It happened again. My dad really hurt me. He knows he really hurt me. But of course he didn’t say he was sorry. And of course my mother did what she has done my whole life—excuse his behavior by saying, “That’s your daddy.”
I’ve spent a lifetime struggling to forgive and keep forgiving my dad. I don’t think I felt the weight of it until I spent a week at home as an adult with my son, then 3 years old. As I heard him speak to my son the way he had always talked to me growing up, the weight of a lifetime of harsh words and hurtful disapproval came down on me. That’s when I really began to grieve the loss of the nourishing, encouraging dad I wanted. But more than grieving began that week. For years I suffered sleepless nights remembering the conversations and criticisms of the past, rehearsing the confrontation I hoped was somewhere in my future.
One day Dennis Rainey personally handed me a copy of his book The Tribute: What Every Parent Longs to Hear, a book about honoring your parents (now published under the title The Best Gift You Can Ever Give Your Parents). I couldn’t even lie and tell him that I looked forward to reading it. I think I actually said to him something like, “I’m not interested in that.”
A while later I found myself in a beautiful hotel room on a business trip. Once again I was awake in the middle of the night remembering, rehearsing, fuming. But then the Holy Spirit interrupted my anguish. We had been studying John 16 that week in Bible study. Jesus speaks of the work of the Holy Spirit—that he comes to counsel, to convict, to guide us into truth. And that’s just what the Holy Spirit did that night. He told me the truth and brought me under the grace of conviction, showing me the blight upon my own soul—the sin of unforgiveness, the sin of demanding my own rights to the dad I think I deserve. He counseled me to begin walking out my repentance by living out and expressing honor to my parents. He called me to trust him to supply the feelings to go along with my choice to live out a forgiveness I didn’t really feel.
I began to be kind instead of cold, choosing to turn off the recorder in my mind that wanted to replay the old tapes of hurtful conversations and situations over and over again. I pulled out The Tribute, which challenges readers to compose and deliver a written tribute to their parents, telling them what they did right. And I did it. It took me three years, but I did it. And I know it meant a lot—it still means a lot—to my parents.
But here I am, another decade or so down the road, and my dad is still my dad. And sometimes I realize that I am still that same little girl longing for his approval, his interest, his tenderness that just isn’t there. And here comes Father’s Day. My life does not have to be ruled by Hallmark, and hopefully I honor my parents more than one day of the year. But I know my dad longs to hear from his kids that he did well as a dad, that he is loved and appreciated. Father’s Day is when we tell our dads such things. More than that, I know that honoring my parents is what God wants from me; it’s what’s best for me.
But here’s the ugly truth: I do not want to honor my parents. So here, as in so many other areas, I find the law continues to drive me to Christ. How I need the righteousness of one who always honored his earthly parents to be credited to my account, which is radically in the red in this department. How I need the power of the one who glorified his heavenly Father to generate in me the desire and decision to honor my father, and the perseverance to carry it out over the long haul of life and future offenses. How I need the Spirit who generates the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control to tend this garden in my heart and bring about this growth in my life—in my actions and reactions. How I need my heavenly Father to remind me that he intends to use every disappointment in my life—including my disappointments with my dad—to draw me to depend more fully on him.
I do not want to honor my parents. So I’m asking God for the want-to. I’m once again reckoning myself dead to the sins of disrespect, hard-heartedness, coldness, contempt, self-righteousness, and unforgiveness so that I can be alive to God. I’m taking a step in God’s direction by taking a step in my dad’s direction.
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (1 John 2:3-6).
I’m taking a step in my dad’s direction because I want to walk in the way Christ walked. And I’m trusting that Christ will be there with me, empowering me for every costly, stumbling step.
A daughter who shall remain anonymous, out of a desire to honor rather than dishonor her dad.