Sunday, June 20, 2010

Forgiving Dad

In the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson wrote, “Resentment is the number one offender.” To those outside the program this might seem a bit of a surprise. You might expect the founder of AA to say that booze or too much drinking was the big problem. But no, Bill W. wrote: “From resentment flows all forms of spiritual disease.

Most of us know that, but it’s hard to get unstuck when a good, juicy resentment takes hold of you, so I like this pithier saying: “Holding a resentment is like setting yourself on fire and hoping the other person dies of smoke inhalation.”

Resentment as a topic on Father’s Day? But of course!

All of us had fathers. And with today’s social changes---divorce and remarriage-- some of us have two or more, so there’s plenty of fuel for those fires. Our parents disappoint us and we, in our turn, disappoint our children. In some families the injuries are bad: fathers may abuse, abandon, deprive or neglect. What do you do when you smell the smoke?

The antidote to resentment is, of course, forgiveness. Surely there will be a forgiveness story  on the Hallmark Channel today. But life is not a made-for-TV movie so how do you save yourself from the heat of resentment?

I had to extinguish a fiery resentment that I carried for years about my Father. When I was young my Dad worked many hours, travelled a lot, left his kids with a woman who was ill and then he died young. I had a big box of matches and I struck them all over myself. I had this idea that I just didn’t get what I needed from my father. More than one therapist agreed that my “issues” did indeed come from that deprivation. That intellectual understanding helped me to a certain degree but it also functioned as dry tinder for my favorite fire.

Then a few years ago on a Matt Talbot retreat I was telling my story and the retreat leader gave me a surprising bit of redirection. I was talking about how my Dad had maybe given me maybe 40% of what I needed as a kid and, well, poor me and bad him. “Well, yes,” the retreat leader said, “He may have only given you 40% percent of what you needed but what if 40% was all he had?” (He was after all a man whose parents died when he was young, he had grown up in poverty and he’d never been given a minute of emotional resource he could rely on). “So, she continued, “When your Dad gave you that 40% he was really giving you 100% of what he had.”

It was like a bucket of cold water poured on my head.

To forgive does not mean to pardon, it means to let go. When Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do"< he was using his language, Aramaic, and he used the word "shaw" for forgive; shaw means “to untie”.

So if you have tied yourself down or you have set yourself on fire with victim-approved matches --untie yourself . Forgiveness makes a great Father’s day gift; You give it to yourself.

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