Jim Daly: I wonder if any of you like me had a very difficult family member when you were growin’ up. It could be a parent, step-parent, even a sibling. If so, stay tuned. Today is the day that you could find healing in that relationship.
John Fuller: This is Focus on the Family with your host Focus president, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller.
Jim: John, today’s guest is Mr. Gil Mertz. He’s an author and a speaker who experienced what you might call a watershed moment in his relationship with his aging father. But we want you to hear him tell that part of the story. So, let’s just get to the message and afterward we’ve heard what Gil has to share we’ll talk to one of our counseling staff about how you can use these principles in your own life.
John: This is a real important program and here now is Gil Mertz, author of Forgive Your Way to Freedom on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Gil Mertz: Not long ago I got a phone call from one of my sisters, that our father was about to die. I was living about 2,000 miles away at the time and she wanted to know if I’d be going to the funeral. And my response to my sister was, “What would be the point?” I hadn’t spoken to my father in 10 years. I had no relationship at all with my father.
It wasn’t as though I was angry at my dad or he was angry at me. We just had no use for each other. I never met Grandpa Mertz. The only time I ever met my grandfather was at his funeral. I was a little boy and they said, “This is your grandpa.” Okay. I figured grandpa must’ve lived a long, long way away. That’s why we never saw grandpa. Turns out grandpa just lived a few miles from where 11 of his grandchildren lived.
What I did learn about my grandpa was, that he was a very violent man, very angry. Had a terrible temper and was a … just a mean brute. And that taught me a lot about my own Dad. Now I’ve tried to give my father a lot of grace. Raising 11 children in a small house would test the soul of any man. I also know that my father had a horrible model in his father.
But I also know that every one of us come to a point in our lives where we have to make a choice. I’m either going to continue to recycle the pain of the past, or I’m gonna choose a new path. Let me just say about my own father, I believe that he did the very best he knew how, but he chose poorly.
During my growing up years, my dad was also very angry. He basically had two setting—anger and rage. And you never knew which one was going to explode. It was just … it made for a very difficult home life. And as a young child, I reasoned, I must really be a bad kid to have a father who was constantly disappointed, constantly angry, constantly frustrated and constantly violent with his children.
When I became a young man, I just began to drift apart from my father. I played in 40 football games that he never came to. My graduation he didn’t come to. My wedding he didn’t come to. I remember him calling me the day of my wedding to say, “I have to work tonight. I just wanted you to know; it wasn’t that I didn’t care.” Where would I get that idea?
Father’s Days were always very … a big challenge, because you know, you’d go at the store and you’d see all of these Father’s Day cards that said, “To the best Dad in the world.” And I usually just chose a blank card and filled something in and sent it to my Dad.
But I remember one Father’s Day I went all out, because the Lord kinda revealed to me, that you know, despite my flaws, I’m an honest man. Where did I learn to be an honest man? I learned that from my Dad. I’m a hard worker. Where did I learn that work ethic? I learned that from my Dad.
And there were a number of other things that I began to realize that I actually had learned from my dad. And so, I put together a little sheet that said, “Seven Treasures I Learned From My Father.” And I sent it to him. And I never heard back from my Dad. I never knew if he even got it. That was the last time I had any connection with my Dad.
Ten years had passed and now he was about to die. And to be honest with you, I was okay with that. If I never spoke to my Dad again, that was fine with me. But it was not fine with God and God began to convict me that I needed to talk to my Dad before he died.
Now (Chuckling) I strongly resisted that. There is no way I wanted to reopen those scars and pull away at the scabs in my heart. Why would I want to go through all of that? No, God, let’s just leave it the way it is.
But the Holy Spirit continued to torment me until I agreed to go see my dad. Well, I agreed to see my dad on three conditions. Have you ever done that with God? “I’ll obey You Father, as long as You do these three things for me.” Well, the three conditions I made, was No. 1, I’d like my son to go with me. I would love for my son to be able to also say goodbye to his grandfather that he hardly knew. And to be honest with you, I was a coward and I really wanted his moral support.
The other condition that I had was, I said, “Father, I would like to look my dad in the eye and say to him, ‘I forgive you.’ But I know what would happen. My dad would become very angry and defensive and we’d get into a fight and is that the last conversation I want to have with my dad before he dies? No, God, it would be better just not to go there.”
The third condition that I had was that I would like my dad to look me in the eye and at least once in my life before he dies, to say he loved me. Well, I was 45 at the time. He had never done that before. Why would he do it now? And so, I decided that I would go see my dad.
I called my son and said … and I kinda put it this way. I said, “Jamie, I’d like to go see my dad before he dies. You wouldn’t want to go with me would you (Chuckling)?” Well, much to my surprise, he jumped at the chance and said, “I would love to go with you, dad.”
So, I bought my airline ticket, flew to Saint Louis. Rented a car. We took the four-hour drive to go see my dad. Actually the night before, I called my dad for the first time in 10 years to make the appointment.
And so, after 10 years of silence, my dad came to the phone. My heart is beginning to pound. Now what am I gonna say to my dad. I said, “Dad, this is Gilbert.” He said, “Yeah.” “Well, dad, I’m in town. I’d love to see you tomorrow. Would that be okay?” He said, “Yeah, if you want to. That’s up to you.” “Yeah, I want to, dad. When can I see you?” He said, “Well, I go to therapy at 11. Why don’t you come around 10:30?” I said, “How about if I come a little earlier, dad? Why don’t I come around 10?” He said, “Well, again, that’s up to you.” “Okay, dad, well, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
And I hung up the phone and I was furious with God. He didn’t care whether I was gonna come or not. And I said to God, “I knew this would happen. I knew if I put myself in this place, that this was going to happen. And this is just such a waste of time. This is gonna be a miserable trip the next day.” And about that time, my anger turned into self-pity. And I just began to cry before the Lord.
And I said to God, “Why is it so hard for my dad to love me?” And in that moment, God came into that room in a way that was such an incredible blessing. God has revealed Himself to me in ways that I needed in that moment. Usually God is my best friend, who loves me despite all of my issues. There are times when God is my guide, my leader. There are times when God is a strong disciplinarian when I’ve needed that. But in this moment, God was my agape Father. He was my daddy.
And I felt God’s arms surround me and God spoke to my heart, “I am your Father and I love you with all my heart.”
John: Today on Focus on the Family we’re listening to Gil Mertz and you can get his book, Forgive Your Way to Freedom, when you make a generous contribution of any amount to support the work here of Focus on the Family, call …. 1-800-A-FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459, or donate and request that book at focusonthefamily.com/broadcast.
End of Program Note
Gil: I had the most peaceful night’s sleep that night, but I wound up going with my son the next morning. We arrived at the facility where my dad was waiting to die.
And so, we finally got to the door and I felt my son’s hand on my shoulder. He said, “Dad, are you okay?” I said, “No, I’m not okay. I’m terrified. I have no idea what’s gonna happen inside that door when I see your grandpa. But I can tell you this, son, there is no one in the world I’d rather have going in there with me than you.”
We were met at the door by my dad’s roommate and he greeted us with a big toothless grin from Missouri. And he said, “You must be Gilbert.” And I said, “Yes, I am.” He said, “Here’s your dad!,” just like that. (Laughter)
And there he was, the only man I had ever feared, the biggest man I’d ever known in my life and now he was just this frail, dying individual in a wheelchair. And I was immediately moved with compassion. Walked over to my dad; gave him the … just the kind of traditional greeting. We sat in a … in a visitor’s center there and just small talk, but words weren’t coming. I didn’t have really many memories at all that I could exchange with my dad.
But I knew that we had some kingdom business to take care of and we were running out of time. So, I said, “Dad, could we go to your room, so I could sit down and we could just have a little private time together?” So, I wheeled my dad into his room and he had three things hanging on his wall and that was all that he owned in all the world. There was a picture of all of his daughters. There was a picture of all of his sons. And there was a picture that said, “Seven Treasures I Learned From My Father.” I guess he did get that.
I walked to the door, closed the door, locked the door. And I walked over to where my dad’s wheelchair was and I sat down right in front of him. And as I did, I saw something I never thought I’d see from my dad. He was now afraid of me. I don’t know if he thought I was really gonna tear into him or just what he thought, but I actually saw him kind of cower.
I took my dad’s hands and I didn’t plan this, but I just started crying and I began to kiss his hands. And I took his hands and I put ‘em on my face, so he could feel those tears. I said, “Dad, this is the last conversation we are ever going to have.” And he said, “Well, if [what] the doctors tell me is true, yes, this will be the last time we ever talk.”
And so, I said, “Dad, what do you think of me?” And he paused for a moment and he said, “Well, I think highly of all my children. There there’s Sue and Virginia.” And I interrupted him. I said, “No, Dad, I’m not asking you what did you think of all your children. I really want to know, Dad, what do you think of me?”
And he squirmed a little bit more and he said, “Well, I know you’ve been in the ministry a long time. And I know you’re a hard worker.” And he kinda leaned back in his chair as though, “I passed the test. That’s … that should be enough.”
But it wasn’t enough. I said, “Dad, I’m not asking you what I’ve done. I really want to know what do you think of me?” And he sat back in his chair and I could tell he didn’t have an answer. And I so, I looked at my dad and I said, “Last week I turned 45, dad. And I’d never once heard you say that you loved me.” He said, “You know, my father never told me that he loved me either.”
But I continued and I said, “Dad, you need to know that I have really struggled in my life because I never heard you tell me that you loved me. Because I just concluded, dad, that I must just be unlovable.” [Emotional] I didn’t mean to hurt him with that, but it did hurt a lot and he reached over and he put his hands on my cheeks as I continued to cry.
I said, “Dad, in my life, I’ve had a lot of people say some very nice things to me, but there is no one’s approval that means more to me than my father.” And you fathers who are listening to me now, that is so true of your children. He took a deep breath and he said, “I realize that I really failed you as a father.” And I looked my dad in the eyes and I said something to him that I waited 45 years to say. I said, “Dad, I forgive you.” And He wasn’t angry. He was genuinely set free by that pronouncement.
And then my dad looked at me and he told me something I had waited 45 years to hear. He said, “Son, I love you.” We both leaped up and just held each other and began to weep. My son, who had been seeing this whole thing, got up from the bed and put his arms around both of us. And the three of us just wept together.
And folks, I’m tellin’ you what happened in that moment was the lifting of a generational curse right there in that room. God had done exactly what He said He would do.
As we were leaving, I stood at the door and I looked at my dad, laughing with my son. And it was such a bittersweet moment. It was bitter because of all of the years that were wasted that we’ll never ever get back again. Oh, but it was sweet to see that lasting memory of my son and my dad, having that exchange together.
I walked over to my dad and I reached out my hand and I said, “Goodbye, Dad.” And he took (Weeping) my hand and he pulled me down to where he was and he said his final words to me. He said, “Never forget that I love you.” I planted a kiss on his head and I said my last words to him. I said, “I promise, Dad, I will never forget.”
And I turned and walked away, got outside the door and I leaned against the fence and oh, it was a thunderstorm of tears. I cried harder than I think I’ve ever cried in my whole life. My son came over and he embraced me and I’ll never forget what he said. He didn’t say, “Dad, I love you.” He said, “Dad, I know that you love me.” And I took him by the shoulders and I said, “Oh, son, do you know that? Do you know how much I love you?”
And he said, “Dad, you tell me all the time. Of course, I know that you love me.” And I said, “All right, son, you heard your grandfather say that his dad never told him he loved him. And his dad and his dad and his dad. This generational curse ends right here, right now, with you and with me. Swear to me, son, that when you give me my grandchildren, that you will surround them with love and nurture and they’ll know how loved they are.” And he said, “Of course, dad. I swear to you I will.”
Well, my dad did succumb to his cancer. That was our last conversation and I have never forgotten his words, that he loves me. Today, we have three grandchildren and I love to roll on the floor and wrestle and play. And I love to hold ‘em in my arms and tell them over and over again, that “You are so smart. You are so handsome. You are so good and above all, you are so loved.”
[I] love to take ‘em places and buy them things, but the greatest gift that I can give my grandchildren is that they will never, ever feel the scars of their grandfather. That curse was lifted the day I forgave my dad.
John: A message of hope from author and speaker, Gil Mertz on today’s episode of Focus on the Family.
Jim: John, this has been such a touching look at how we can all reach out and make peace with a family member who has caused us pain, whether that’s physical or emotional pain, maybe both. And I really appreciate Gil’s willingness to be so vulnerable in what he shared today.
You know, it’s interesting, the last time we aired this message, we heard back from several listeners who wondered why Gil didn’t try to lead his dad to the Lord, in that final conversation they had, before his dad passed away. We thought that was a great question, so we followed up with Gil and he said this:
“Ironically, my dad attended church every Sunday and would consider himself a Christian. I’m satisfied that he was at peace with God at the time of his death.”
John: Well that’s great to hear….. and really is wonderful for our listeners who were concerned for that man’s soul! But it makes me wonder: how can you go to church every Sunday and express to your kids say “I love you”? That’s really hard to wrap my head around.
Jim: I think that really demonstrates the power of modeling – as Gil said, his dad had a terrible role model in his father – Gil’s “Grandpa Mertz” — who was apparently a very angry and abusive man. And as Gil said earlier, Grandpa Mertz lived just a few miles away, but they never met! So Gil’s dad really had no ‘blueprint’ for how to be a great parent. And you know what? That’s a great rationale for Christian counseling! That’s where families can get the help they need to end this kind of generational dysfunction.
When we first aired this message I think four years ago, we thought it would be a good idea to add some insight from one of our own counselors, to ‘round out’ this presentation from Gil. So we invited Danny Huerta [(h)WHERE-ta] into the studio to answer a few follow-up questions. And before we share his insights, let me just remind you that we have an incredibly gifted group of almost 20 counselors here at Focus, who respond to over 2-thousand requests for help each month. Please pray for them! They’re deal with some very difficult issues that people are calling and asking for help with.
John: They are an amazing team. And Danny Huerta is now the Vice President of our parenting outreach, and he’s doing an outstanding job. I get to work with on the Focus on the Family Parenting Podcast. Let’s go ahead and dive into the recording as Jim asks his first question of Danny.
Jim: What are some things that a person can do, maybe their loved one, who is estranged, is gone; they’re deceased. It makes it difficult to reconcile, almost well, impossible. Or maybe that loved one is not willing. What do you do in that situation where there’s no receptivity maybe because of death or because they don’t want it? What does a person do to find some peace?
Danny Huerta: Jim this is hard. You gotta want the peace more than the revenge. And it’s really something that is difficult for people to do because of the distortions of our emotions. When clients come in sometimes I’ll put these glasses on that distort everything, and I say, “What can you see?” and they say, “Nothing.” And I go, “Whenever you have intense emotions, whenever abuse has been done to you, you can’t see. And so, you want to regain your sight, your life, and that’s the purpose of us entering into this.
Jim: How does a person do that?
Danny: The first thing is accepting the story, the narrative of their life. What has happened; writing down the abuse, the detail.
Jim: Acknowledging it.
Danny: Acknowledging it, yes, absolutely, looking at what has happened and looking at it as part of their story, whether good or bad. Then the second one is deciding, “Can I forgive, should I forgive, or could I?” and really if we look at it, should you? Maybe not. Could you? Absolutely. And so, let’s not get stuck in the “should” and let’s look at the “coulds.”
Jim: What do you mean should forgive? As a Christian, I read must forgive.
Danny: Absolutely, but the emotions tell you otherwise.
Jim: Is it a timing question? That maybe right now I don’t have the capacity to forgive? I would think a person has to work toward that forgiveness, maybe not today, but at some point.
Danny: You first put your will toward that, because that’s something you want, and then your emotions follow eventually. The third step that I’d tell somebody to step into is, to understand the other person’s life as their own, separate from yours.
Danny: Empathy, right. Letting yourself go into their world and understanding why they did what they did? And how has that impacted my truth? And that’s the fourth step we go into. What are the truths that have been lost in this? What lies have you chosen to believe about yourself, and other people? Is trust gone? Do you trust anyone? And do you want truth; do you want freedom? I mean, what are the truths that are there?
And then the fifth step, the most powerful one, is how can we find purpose and meaning in the abuse, and in the forgiveness, the process of forgiveness? And one of them is, you’re giving a gift to yourself of being able to live, living freely and accepting the gift that you’ve been given, as well, which is forgiveness from God, forgiveness from others. They’re in the same sentence.
Jim: And Gil’s story that we just heard, I mean, he broke the generational curse, really—
Danny: He did.
Jim: –of his grandfather abusing his father and his father not ever really expressing love for him.
Danny: What a great story. I don’t know if it brought tears to your eyes, but it did to me.
Jim: Well, and especially it does because I didn’t have that kind of dad. And for me and my boys, to be able to tell them I love them every day and to do the things I do with them, I have done it too, I have changed the course and I think that is the call of every man, to make sure that he is doing that job and really, the call of every person, every mom, too, to not carry that bitterness and that anger into your relationship with your own children. We’re all gonna stumble; we’re all gonna make mistakes, but can you in that moment, go to your children and say, “I’m sorry; I blew it?” And if you can do that, your kids will be okay.
Danny: Oh, yeah.
Jim: They’ll feel it. Thanks for being with us.
Danny: Thank you Jim; thanks for having me.
Closing Voice Track:
Jim: They’ll feel it. Thanks for being with us.
Danny: Thank you Jim; thanks for having me.
John: Some really practical advice from Danny Huerta, and he’s a good example of the kind of people that make up our counseling department. They here you they listen they offer biblically insights, they’re compassionate no matter what you are dealing with. If you need help, give us a call and schedule a time talk to one of those counselors.
Jim: Well, by God’s grace, we’ve got an amazing team, and if you have any issue you’d like to talk through, just give call us during business hours. We’ll have a counselor call you back as soon as possible, spend some time with you on the phone, and then refer you to a like-minded counselors, hopefully right there in your area.
We receive over 25-thousand counseling calls per year – that’s a lot of hurting people asking for help! – and we are listener-supported. So consider helping us, and others, with a generous gift. And when you make a donation of any amount, we’ll send you a copy of the very practical book Gil Mertz has written, it’s called Forgive Your Way to Freedom: Reconcile Your Past and Reclaim Your Future. That’ll be our way of saying “thank you” for supporting the ministry and helping others.
John: And you can do that when you call 800 the letter A and the word FAMILY – 800-232-6459 or donate online and get Gil’s book at www.focusonthefamily.com/broadcast .
Well next time we’ll have Karen Ehman ([EE-muhn]) and her husband Todd provide some encouragement for your marriage!
Mrs. Karen Ehman: And we have known people in our life who’ve become Christians in part because they said they saw the gospel and they messed up but always forgiving keep showing up marriage. That’s what it’s about when you can keep that perspective in mind those bad times aren’t so bad anymore.
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