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Friday, December 01, 2006


Scot McKnight on Forgiveness

Scot McKnight has a wonderful post this Friday about forgiveness. I don't post things like this very often, but I felt the need to respond to Scot and my thoughts would have hi-jacked his comment section. I'm trying to link to posts more often rather than ramble in long comments or introduce new links. (Thanks to my friends like L. L. Barkat and Andre Yee for tolerating this in the past.)

I barely know how to forgive because I've had so few opportunities to do so. My life has been almost completely free from hardship.

My mother on the other hand, God bless her, escaped an incredibly abusive family. She says she doesn't remember many details, but we know it was bad because she ran away from home when she was only ten. (She thought she was twelve. Unbelievable.)

Every so often we ask if she would like us to look up her blood relatives. Find out what happened to her parents and her four siblings. She just wants to forget them. And in many ways, she seems to have succeeded.

So here's the trouble. Our family tree has no branches on her side. I know a few names, but they are like characters in a book. I find myself needing to forgive people I never knew. People I don't want to know. And I need to forgive them for disappearing so completely.

My grandmother never baked me cookies.
My grandfather never read me stories.
They aren't ghosts.
They aren't bad memories.
They just don't exist at all.

How do you forgive that?

Hi Mark,

I read your comment on forgiveness on Jesus Creed and thought I'd come to your site.

I'm so sorry that your mom had abusive parents. She must be an incredibly strong woman. Most people I know who've had even one parent just stay with the abuse as a child, then spend their adult life TRYING to like/love the parents who were so awful to them. I've only known one other woman who totally cut her father off, even with other family members encouraged reconciliation. He did not change, and whether she "forgave" him, I don't know, but she certainly did not subject herself to him any more.

My other comment to you may be that perhaps you are also dealing with sadness, in addition to a need to forgive. Those holes in our lives where loving family and friends should be are hard to deal with.

So in addition to whatever it is that is prompting a need to forgive inside you, don't forget to grieve as well. Your loss is real. Don't be fooled by those who say "How can you miss what you never had?" You can and you will.

Peace to you.
Cheryl, thanks for those kind words. They came on a tough day.
All the more difficult, I think... forgiving the empty space without and within.
I think I'll struggle with it my entire life.

It's the struggle that started me writing seriously, you know? Into the Mountain is about my mom--it's what makes the project so incredibly difficult.

I need to write the truth of her story, but then the Christian presses look down on it for being immoral. The more honest I am, the more disgusted a lot of people get. And because it's about my mom, their disgust feels like a personal condemnation.
I can relate to her dilemma: I have basically cut off my family too. I have cut them off b/c I don't want my kids to be confused about what a family is. I have cut them off b/c I can't be the mother and wife I want to be if they remain a part of the picture. I guess I have cut them off b/c I don't want anyone to have to forgive them for anything else.
It's good to imagine a person you didn't know in good terms. Even if the memories aren't there, at least they are not painful.
Thanks for your perspective. I'll keep this in mind. I agree with cheryl in your obvious need to grieve. But it's kind of like "the sins of the father" thing, you know?
pandacanup, thanks for reading. (And thanks to Gina for bringing so many people together through her blog.)

Whenever I hear people talk about the "sins of the father" I get very nervous. I don't know what sins my fathers committed. I don't know what genetic behaviors I need to be on guard against. Of course, at the same time, I believe my environment has done a lot to help me escape the patterns of behavior that controlled them.

I just try to give my life away to others. To love my family and my kids and my friends and my church and my God. And to remember to keep an open mind about what it means to love.
Sorry, I didn't mean to make you nervous. I think I meant something completely different;namely, that the sins of generations past seem to affect generations after them. We all leave some kind of legacy. Unfortunately, you are dealing with repercussions of someone else's sin.
Anyway, I like what you said about giving your life away. "You can never out-give God." I've heard this many times, and it's true. May God bless you in your pursuit!
Pandacanup, you make me laugh. I didn't mean you made me nervous. I just meant you pointed out something that I am often nervous about.

But then again, I'm just a nervous guy. As Woody Allen says in Scoop: "My anxiety acts like an aerobic, so I never gain weight."

I agree with you completely that we have to deal with the sins of others--up to four or five generations, I think the Bible says.

Thank goodness God's grace extends to a thousand generations!
Take ITM to Moody Publishers... they did Madman. (See my interview at llbarkat.com, on editor Andrew Macguire.)

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