He told me that he had put up no pictures of his father until a few days ago. He then told me of his life as a young man. He told me of many beatings some of which seemed to me to be unwarranted. He did not have a great childhood although he had many accomplishments in his youth, including speaking the the legislature of his home state when he was still in high school. Even with those accomplishments his father once "beat" him because, in his father's words, he did not represent him as he should.
My friend told me that he knows that he has to forgive his father, who is now with the Lord (yes his father was a Christian). He told me that it was very hard to forgive his father but knows that he has to do it.
I know that my friend is not alone. I know there are many of you that struggle on Father's Day in joining in celebrations of great and loving fathers. Your father may have been abusive, he may have left his family, he may have had an addiction that resulted in his separation from his family. It may have been any of a number of things, but he was not the kind of dad that your friends experienced.
Even if your father wasn't the ideal dad the best gift that you can give him is forgiveness. He needs to hear it and more importantly you need to give it. If your father is no longer living, like my friend you still need to forgive him for your sake.
If the relationship with your father was or is not the kind of loving supportive relationship that you will hear a lot about as we get closer to Father’s Day you may be carrying around anger and unforgiveness that you need to address. If your father wasn’t the “ideal” dad, then this Father’s Day may require you to offer forgiveness. This may be one of the most difficult things that you have ever had to do. but, if you can truly do this, with all sincerity, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, there is freedom on the other side.
So the question becomes: How do you forgive and honor a father that was not a good dad?
Here are some suggestions.
1. Grieve and weep over what was lost.
Before you can begin to forgive a father, you must first acknowledge the ways that you have been wounded by him. A common misconception about forgiveness is that it requires you to excuse or dismiss the actions of your offender. Dismissal is not forgiveness nor is it a healthy way to process pain. Grieving, on the other hand, gives you an opportunity to weep over what’s been lost: time, innocence, relationships, childhood, and peace.
This takes time, and grieving is a destination and not a journey. In your grief you can rest in knowing that Jesus encourages you.
Matthew 5:4 NLT God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Does it strike you as strange that God calls those who mourn blessed? Many, if not most, people don’t consider mourning to a blessing. Yet Jesus said that those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted.
God himself, the initiator of all life, comes alongside us as we grieve.
Psalms 56:8 NLT You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.
Our tears summon the very heart of God to comfort us in a way no human being could. Whether He does it directly through His word or chooses to use men and women to be His hands and feet, we are promised comfort. However it happens, this promise will be kept.
2. Embrace God as your heavenly Father.
We may not experience the audible voice of God or see him face to face on this side of heaven, but we can know him as a heavenly Father.
1 John 3:1 NLT See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.
As a result of Christ’s sacrificial death, we have been adopted.
Romans 8:15 NLT So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”
If we believe in Jesus, his death on a cross, and resurrection, we have been given direct access to God as our Father. We can boldly go before God in prayer and pour out our hearts before him.
As with any new relationship the comfortable communication between our adoptive father and us takes time. Through prayer and Bible study, a transition takes place in our hearts. Talking to God becomes less awkward and more natural. Our view of him changes from being distant and impersonal to that of a heavenly father who is intimately concerned about the details of his child's life.
3. Forgive your father.
Forgiveness is easier said than done, but it is still doable. It is not a dismissal of anything you’ve experienced, but it requires you to relinquish your right to hold another person responsible for the wrong done to you.
The choice to forgive your father is not saying that your story and your pain don't matter. You may feel as though forgiveness would be allowing Him to get away with what he has done to you. This may be especially true, if he has yet to apologize or even acknowledge any wrongdoing.
Forgiveness, however, is a choice that does not depend on the actions of your father. It only depends on you, and it’s for your benefit. Deciding not to forgive will negatively impact your life.
Trust God to, one day, right every wrong.
Revelation 21:4-5 NLT He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.”
He is sovereign and just. We choose to forgive because we have been forgiven. Period.
Matthew 6:14-15 NLT “If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.
A forgiving heart is foundational when it comes to honoring our father.
4. Pray for your father.
When God gave the fifth commandment to “Honor your mother and father”, he didn’t give specifics on how to do it.
Exodus 20:12 NLT “Honor your father and mother. Then you will live a long, full life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
This seemingly simple command becomes difficult to follow when your father wasn’t a good dad. We know what honor looks like when the man is actively raising his children well, but we struggle to honor fathers who abandoned their families or were harsh to their children.
One way every person can honor their father, no matter the type of father they have, is to pray for him. This is one of the greatest things we can do on their behalf. In prayer, we can pray for the man God intends for him to be. We can ask God to move mightily on his behalf and alter the trajectory of our father’s life for the better.
For some of us, we may be the only person willing to pray for fathers. If this seems difficult, a practical suggestion would be to write your prayers out. Make a conscious decision to pray for his health, protection, provision, his relationship with God, and his relationship with you. In praying for him, God changes our heart too.
If your father is still living, love him. If he has failed you, forgive him. If he is still raising you, pray for him. The job is not easy and chances are he is doing the best he can. The encouragement you give can go a long way in helping him to continue to be the dad God wants him to be.
If this is you...then give the affirmation of forgiveness to your father this year. He needs to hear it. And more importantly, you need to give it!