Becky looked forward to her wedding with a mixture of excitement and sadness. Mark was the man of her dreams, and she was thrilled about becoming his wife. But there was another man she had thought about many times over the years, and his memory brought mostly pain (all names have been changed).
Becky’s father, Frank, had abandoned the family when she was only five years old. Week after week she longed to see him, to feel his warm hugs and to tell him how much she wanted him to come home. But he could hardly bear the pain of such visits, so he eventually moved to another city. As a result, Becky had not seen her father for nearly twenty years.
As time passed, her loneliness was mingled with bitterness and a fear of getting close to others who might also abandon her one day.
Becky shared these feelings with her pastor and Mark during premarital counseling. Drawing on peacemaking principles he had learned through our training, Pastor Lee helped her to work through many of the things that might cast a shadow over her marriage.
But he knew that there was one special step that would especially help her to lay the past to rest: forgiveness.
So just two weeks before the wedding, and with great trepidation, Pastor Lee decided to call Becky’s father. He explained that he was providing premarital counseling for Becky and her fiancé and asked if he and Frank could talk. To his surprise, Frank welcomed the conversation.
As they talked, Pastor Lee realized that even though Frank was not a Christian, the Holy Spirit had been preparing him for this moment. Sensing a softness in Frank’s heart, Pastor Lee said, “Wouldn’t this be an ideal time to seek reconciliation with Becky?”
Pastor Lee prayed silently as Frank wrestled with hope and fear and eventually said, “Do you have Becky’s telephone number?”
First Contact in Twenty Years
That evening Frank dialed Becky’s number with trembling hands. When she answered, he said, “Hello, Becky. This is your father.”
Afraid of what she might say, he waited. After a few moments, he heard a word he had not heard for years.
“Daddy … is that you?”
The eagerness in her voice swept away Frank’s fears, and soon he was telling his daughter how much he missed her and how sorry he was for abandoning her. God filled her heart with a love that covered all his sins, and she gladly forgave him in a flood of words and tears.
As the conversation neared its end, Becky said, “Daddy, I know it’s expensive to travel on such short notice, but would you please come to my wedding?”
“Of course!” he said. “I want very much to meet your Mark.”
After she hung up the phone, Becky suddenly realized what she had done. How would her mother, her stepfather, and her brothers and sisters react to Frank? None of them had talked to him for years. Had she just ruined her own wedding?
When she poured out her fears to Pastor Lee, he reminded her of God’s faithfulness and pointed out that he was obviously working in the situation. Together, they met with and prepared the rest of her family to receive Frank.
The Walls Come Down
Frank flew into town just before the wedding, so there was little time for personal conversation before the ceremony. He had no expectation of walking Becky down the aisle, but they exchanged warm smiles as she walked past him on her stepfather’s arm.
All day long, God was working in Frank to give him the courage to do something Pastor Lee had suggested during a second conversation.
During the reception, Frank stood up and cleared his throat. Raising his glass toward Becky’s mother, he said, “I want to propose a toast to Susan for her diligence and character, and for the wonderful job she has done raising our children.”
He lowered his glass and looked around the room. Swallowing hard, he continued, “I also want to ask forgiveness for all of the pain I caused so many of you through my selfish actions.”
He then turned toward Pastor Lee and said, “Finally I want to thank Becky’s pastor for loving her enough to reach out to me so that I could be here on this very special day.”
There was not a dry eye in the room as Becky ran into her father’s arms, thanking him for the best wedding gift he could have ever given her. Other family members went to him as well, expressing their forgiveness and pushing aside the walls that had divided their family for twenty years.
Pastor Lee was wise enough to realize that these initial actions, wonderful as they were, would not heal all of the past wounds. So he spent many hours with various family members in the weeks that followed helping them to process their emotions and concerns, confess their own sins, and have the conversations that led toward complete forgiveness. Through it all, he kept pointing people to the gospel, which provides the inspiration, the model and the power for true forgiveness (see RW and the Gospel).
The most important reconciliation took place a month later, when Pastor Lee and Frank were talking once again. God had been working deeply in Frank’s heart, enabling him to see how Jesus and his gospel had restored him to his family. Finally, on this special day, Frank confessed his sins to God and put his faith in Jesus Christ.
When Becky heard the news, she knew that the reconciliation process was complete. By God’s grace, she and her father would never be separated again.
What about you? Is there someone with whom you need to be reconciled, even if the breach took place twenty years ago? Whether you go to ask for forgiveness (see the Seven A’s of Confession) or to offer forgiveness (see the Four Promises of Forgiveness), your example may be exactly what God wants to use to open the way for someone you know to be reconciled to him through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Why not do it today?
~ Ken Sande
PS – During our 2021 Annual Conference in September, Rankin Wilbourne, one of our outstanding keynote speakers, gave two of the best messages on forgiveness I’ve ever heard: Forgiveness, Justice and Sowing Peace (Part 1) and Forgiveness, Justice and Sowing Peace (Part 2). If you’ve ever been deeply wounded by someone you loved and trusted and then struggled to replace bitterness with forgiveness, Rankin’s personal journey of forgiveness will challenge, inspire and guide you toward the forgiveness that flows from the gospel itself.
For free access to recordings of all of the conference keynotes and workshops, click here.
- Does Becky’s story seem impossible? Why might many people feel that way? What does our doubt about stories like this say about our faith in the goodness and power of God?
- Becky’s story is actually quite true. How does it illustrate the truth of Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
- What do you think about Pastor Lee’s actions? How would you describe his character and his faith? How did he imitate Jesus Christ? (see Eph. 2:11-22; 2 Cor. 5:14-21). Do you know of a situation in which you could play a similar role? What is holding you back?
- Is there a broken relationship in your past that might be reconciled if you took the initiative to go and confess how you wronged that person? If so, the Seven A’s of Confession provide a simple pattern for making an effective confession (see Prov. 28:13; 1 John 1:8-9).
- Is there a broken relationship in your past that might be reconciled if you took the initiative to go and offer forgiveness to someone who has wronged you? If so, the Four Promises of Forgiveness provide a simple pattern for offering forgiveness in a way that reflects the gospel of Christ (see Rom. 5:8; Eph. 4:30-32).
- If you would like to develop the relational skills that would improve your ability to promote peace and reconciliation in your circle of influence, please take advantage of the training offered through our online course, Discovering Relational Wisdom. If you would like to help others develop improved relational skills, please take advantage of our Discovering RW 3.0 Group Study Set.
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© 2021 Ken Sande
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