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Giving Thanks: The Gift of Forgiveness

Written by C.J. Neal on


Growing up I did not have the pleasure of having my father around. I was born in inner-city Indianapolis to two parents but they were young and neither one of them knew exactly how to do this thing called marriage, so amid many pressures, my father left when I was still a baby.

With the help of my extended family, my mother did the best she could. She never intended for me to grow bitter against my dad, but that’s just what happens when life starts hitting you in adolescence. As a young man, you start to realize that there are things that you should know but you don’t. And there is somebody who should have been able to be there to teach you, but he wasn’t. That’s when the anger starts to rise, and the bitterness begins to set in.

When I was younger, it felt like I saw my dad somewhat regularly. But as I got older, the visits and phone calls tapered off. The one time I saw my father as a teenager, we had a good talk over dinner and I left in good hopes that he would be there for my high school graduation. But when that day came it was just like the rest of my life experiences with him—no show.

On my way to college, I had resolved to just forget about my dad altogether. Yet again, life’s circumstances led me to a place where I desperately needed to hear the voice and advice of the one who had never given it. I found myself even more angry with my dad for his absence.

During that time, a trusted family friend (I affectionately call him my uncle, even though there is no blood relation) pulled me aside and asked, “CJ, when’s the last time you talked with your dad?” I gave him that look. You know, that, “Huh? You’re joking, right?” look.

But he didn’t stop.

“How are you dealing with that?” “Have you ever thought about forgiving him?”

At that point, I was definitely thinking, “Am I’m thinking forgiving him!? He’s got a lot of explaining to do before I can begin to forgive him.”

Uncle Tommy began to tell me about his relationship with his father and his journey of forgiveness. Unfortunately, he was not able to forgive his father until it was too late. He did not want me to have to live with the same kind of pain and regret.

“For as much as you forgive others, it will be forgiven you.” (cf. Matt. 6:14-15)

This is a verse that God used to spur me on to take the steps of forgiveness. How can I receive the forgiveness of God and not extend it to my fellow brother, even though he was my father and he had done me so wrong?

That one conversation with my Uncle Tommy started me on a journey of forgiveness with my dad. After a few months of prayer and processing, I finally got up the nerve to give him a call. In that call, I actually told him that I forgave him. Because of Christ and the power of His Word, we had the opportunity to start fresh, so we did.

A few years later it was time for me to get married. Though we were still getting to know each other,  I hadn’t asked my dad for anything until now. Rather than asking for money or another tangible gift, I simply asked if my Dad would sing at my wedding. Asking him this was one of the scariest things I had done in my life. I was asking my Dad to come through for me when he had not done so in the past. This was a huge test for both of us.

With very little interaction until the day of my wedding, my father showed up! And he showed out! He sang a beautiful song that had both of us in tears. In some ways, I couldn’t believe it. My mom and dad were in the same place watching me take the biggest step of my life. And my father actually had something to do with it! I was so glad that we had begun this turn toward forgiveness.

Over the years my father and I started to look like a normal family. We called each other on birthdays and holidays, and even on Father’s Day. We took our children to see him in Houston, and he visited us in Indy. With so much good going on in our relationship, I was not prepared for what was about to happen.

I got a phone call late one night from an uncle that I never talk to. It was my dad’s brother. My father had a heart attack and was in serious condition. Frantically, I hopped on the first plane to Houston to be by my father’s side. After a couple of days of prayer, the doctor pulled me aside and told me the six words no one wants to hear—”There’s nothing else we can do.”

I walked back into the room looked at my father and held his hand, all I could think about was, “I thank You, Lord, for forgiveness.” I couldn’t imagine being there in that moment with years of bitterness, hostility, and resentment. I was so glad that instead of the anger, the Lord had replaced it with love. It was because of that forgiveness that I was able to release my earthly father into the hands of my heavenly father with peace. Now, on this side, I can’t imagine how I would have felt if I had not listened to the Lord or to the counsel of a good, godly friend.

As we head into the holiday season, you may think of people you haven’t spoken to in awhile. Perhaps the Lord is asking you take a first step in the journey of forgiveness. By experience, I know that it’s not easy, but I can say with certainty that it’s very much worth it.

I can almost hear you saying, “Yes C.J., but it’s not that easy. You don’t know what they did to me.” And I hear you asking, “How can I go that far when they won’t even…?”

Before you go down that road, take a minute and think about how far Jesus came to forgive us even though we’ve NEVER done anything to deserve it! If we have received such love it is also our obligation and eventually our pleasure to give the same. Because we’ve experienced God’s forgiveness, He blesses us with the capacity to extend it to others.

Today, stop what you’re doing and give God thanks for the gift & power of forgiveness toward you! Then ask and trust Him for the grace to give it away.

C.J. Neal

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