Could She Ever Forgive the Man who Murdered her Father?

It was the summer before my sophomore year of high school when the call came, ten months after my dad had said at my cousin’s funeral that nothing happens without God allowing it. That was the first time I’d heard my dad cry gutturally from the depths of his being, the first and last time I would receive spiritual guidance from him.

It was a Saturday morning when I heard my mother on the phone and knew something terrible had happened to my dad, my first love.  I dropped to my knees in my bedroom crying.  I didn’t know what I was crying about, I just gave in to the overwhelming feeling of dread and lack of control. My mom came to my room sometime later to invite me out for breakfast.  She was silent about the conversation I’d overheard.  I knew she was taking me out to fill my stomach before delivering the bad news and buying herself time to gather the words to communicate the news she’d received.  I tried to remain silent until she could gather her thoughts but then I heard myself asking what had happened.

My father had been murdered while away on business.  My parents at this time had been divorced for four years and I hadn’t been close to my dad since the age of six, but this didn’t seem to diminish the blow of the news nor the impact it would have on me for the next two decades. I don’t remember much of that day except that after my mom relayed the news, she drove and we cried.

My mom and dad did not go to church, but my grandmother had told me about God and prayed for me over the years. Because of her, I had believed in God from a young age, but I didn’t understand who Jesus was or what his death accomplished.  My doctor suggested attending a Christian youth conference where I began to understand who Jesus was, why he was significant and why I needed him.  But it wasn’t until a classmate had a life changing experience with Jesus that a spark ignited within me.  I became interested in knowing God personally and pursued a relationship with him, placing my faith in what he did for me.

That’s when my life began to change in a way that I didn’t know was possible. God’s spirit began working inside of me, making me think and act more like Christ. For several years I walked with Jesus but eventually I drifted away from him, carried away by my own selfish desires.

The tragedy of my dad’s death haunted me for years though I suppressed it with heavy drinking.  I did much crying and wailing in the company of alcohol.  Throughout my 30’s, there wasn’t a day that I was without it or going without its comfort.  It helped me feel the emotions that I had suppressed for many years:  sorrow, regret and hatred for the man who murdered my father.

Even though I had not been close to my dad prior to his murder, I struggled with the estrangement between my dad and me and how I thought I was supposed to feel and respond.  I didn’t know how to deal with my new reality and the pain it brought. I took up smoking my dad’s old cigarette butts that I found in his car just to remind me of him and to feel close to him.  I had been robbed of the chance to someday restore our broken relationship.  I lived with anger and rage every day.

One evening, after much crying, I decided that moment was going to be the last time that I would cry about what had been stolen from me.  I heard myself proclaiming freedom, though I didn’t know how freedom would come or what it would look like.  I decided before God that I would forgive the man who murdered my dad.  It was after that declaration that I could see God working in my heart and soul and I began to heal. One day, I felt that God was asking me to let go of the sadness and anger I felt and trust him to comfort me, not the alcohol. It took a couple of years before I was willing to trust him completely, but I finally did.  I discovered that he did understand and care about me and my loss.  I had been using alcohol as a substitute for what I really needed, God himself.

As the months and years went by and I prayed about this or that, God would drop the idea in my mind to reach out to the man who had taken my dad’s life. This went on for a while until I finally wrote to him in prison to let him know that I had forgiven him, that he could be forgiven also and could be reconciled to God through Christ if he wanted.

To my surprise he responded. I didn’t know what to expect and had I braced myself for the worst. He wrote that he had prayed and trusted in Christ for his salvation after he was incarcerated, but he struggled to forgive himself. He experienced daily remorse for his weighty and evil actions. He had waited 20 years to request forgiveness and express his contrition to me.  This was our first and last correspondence.

In all the years of trudging through the valley, I realized that God had been with me in the darkness. I write this because God has done what I could not have done apart from him. He has set me free from the anger and rage that I experience for so many years. He has given me peace and assurance that he doesn’t require from me what he cannot accomplish within me through his Holy Spirit. I am grateful that God has done in me what is impossible without him. He rewards those who trust and obey him. He wants us to be free and whom the Son sets free is free indeed!