There are times in life when we must choose whether we hold on to hate, or forgive and forget. Holding on to hate is the more common reaction. We want justice for a wrong done to us by someone else. We hope that karma comes around to shame and hurt all those that oppress us. Hatred can be deeply powerful. However, it is forgiveness that is more difficult. To quote Gandhi, “the weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” Often it takes more strength and willpower to let go of hate than to keep it.
I was born to unwed parents in 1966 in rural Ohio. At an early age, I was abused by my father. His actions were unforgettable and cruel. I was placed with my aunt in an effort to keep me with my birth-family, and later taken into the custody of Social Services. They found me a home with a new family. I was officially placed there on the day after Christmas in 1970.
I was raised in the classic American fashion at my new home. We had woods all around our house, so I could explore and hike with my two cousins. My dad would take us hunting and fishing nearly every weekend. We had cookouts, friends, and country music to keep us happy.
However, no matter how they tried, I always felt like an outsider, being the only adopted child. They knew that. They figured that compensating might work, but it only ostracized me more. I got more gifts and attention. I had nicer things and more opportunity. Even with everything, I felt like I had nothing. My feeling of exclusion went very deep, and played into all the relationships in my life. All the love that mom and dad provided could never have erased that.
I’ve had night terrors since my early childhood. I would wake up screaming and crying because I could remember what had been done to me. Everyone thought I would forget because I was so young, but I still remember the abuse in vivid images. I could never escape the pain, not even in my dreams. It left me alone and depressed through much of my childhood as I grew into a teenager.
The first time I ever felt true serenity was when I had my first taste of alcohol. I was twelve years old, and immediately hooked. It seemed to wash away my insecurities. It helped to blanket the nightmares of the abuse I had gone through. It made my life easier. I didn’t have to mature. I didn’t have to face the world. Most importantly, it let me forget my past.
Alcohol, and later drugs, became an addiction for several years. I could blind and soothe myself with both. That peace came at a cost. I lost my friends. I lost my home. I lost myself.
I lost track of my life. I was living on the streets, depending on local churches for food. I was at my lowest point when I met Rod and Vicky. They took me in and let me live with them. I never knew what they saw in me; even I despised the person I was. They didn’t give up on me though, and helped me find a will to live.
It was during the time I stayed with Rod and Vickie that I had started dating my wife Lois. It was because of her that I developed the motivation to try to change my life.
Even with my life on a better path, I kept drinking. I slowly learned how to be a functional alcoholic. I still needed it for the nightmares, and the pain of being an outsider. Dulling the shame of my past helped me survive.
I kept up the habit for years, until one day my wife had enough. She told me it was her or the booze. For nine years of marriage, she had been the best thing in my life. I couldn’t let her leave. She was the only thing that gave me meaning, and held everything together.
People always say that their lives are better when they quit, but I think that’s a lie. You learn to live with it, but the first few years were the hardest. I still craved a drink every day. It took four or five sober years before that itch finally started to fade.
During recovery, the nightmares had come back. Without my dependency on alcohol, there was nothing to smooth them over. My counselor told me that if I could face my past, it might stop the nightmares. So, at the age of 36, I decided to find my birth family. It was incredibly difficult because all the records had been sealed for decades. I had to search database after database to find the information.
I found my mother first. It was difficult to see her after all those years. She didn’t really want much to build a relationship. I think it was just too hard for her. She had been through too much with my father and her other children. She had never been able to heal after what had happened.
So I tried on my father.
When he picked up my phone call and I told him who it was, he immediately broke down. Over the sound of his sobbing, I told him that I loved him and I forgave him. He was shocked. He asked me, “How could you ever forgive me after what I have done?”
I told him the truth, “because a man like me has been forgiven.”
As a result of my faith in Jesus and my experience in Alcoholics Anonymous, I had learnt the importance of forgiveness. As part of my recovery, I had to ask for forgiveness from those I had wronged, and I had a long list.
In my opinion, there are two parts to forgiveness. The first part is letting go of all that hatred you have been holding. The second is restoring your relationship with that person. My birth mother couldn’t do that, but my birth father could. We worked to forget the past and build a relationship in the last few years of his life.
We let go of the past. Between hate and forgiveness, I chose the latter. I allowed it to be father and son again. I grew to love him dearly over the past decade or more, and he loved me back with all the tenderness of a father. Sadly he was later diagnosed with stage four cancer. But we were able to spend the last week of his life here on earth together as father and son, a truly wonderful gift.
On my way home from his house at the end of the week, I got the call that he had passed. They said he had gone peacefully. I know the power of forgiveness from my own experiences. I think I was meant to meet him so I could offer him redemption from his past.
It is not easy to forgive; in fact, it is the hardest thing you can ever do. Letting go of the pain and the want for revenge is the only answer. Holding on to all that hatred only breeds anger. No matter the transgression, you have to forgive to find your own healing.
This the story of Joe Young:
Joe now works and lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his wife and family. Joe went back to college and graduated in 2011 with a double major in business and biblical studies. He has a passion for philosophy, and is currently writing a book on moral theory.
Forgiveness Is the Attribute of the Strong
There are times in life when we must choose whether we hold on to hate, or forgive and forget. Holding on to hate is…
Life Log #2