaged relationship, and Jesus showed me how he could restore hope by pouring out his forgiveness on us both.
That was four years ago. Since then my dad and I have moved from forgiveness to reconciliation, as he recognized the wrongs he committed. And now we are awkwardly maneuvering our way into a renewed relationship. In the past few years God has begun to show me how to accept my father as he is, even though we will never have the sort of relationship I think I need. Now, as a first-time mother, my desire to know my dad is growing, and my daughter is providing a conduit through which we are building our relationship. Now her precious life will be impacted by our relationship as well, and he sees this and understands the lives he touches. I know now what I didn't as a girl—I know that he feels his wrongdoings more acutely than I can imagine and that he needs the Lord’s forgiveness more than mine.
My father and I don’t have the history that the typical father and daughter have, but through the power and grace that only a Savior like Jesus can provide, God is using the history we do have to mold us into the father and daughter he sees. Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, is “making all things new” (Rev. 21:5) and is giving me grace in each step toward this new relationship. Sometimes I ask to see the next step God says “no.” He will not show me because he wants me to trust him with it, for my artistic abilities are lacking but his are perfect. When he looks upon this mess he sees the beautiful masterpiece that he can and will make if I will choose to give him all the pieces. I am not sure what it will look like, but I trust my God completely—the Father I have always known and trusted.