Forgiveness. What do you think about when you hear the word? Does it bring up something painful from the past? Or does it give you a sense of freedom?
My friend has recently taught me a lot about the power of letting go. I wanted to share his story, because honestly, I don’t know anybody else who has been able to forgive as Matt has. Below, he shares his experience as a reply to my questions.
We both hope this empowers you to pursue forgiveness.
“My parents divorced when I was just six years old. It was a shell shock moment in my life. I had never even seen my parents fight or have any issues in their marriage. I am 24 years old and can't remember the last time my parents were even together, but what I do remember, is how ugly the divorce got.” - Matt
Q: What issue arose from this?
“The main conflict came from my father, who was actually trying to take revenge on my mother for leaving him, by taking her children away from her (he would never admit that to this day). This was both physically through court, and emotionally, by taking my sister and me to a counselor to try and convince us that she had abandoned us. With regards to my fathers parenting skills, it wasn’t that he didn’t try to be a good dad - it was that he didn’t know how to be a father while trying to take on my mother. We would always argue and he would publicly humiliate me in front of my peers. I was isolated from the outside world and never felt I could express how much I missed and loved my mother, or talk to others about how my father was raising me and my little sister.
The relationship from 2001 to 2013 would be one pain and anger with only acting civil and pretending everything was okay if we had to be around one another.
Poor parenting, manipulation, and using me as ammo to attack my mother was the painting of my life that my father was trying to hide. He did a very good job of covering it up but failed to do so with me. He tried to buy my love with big gifts and fancy vacations, but for some reason, I didn’t buy into this life. I was miserable, depressed and didn’t see an end to this road. He would even use our religion to justify his parenting actions, especially when he was wrong. That spawned a place for me to dislike God and not really want Him in my life.”
Q: At what point did you realize you wanted to forgive your father?
“In 2006 I accepted God into my life and started to think about forgiving my father. I felt the freedom of grace but still feared my father more than anything. I was not in a ‘forgiving mood’ when I got saved, but I knew that having a relationship with God was the first step in being able to heal and forgive.
I took my father to court in 2009 to battle for my mother’s custody of both my sister and I. At that point, it felt like an all-out war, and the toxicity of our father-son relationship finally was boiling over. The court came in favor of my sister and I in the case and my mother gained custody rights. My father got visitation, but I was old enough to say no to visiting if I wanted too, which I did for 4 years.
In that period of time away from my father, God was healing me through the love of friends, youth pastors, and other family members. I was finally able to be a kid, and also grow into who God was designing me to be. I was able to let go of my father's emotional grip and authority over me. I was able to see him as just another hurting human. I was able to piece the story of my father’s issues together for myself. I gave a lot of my anger to God and was given peace in return. This did not happen overnight, but took years of being able to gain control of my feelings, and have the confidence to stand up to my father.
Once college came around, my father wanted to be more involved in my life. For the first time, I felt like I had control over the relationship. However, there was a lot of pain that was still there and had not been addressed.
In 2014 I got really sick. My father drove to my school (4 hours) to spend time with me and buy the medicine I needed. While I was sick in bed, we finally talked about our relationship. I was uncomfortable at first, but I stomached up and had faith that God was with me in this conversation.
My father told me how he wished to have a relationship with me and that he was sorry for how things had turned between us.
This wasn’t the apology I was looking for or thought would come about, but I finally felt ready to take a step forward. I remember telling him I wanted to have a relationship too, but it was going to be at my pace.
Surprisingly he was very accepting to the terms and began to cry out of happiness.
I knew I needed to forgive him because I felt, in my heart, the desire to have a connection with my blood father. I didn’t want to show up at his funeral one day and not have spoken to him in years. I hated the idea that someone who I was supposed to love had hurt me, but I was also worried that I would never be able to live with myself if our issues went to the grave.”
Q: How did you actually forgive him?
“I knew that to fully be over my parent’s divorce, I had to not only forgive my father, but realize the situation - we would never be able to fully come to an agreement of what my father did wrong in the divorce. That’s hard to do. I wanted to feel justice and that he knew what he did wrong, but I had to come to an understanding that my father may never admit (or accept) his issues, and the pain that it caused our family.
All I knew was this - for me to find more healing and be at peace, I had to surrender to God the justice that I so badly wanted in my life.
I let God take control over my life and stopped worrying about what I couldn’t control. I put up healthy boundaries and took the life-giving medicine of surrounding myself with positive people. I then took baby steps visiting my father, helping him understand those boundaries of our relationship. I took confidence that I was in control of our relationship and that I was no longer going to be emotionally manipulated.
Forgiveness... it was a daily thing. I had to forgive him almost daily but that helped me to keep moving forward in life. I had to let go of the feeling that I was responsible for him and his actions. I had to be okay with saying no and standing my ground. I had to let God be responsible for my father and not me. I had to learn to love my father differently.”
Q: What do you feel like now that you’ve forgiven him?
“Today I feel free. Sure, some of the scares and sad memories are still there as one doesn’t fully forget the issues of the past, but I’ve been able to put it to rest so it is not the controlling factor of my life. I am able to do father-son things again such as hunting and talking about careers. The boundaries are still very much there, but they are healthy. There is still more healing that can probably be done, but its all about God’s timing.
This is my advice to people who have been hurt by a parent - the first step is accepting that it’s not your fault. God did not create parents to hurt their children. Forgiveness starts with grace for yourself. Have separation and healthy boundaries from the parent who is hurting you. Surround yourself with those who desire to pour life into you. Not the ones who just try to solve your problems, but the ones who tell you that you have a reason to get out of bed and face the day.
Take little steps and take your time. Remember that forgiving somebody will set you free. Waking up every day with anxiety, depression, and the feeling of victimization is not how you are supposed to live life. Instead, I urge you to talk to someone, pray with someone and take your steps to surrender those memories of pain. You may never even get the chance to have a real relationship with that person, and that will be a hard thing to accept, but your freedom and identity are of value, and you are not alone when you walk through this.”
Matt attended Liberty University and has a degree in Sports Management. He’s worked for the NHL, MLB, and NFL, and was a Division 1 Cross Country and Track athlete. Currently, he’s making his way back home to Colorado for work. His side gigs include photography and videography; check out his work on Instagram.