Relationships are tricky. No matter how hard you try, how much you read, how much you pray, there will always be tension to work through. The most difficult relationships of all time? In my case, I’d say father-son relationships. Years ago, I attempted to mend the wound left by my dad. Before we get to that, I have a few questions.
How well do you hold a grudge? Scale of 1-10. Do you roll your eyes at every maroon truck you see on the highway because of the one that cut you off back in ’06? Do you still hate that person who said that thing to your best friend in the 6th grade? Are you and your roommate still butting heads because they once ate your leftovers?
Okay, next question: How long do you hold a grudge? Maybe for some of you, it’s just a few days for the small stuff. Others of you, when you hear “grudge,” you think of something a little more serious. Something more painful. Family members who have hurt you or friends who have abandoned you. The longer we hold on to our grudges, the more they weigh us down. They become something called baggage.
So third question: What baggage are you carrying? For too many, the pain of an absent father has left us with tremendous baggage. And this baggage is heavy. We search and search for ways to lighten the load, but are still left in pain. The final question we are left with is: How could I forgive my dad?
My dad left my mom when she was five months pregnant with me. Growing up, I never thought anything much of it. It was just my mom and me, and I liked it that way. As the years went by, however, my frustration toward my missing father-son relationship grew.
More relationship advice for men.
Frustration toward my dad for bailing on my mom. Frustration toward my mom for not saving their relationship. Even frustration toward myself because the thought of having a son, me, couldn’t make him stay. The anger grew. It became more irrational, more displaced, more outrageous. With every added thought of negativity, my father-son relationship baggage grew heavier.
“How could he do this to us?” Heavier.
“Why doesn’t my mom do something about him?” Heavier.
“What could I have done to make this easier for my mom?” Heavier.
Once the weight became too much to bear, I decided to meet my dad.
It was weird how fast the process was. In just a few weeks, I had tracked him down and made dinner plans. The whole week leading up to this day I felt sick. The weight wasn’t getting lighter, in fact it was building. Every anxious thought was rising up, along with every insecurity from my absent-father issues.
“What if he meets me and still doesn’t like me?” Heavier.
“What if meeting him won’t relieve the weight of the frustration?” Heavier.
“What if I just can’t bring myself to forgive him?” Heavier.
The moment soon came and it was time for us to meet. I walked through a crowded restaurant toward a face eerily similar to my own, and for the first time I looked my dad in the eyes. Everything from there was a blur. There weren’t any awkward moments. There wasn’t much silence. It was surprisingly normal.
The key moment soon arrived, and I told him, “I’m sorry for all these years of hating you.”
Quickly he replied, “I’m sorry for all the pain I caused you.”
Oddly enough, in that moment, all of the weight was lifted. I had a relationship with my dad. I had let go of the anger. All pain was gone. I had never felt lighter; but then the next morning came. I found myself replaying the events of the night before in my head. I had gotten everything I wanted, but I couldn’t help but still feel angry toward him.
“Why couldn’t we have done that for the past 19 years?” HEAVIER.
“Was he actually sorry—or was he just being polite in the moment?” HEAVIER.
“I hope he regrets what he did to my mom and me the past 19 years.” HEAVIER.
My father-son relationship baggage was back just as quickly as it had left. I had thought meeting him would be so monumental I’d be forever changed. But I was quickly learning something different about baggage.
Letting go. Forgiving. Moving on. These are all choices we make. But they are not choices we make all at once. Every day we must make the conscious choice to let go of our baggage. We must learn to forgive daily.
Sounds impractical, I know. How could we forgive daily? Letting go of that pain was hard enough the first time. How could I let go of my baggage daily?
Here’s how to let go.
- Identify what makes your baggage heavier. Certain things are going to set you off. Things are going to make you question again. HEAVIER, HEAVIER, HEAVIER. Instead of hitting panic mode whenever these emotions come back up, acknowledge them. Take a deep breath, slow down, and clearly identify what exactly made you feel this way.
- Set boundaries. Once you have identified the things that replay the pain of the actions you’re trying to forgive, set boundaries. Some things will be too triggering for you. Set boundaries to guard your heart. (Proverbs 4:23)
- Share your story. After meeting my father, I was quite vocal to my friends about the emotional roller coaster I was riding. The majority of them also had an absent father, so they understood the pain. What I didn’t know was the change that was happening in them, too. Soon after I made the choice to meet my dad, three of my closest friends decided to do the same. Your story is powerful and inspiring. When you forgive and let go of your pain, share your story! You have no idea the impact you could make.
What baggage are you carrying?
What broken relationship needs healing?
What painful circumstance are you holding too tightly?
For many of you, it’s the infamous father-son relationship. For others, it may be something totally different. Whatever it is, you must learn to let go daily.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. Hebrews 12:1 NLT