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To forgive, you have to forget

After my first semester of college, I decide to spend part of my Christmas break with my dad in Los Angeles. C’mon who wouldn’t want to spend a few weeks in 70 degree weather after a tough first semester as a freshman in college? 

The fact is this was the trip to L.A. that changed my life forever.

I had spent summers and Christmas breaks with my dad for the last 10 years, but now I was 18 – a grown man (or so I thought).

I know you’re thinking I chose to go out there so that I could have a wild time hanging out in L. A. The fact is, I was afraid to leave the house. Dad was living in South Central L.A. at the time about a mile from the heart of Inglewood. This was the late 80’s and gangs ran the block. I was a kid from Nashville, and I didn’t want to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not to mention, I wouldn’t dare wear ANYTHING red or blue. However, my dad’s favorite outfit was of course, red sweatpants, a blue t-shirt and a red cap. I remember walking about 20 feet behind him when we went out for Mexican dinner on Crenshaw Blvd. I figured if there was a drive by, I wouldn’t get shot as long as I didn’t look like I was with him.

Ok, back to the reason this was the moment that changed my life.

I decided that on this trip, I wanted to have a heart to heart with my dad about our past and our future. I guess that’s what you do when you’re a grown man right?

It was late in the evening and we were hanging out on the couch when I said to my dad, “For my entire life I’ve heard how much I’m just like my dad. I’ve heard a lot of things about you over the years, and most of it was NOT good.” This statement really got my dad’s attention. I continued to say, “now that I’m grown, I really want to get to know you for myself. I want to develop a real relationship with you as a man. I want you to know that I forgive you for not being there for me growing up. I know you were young and you made mistakes that you wish that you could change. Dad, that’s the past and we can’t change what happened, so let’s just focus on building our relationship starting today.”

That was the moment. In that statement, I had erased 18 years of guilt for my dad and pain for myself.

Eighteen years of regret built up inside of him for not being there for me while I was growing up.

Eighteen years of me wondering why.

Eighteen years of us both pretending that all of the pain was erased and forgiven.

In that moment, I forgave him and most importantly, he forgave himself. I felt the power of the moment. I could sense the burden of guilt being lifted off my dad. I knew this was a moment that would change my life, but I didn’t really know how or to what degree. My dad says to this day he still remembers that moment as a turning point in his life.

We’ve all heard sermons in church about unconditional love as it relates to God’s love for us. Unconditional love is often mentioned at wedding ceremonies as the guiding principle to a happy, long-lasting marriage. Based on these teachings, I had a pretty good idea what unconditional love meant. I knew that it was a deeper love that remained committed no matter what the circumstances. It meant loving someone in spite of their mistakes and shortcomings.

But one day, I heard a preacher talk about unconditional forgiveness. His message really stuck with me, because I thought, “this means that you have to forgive someone regardless of what they’ve done to you or a loved one”. In other words, you have to forgive AND forget!

I immediately began to think of the families of those that lost loved ones to domestic violence or senseless acts of violence (drive-by shootings, gang related violence, vehicular homicide caused by DUI). Typically, you see those family members saying, “he/she/they need to pay for what they did to…” However, there has been a rare instance of unconditional forgiveness where the family member says, “I forgive him/her for what they’ve done. And I’d like to pray for them and their families as we all find ways to cope with this tragedy.”

Now let’s be honest. How many of us could truly say that after our little girl or boy has been murdered before fulfilling all the dreams or purpose life seemed to promise? This kind of forgiveness is rare. It’s not easy to forgive when you’re in this kind of pain, but some people are able to forgive unconditionally.

In my case, I feel that I was able to forgive my dad unconditionally, because I saw in his eyes the pain and regret he felt. I could hear it in his voice when I talked about the things going on in my life. I knew that he was young and immature and frankly not ready to be a real father to me. How could I truly hold that over his head when I could see the pain he was already in? Once he saw and felt my forgiveness, he was able to open up to me and be a better man, father and friend. And frankly, I was able to receive and return that love unconditionally.

In order to get to unconditional forgiveness, you first have to love yourself and others unconditionally. I challenge each of you, parents and children alike, to seek the power of unconditional love and unconditional forgiveness. Regardless of the pain caused or felt, you should not carry such a heavy burden around with you.

13 Comments For This Post
  • Jean Wilson
    April 11, 2011 at 10:07 pm

    Wonderfully and passionately written. I’m so very proud of you. Your writing moves me. I look forward to reading more.

    • sedriknewbern
      April 12, 2011 at 7:27 am

      Thanks auntie Jean! You and your children had a major impact on my life too, so be on the lookout for that story and the lessons I learned from my big brother Dave! Thanks for the support!

    • Mustafa
      July 14, 2012 at 12:58 pm

      I’ll tell you what I have really been deilang with a garden of bitterness in my life and I didn’t even know it was there. Just a few weeks ago, in a spirit of prayer, I asked God to reveal things that were blocking my life and one was a big patch of bitterness. Whew! As soon as I acknowledged it, I felt that instant burning sensation that comes with remembering the wrongs done to me and I asked God to forgive me for harboring resentment and even hatred and asked Him to remove those weeds from my life. It was a process one I’m still undergoing but God is good. Forgiving someone who wronged me long ago with whom I have no contact any longer came with a humongous sense of RELIEF! A burden rolled away and I have actually felt a deeper connection with the Lord. More than anything, I realized just how much my selfishness and pride (which demanded retribution) kept me from an intimate walk with my Lord.I have to regularly ask HIM to reveal these areas in me. I walked for a long time without even knowing they were there whether I tried to just ignore them first, I can’t even remember but I ask God to SHOW ME where I need to take a rake and cut back the weeds that keep me from HIM and HIS PLANS for me.

      • Kindra
        September 27, 2012 at 8:36 pm

        I happen to be wtriing to make you be aware of what a notable encounter my wife’s daughter developed reading your blog. She came to find such a lot of pieces, which included what it is like to have an excellent giving character to make others easily fully understand chosen hard to do subject matter. You actually did more than visitors’ expected results. I appreciate you for providing these warm and friendly, trusted, informative and in addition cool tips on this topic to Jane.

  • sedriknewbern
    May 14, 2011 at 10:33 am

    I can email this post to your email.

    • Camii
      July 14, 2012 at 12:46 am

      Two people innsattly come to mind when I think forgiveness My husband and my step-dad. All through high school, my step-dad (who has now admitted to this, since finding Christ) did everything in his power to make my life harder. I was already struggling with depression and self-esteem issues because I had just started to really make friends when they decided to get married. We had to move to the other side of the country. I had an even harder time making friends in California. I didn’t agree with a lot of things my peers were doing, I was extremely shy and just packed on another shell to hide my true self when we moved, and on top of that, my step-dad refused to ever let me leave the house without the rest of the family. He has changed a lot, but in some ways he hasn’t. I still have some problems with him, although I’ve learned better, more mature ways to deal with these problems. I’ve forgiven him for a lot but I am definitely still a long way from the end of that journey. As for my husband, we have just had a LOT f ups and extreme downs. With both people I listed, there was a lot of emotional/psychological abuse as well as small amounts of physical abuse. That is something that I have always been afraid of and felt I would never be able to forgive someone for. I CAN’T forgive someone for it. However, I have given it to God and he can cleanse that from our lives and our minds. Things are not fully resolved, but we are working to eliminate these things and to forgive and leave the past in the past.

      • Margaretha
        September 28, 2012 at 9:23 am

        shelbyMarch 12, 2009hellocaring for a fimlay who has been effected by cancerthe relatives of my own dont understand and have become resentful of the care provided for an ex-husbands fimlayhow to help to forgive myself of the neglect of my own fimlay while caring for an ex-hsuband-who is depressedthe children we are raising keeps us bindedthe relatives of myown have almost disowned me in the attempt to encourage them to care for one anotherin my absenceyikes-help-forgiveness now!

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