The Gift of Forgiveness
Why do we forgive?
As the cold and shaky B-17 lumbered through the final mile of French air space on its journey toward Germany, all Dave wanted to do was secure the sight, drop the bombs and head back to England. A warm meal and a cold drink awaited him upon his return.
He would return, but not that day, and not before his life had changed.
Growing up in Northern New York State, Dave had spent countless hours fishing on his beloved river, The St. Lawrence. It was his go to place, his safe place. Now though, there was no safe place as bombs exploded all around his plane. Realizing that the plane was soon going down, he helped his men off the plane, and with a thumbs up to the captain, he jumped from the now lifeless B-17. It exploded three seconds later.
With a hard landing that delivered nine breaks to his right leg, Dave was at first taken by the French Underground. He was soon delivered to the Germans, though, as they alone had the medication to hold off the inevitable gangrene that awaited him if he remained untreated. He recovered quickly but soon found that his recovery only helped make him healthy enough for a German prison. The doors locked behind him and remained shut until his eventual release when General Patton himself liberated the camp.
What war does to a person is a mystery. One person seems to be able to move on with life while the person next to them, someone who endured similar hardships, struggles their entire life with the traumas associated with war. I have never fought in a war but my dad did, his name was Dave.
My father returned from the war with a divided heart. He was an incredible teacher, loved deeply by all his students, yet he was also an abusive father, tolerated and sometimes even hated by his children. As the youngest of three I found myself at the end of his hands or the end of a belt all too often. Worse things occurred but my mother stepped in and liberated our camp when I was eight, securing us in a home of love and laughter. She was my hero.
The years passed and I found myself realizing at the ripe old age of nineteen that I was going nowhere. After months of going back and forth, I finally asked Jesus to forgive me, wash me and lead me. He was now Lord, not me. It was wonderful, yet I soon realized that I had to deal with my “father issue.” What did I do? Well, as a believer I knew I must forgive him, and so I did. I said a cute little prayer and released him to the Lord.
Well, I thought I did. But every time I thought of him or his name came up I still felt sick, deep in the pit of my stomach. “Lord, help!”- I soon found out that’s a prayer He loves to hear. “Help!” says two things: I can’t and He can.
At the appointed time the Lord directed me to approach my father and give him a gift. Not a new tie or the latest cologne, but I was to give him the “gift of forgiveness.” It was on a warm July 4th when the family was gathered at his house. I found him in the back, facing the garden, gazing at his handiwork. I knew that now was the moment.
I stood beside him and said hello. He greeted me with a handshake. He began to talk about his garden but I interrupted him to tell him I had something to say. I said it concerned our time together when I was young. He dryly replied, “Yes, what is it?” I answered him, “I just want to tell you that I love you and I forgive you for what ever happened when I was young.”
I waited but there was no response. I would even take anger over the present silence. Then the Lord whispered to me, “Put your arm around him.” “Excuse me,” I thought. “You want me to hold him? You want me to hold my father?” With a gentle voice He repeated Himself, “Put your arm around him.” I did.
That one move changed my life.
In an instant my father bent over and began to cry. He could barely stand. He reached over to me and put his arm around my waist to hold himself up. When his hand touched me, I began to weep. We stood there holding onto each other, weeping like two school-girls, and yet not caring a bit how we looked. One thing was certain, when the crying ended something was different. We didn’t know what, but we knew life would never be the same.
And it never was. We soon found ourselves greeting each other with a warm hug and eventually with a sweet kiss on the cheek. On one visit to his house, he waited at the front window as I drove into his driveway. As I turned the car off he opened my car door, pulled me out, hugged me and gave me a big kiss. My, how life was different!
I didn’t fight his war, but like all of us, I had to fight my own. The power of forgiveness is in our hands if we will use it. It may not instantly turn things around when we give others that great gift, but it will turn our own hearts around and set us free to live, to really live, unchained and liberated, no longer imprisoned by bitterness or hatred.
The gift of forgiveness. I’ve found it’s the one gift that actually renders more to the one who gives. We received it as a free gift. Freely received, now we have the chance to freely give.
The gift of forgiveness…let it be the one gift that you give away all through the year.