Forgiving my father didn’t mean I trusted him. It didn’t mean I let my daughter sit on his lap. It didn’t mean I cuddled with him. Even in his old age, he made sexually inappropriate remarks. Though he was a generous, hardworking, and dependable man in many ways, I never knew what he might do or say. I felt oppressed and unsafe in his presence. I could not trust him to keep his hands to himself, nor to keep his words pure.
Hence, I limited my time with him. I set boundaries against his sin. The matter-of-factness of those words belies years of deep conflict. I longed for a real reconciliation. I wanted a father’s love. In my adult life, I’d never tried to get him talk about what happened. For many years, he was just too powerful a figure. With him, I remained a small child.
However, as I grew larger in my own eyes, he grew smaller. Finally, at nearly forty years old, I wrote “the honest letter.” After expressing my thanks for many aspects of my upbringing, I named the abuse and speculated on his own pain that had been acted out on me in the abuse. I ended with: “I wish you wanted to know me, Dad. I wish you’d ask my forgiveness for the sexual abuse. I wish you would, even now, face your own pain.”
An excerpt from Trading Fathers, my memoir, continues the story: “After two weeks, he wrote a two word response: ‘I’m sorry.’ But he wasn’t sorry enough to engage in real discussion. He wasn’t sorry enough to explore his own motivation. He wsn’t sorry enough to hear my pain….I had done my part to try to reconcile. I’d exposed my heart to him. In response, he gave me two words. Admittedly, they were the necessary words. But they were not sufficient. Two words were not enough to build on. I’d often fantasized a warm relationship with him. Now I could deal with the reality. My father would not pay the price.”
Is there someone in your life who you have forgiven but don’t trust? What is that like for you?
Father-God, thank you for paying the price for relationship with us.
People I’ve forgiven but don’t trust? Many! I can even ask God to bless most of them.
Dan Allender’s book on recovering from sexual abuse (the title is escaping me at this moment) has a chapter at the end about reconciliation. It was huge for me to read that! He says you can’t have reconciliation (trust, real relationship) without repentance. Forgiveness is key, but that doesn’t mean you have to jump back into relationship with the person. This is such a misunderstood aspect of forgiveness. Thanks for writing about it. 🙂
We do so need to understand that, don’t we? Some educators say we don’t need to forgive abuse. I think they often mean we don’t need to reconcile or trust the person. And that is absolutely true. We do need to give up the right to anger. We have the right to be angry, but it doesn’t serve our own emotional or spiritual health. So we look to God for the power to give up that right.
Allender’s classic book is The Wounded Heart.
Thanks for commenting, Sara.
Are we suppose to reconcile with abusers who continue the abuse and never apologize?
No. There is no real reconciliation without repentance. Abusers who continue to abuse have not repented. They have no concern for the effect of their behavior. They are actively sinning. I believe we have the right to set a boundary against sin.
Lord, give wisdom and courage.
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