By Mark A. Taylor
To forgive is to set a prisoner free
and discover that the prisoner was you.
—Lewis B. Smedes
I sat across the table from my father at a meeting I had dreaded but desperately needed.
He needed it too, eager to reestablish a relationship with me after disappearing from my life more than 13 years earlier. In those years my second child, a son, had been born and had since become a middle schooler, while my firstborn daughter had graduated from high school.
My mother, who couldn’t drive and didn’t work, was alone because he left. And during that time she had become increasingly dependent on me. Keeping her afloat—emotionally as well as financially—had fallen to me. But she had died a few months earlier without ever having granted my father a divorce. Now free, he had married the woman for whom he’d left my mother.
A New Start?
I never learned exactly how long they had been living together. Surely it had been more than a decade. But not only had he married the woman, he’d also returned to church with her every week in the community where they’d moved. She had been baptized. You could say they were making a new start.
Now it was our turn.
They would stop by our house on their way home from attending his sister’s funeral. He and I would go to dinner while his wife found someplace else to grab a sandwich.
I hadn’t prepared for any test
And so we sat in the Bob Evans restaurant on Tylersville Road in West Chester, Ohio, wary and wounded, but willing to wade into the healing stream of forgiveness.
I hadn’t prepared for any test more diligently than this one. More than one counselor had coached me and listened to my plan for the conversation. I talked with them about my textbook for the exam, Lewis B. Smedes’s classic Forgive and Forget: Healing the Hurts We Don’t Deserve.
Smedes points out that reconciliation isn’t necessary for forgiveness. We can forgive someone we’ll never see again. We can forgive someone who’s dead. We can forgive someone who won’t concede how he’s hurt us.
But if reconciliation is to happen, the person being forgiven must acknowledge truth in the story of the one he’s wronged. He may not agree with every detail, but he must admit that the story he’s hearing is sound.
After small talk and the delivery of our orders (plates of food we barely touched), my father said, “I’m asking you to forgive me.”
I lowered my fork and looked up from my plate.
“That’s nice to hear,” I said, “but forgive you for what?”
“Well . . . for everything,” he stumbled. And I don’t remember giving him time to say more. I gulped and pushed back from the table.
“Let’s go,” I said, and stood to leave. This was no place to see a grown man weep.
We sat in my car in the restaurant parking lot for another hour. He desperately wanted to renew a relationship. He spoke of making amends. (In the coming months he would send me thousands of dollars to repay me for my mother’s funeral. And later I learned the funds had come—with his wife’s permission—from money she had saved.)
He spoke of making amends.
A few months later he flew to visit me, with some frequent flyer miles I’d earned and couldn’t have used any better. I learned more details about the life he’d lived in all the years he’d been away.
It was not a fairy tale ending. Yes, our times in each others’ homes after that were always pleasant enough. But so often I couldn’t help feeling as if I were visiting a distant relative I didn’t know well. Blood had bound us, but blood wasn’t enough to fill gaps from 13 years of absence, fear, and frustration.
I had forgiven him; I no longer hated him. I understood why living with my mother was difficult for him and why his second wife was such a good match. But not enough time remained for us to learn to be close.
The minister of the small church he and his wife were attending had orchestrated our reunion. It’s a story too long for this brief post. Suffice it to say I’ll always be grateful to him, because he gave me the gift only this reconciliation could have achieved—fresh air breathed deep in the lungs of a prisoner set free.
posted on April 25, 2018
Meet the Author:
Mark Taylor served in a variety of editorial, marketing, and management roles at Standard Publishing (now Christian Standard Media) for almost 41 years. His last assignment was as publisher and editor of Christian Standard 2003-2017. He and his wife, Evelyn, are active members with Christ’s Church in Mason, Ohio, and Mark continues to write from their home north of Cincinnati (email@example.com).