Saturday, September 20, 2008
A Forgiveness Story
Years ago I sat with my father in a cafe where his portraits of composers were on exhibit. There was Bartok, Bach, Ives, Schubert, many beloved characters painted as though the essence of their music were swimming about their faces in brilliant colors. He chatted with me about whom he had chosen to exclude from this series. One excluded composer was Sibelius. Dad explained, "He was at the premiere of Stravinsky's Firebird, and he booed! I can never forgive him for that." Then just as I was chuckling to myself about how ridiculous it is not to forgive something that happened over a century ago to people we don't even know, he chilled me with these words: "I don't believe in forgiveness, you know."
Because of the history of rejections and exclusions in our family, the most recent and painful involving Dad's rejection of my son, his words cut me to the quick. I left there in grief for the ruined relationships and hurtful unforgiveness, and unapproachability of my father, and along with much of my family, carried the wound for a long time. I endeavored finally to do what he could not, forgiving him and praying continually for him.
This last Father's Day we were in the same cafe again, at the same table, in fact. My father's wife took me aside to share her disappointment in how my sister and I had dishonored our father by neglecting him in years past on Father's Day. I saw that she was right. Going back to the table I felt tears welling up, and had a quick discussion with myself as the scene blurred before me. I had a choice. I could either pull myself together and write my father a letter some time later, or I could be a blubbering idiot, break down in tears right here and now and get it over with. The decision was simple, once I put my pride aside.
I let it all out right then, tears, spittle, remorse and all, and asked my father for his forgiveness for dishonoring him on Father's Days past, and while I was at it, for some other not so nice stuff I'd done over the years. What was the answer from the man who didn't believe in forgiveness? "Of course I forgive you!"
That table in that cafe is a landmark for me, and that was a landmark moment, (which I immediately sullied by snapping at my step mother when she seemed to want me to stop my confession, but there again I went on to ask for her forgiveness and received it.) The Lord did a beautiful work there, and if these were the bible days I'd put a rock there and rename the place Forgiveness Happened Here.
Oh, where would we be without our forgiveness? In this season of the High Holy Days I treasure the forgiveness I received from my earthly father and I pray for myself that I will always be as eager to forgive others as I am to be forgiven. Even more precious is the forgiveness offered by God through the sacrifice of His Son, the Lamb of God, which we need only reach out and ask for to receive all its blessings. Let us not forget that the Lord wants us to be like Himself, and that means showing forgiveness, even seventy times seven times.