About this time two years ago, I felt compelled to write a letter. Sure, I had written hundreds of letters, thousands of emails, and a sea of handwritten notes – but this one was BY FAR the most difficult letter I had ever written.
I was writing a letter to my father.
You see, since the age of 2 my father wasn’t in the picture. My parents divorced – and distance, substances, and a broken relationship kept us apart for nearly 30 years.
Growing up, I always wanted my dad in my life…but he wasn’t there for me. I would see him every 2-3 years at most – for a couple days at a time. He wasn’t there to talk to me about becoming a man and what that meant. He wasn’t there to teach me how to throw a ball. He wasn’t there to tell me that he was proud of me. He wasn’t there to punish me. He wasn’t there – PERIOD.
My longing for my father – at some point in my teenage years – turned from desire to anger. At that point, he was living some 2.5 hours away and I still only saw him every couple of years. He showed up for my confirmation. He showed up for my graduation. And that was it.
Rage consumed my thoughts. I despised him for rejecting me. I couldn’t fathom why he didn’t want to spend time with me. I was starving for not just a male role model. I was starving for his love. And so I began to loathe him. I was enraged with anger for his abandonment, his addictions to alcohol and drugs, and for his mistakes. And when he never showed up or called…more fuel was added to the fire.
On Christmas day (during my freshman year in college) I decided that I was old enough/mature enough to mend this relationship. I called up my father to wish him a Merry Christmas. He was pretty intoxicated, and we ended up ‘getting into it.’ I finished the phone conversation by shouting some obscenities and telling him that I never wanted to speak to him again. My blood boiled in anger – not just that Christmas day, but for years and years after that. How could a FATHER not be there for his son? It made me question my faith – God – and so many other things.
Fast forward 2.5 years – and when I was 21, my mom passed away from a 4 year cancer battle. On June 13, 2001 – the world lost the best dang woman it had ever seen when Betty Hatch breathed her last breath. I was so completely broken.
There I was – 21 years old – and an orphan. I had no mom because of cancer – and I had no dad because…well…I couldn’t explain the reason why. Rejection, I guess. And that enraged me. Sure enough, he showed up at the prayer service and funeral for my mom – further upsetting me. He reeked of alcohol, which was a gentle reminder of one of the things that drove a wedge in our relationship. My sorrow turned to anger. My sadness and mourning turned to venomous thoughts.
But maturity, time, and prayer did some wonders in my life. There was a switch – at some point, God changed my heart. It wasn’t easy. It took some serious work. But I found forgiveness.
So around this time two years ago (after not hearing from or seeing my father for nearly a decade), I wrote him a letter. It was simple. I told him of my life. I told him that I pray for him. I asked for forgiveness. And I told him that I forgive him. Those were words 30 years in the making – but it was important for me to do.
There was a time in which I thought that my saying “I forgive you” was for him. I really did. And I know it meant a lot to him as he reached out after that – sending me a letter looking to rebuild a relationship. I heard from other family members that it was very special for him to receive. Eight months later, my father, Larry Hatch, passed away. I was able to say “I forgive you” while he was still on this earth. (Thank God he gave me the courage to write that letter. I can’t tell you the mounds of regret I would have had if it weren’t for finding and communicating forgiveness).
In hindsight, me saying “I forgive you” wasn’t just for him – it was for me. I was trapped in my words and thoughts for my entire life. It was a jail I couldn’t escape. I kept looking for him to let me out of that jail – but it was only me that could release me. I was incarcerated by my own grudges, and only I had the key.
God’s word is pretty direct and honest when it comes to forgiveness. Scripture tells us that if we want to be forgiven – then we must forgive.
Matthew 6:14-15 – For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
If you need new breath – new life – and a giant weight lifted off your shoulders – then maybe you need to find forgiveness. I know that our hearts are quick to hold anger and slow to forgive. But Christ calls us to forgive 7×77 times. Yes, that’s a CRAZY idea – but it’s Christ-like.
If you’re hanging onto anger – you have no way of fully grabbing onto something great (and that something great is the hand of Jesus Christ). I know – the idea of forgiving your deepest grudge seems near impossible for most – which is why it’s imperative to do.
Please note – forgiving someone does not have to mean that you are inviting them back into your life. It simply means releasing that anger and giving it to God.
So may you find the strength to forgive today. May you let go of the hurt that has held you hostage for so long. May you do what it takes to be more like Christ. And may you find peace when you let it all go.