My dad wasn’t the greatest. He provided a good home for us, but he rarely had anything good to say to me or my siblings. Most of his comments came in the form of scoldings or critique. Even when I did something well, he would point out what I could have done better. I grew up feeling that it was impossible to please him and I became angry. In my teens I acted out in rebellion, only increasing his disapproval.
As the years went by and I grew into adulthood, I grew increasingly resentful.
He and my mother were not attentive grandparents, nor were they interested in my life or my children. We moved far away and didn’t visit very often. We spoke only occasionally.
And then my older sister got cancer. My dad spent many hours tenderly caring for her while her husband was at work. It gave me a new appreciation for him, seeing how he loved her. I traveled to say a final goodbye when she was nearing the end of her life. I thanked my dad for what he had done for her and he said to me through tears, “I would do the same for you.”
Around the same time, the Lord started working in my heart, convicting me of my bitterness. I had grown hard and angry towards several key people in my life. One was my father, and as I repented of my sin and was working to forgive those who had hurt me, I began to see my dad in a new light.
Understanding the background he came from made it easier to see why he acted the way he did. He grew up during the Great Depression in desperately poor circumstances. He valued hard work above all else. He saw no need to coddle his children or speak gushy words of love. He worked hard and provided a comfortable home for his family. In his mind, love was implied and assumed. Of course he loved us! Why should he have to say it out loud, didn’t his every action show it?
Later, we had a pivotal conversation where I confessed my bitterness and asked my parents for forgiveness. They were stunned and didn’t know what to say. My dad acknowledged, “There were probably things I could have done better.” They forgave me and our relationship was reconciled. But things didn’t improve right away. The habits of decades aren’t changed overnight.
It’s been four years since that conversation and my love for my parents is greater than ever before. The Lord has changed me and the way I relate to them is completely different. And slowly, I have seen a change in my dad as well. He calls regularly just to check up on us. He says kind words to me fairly often. This summer I had knee surgery and he was very concerned for my progress. I called him after my surgery, on Father’s Day, and he was so pleased to hear me sounding “just like myself.” I felt loved and cared for. In fact, I get emotional just thinking about that conversation!
We must not forget that Jesus can repair even the worst, most hurtful relationship. Nothing is impossible with our God! Love covers a multitude of sins (I Peter 4:8) and our God is the Healer. God honors our humility and obedience. In my case, he used my repentance and determination to love as a means of healing me and the relationship with my father.
My dad probably doesn’t have much time left, he is now over 90. How thankful I am for the renewed relationship we have and the love I have felt from him in recent years. If your dad is still living, don’t waste the opportunities you have now to love him and show your appreciation for him and even apologize if necessary!
Linda Graf is the author of Bitter Truth: My Story of Bitterness, Grace and Repentance. She wrote the book after the Lord freed her from a lifestyle of bitterness and anger. She blogs regularly at LindaGraf.org and enjoys speaking to groups about what God has done in her life.
On Twitter @lindagraf28