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Forgiving Your Parents (Part 2 of 2)

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Forgiving Your Parents (Part 2 of 2)

Author Leslie Leyland Fields offers hope and encouragement to those struggling with the pain of a broken relationship with their parents in a discussion based on her book Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom From Hurt and Hate. (Part 2 of 2)

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Episode Summary

Author Leslie Leyland Fields offers hope and encouragement to those struggling with the pain of a broken relationship with their parents in a discussion based on her book Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom From Hurt and Hate. (Part 2 of 2)

Episode Transcript



Leslie Leyland Fields: I feel like the process of forgiving my father and loving my father showed me the heart of God. I got a glimpse at the heart of God and maybe the closest glimpse of the heart of God that I’ve ever gotten.

End of Teaser

John Fuller: That’s Leslie Leyland Fields and you’ll hear more from her today on how she learned to love … on how she learned to forgive and love her father after a very difficult childhood. This is “Focus on the Family” with your host, Focus president and author, Jim Daly and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, Leslie has such an incredibly powerful story about her family, her family of origin and then the wounds of a father. And if you didn’t catch last time, you need to listen to it, get the download, get the CD, whatever you need to do. We covered a lot of that pain in that program, but she and her siblings, some of her siblings encountered abuse of all kinds and that probably says enough right there.

Many of you are living in a place where there is that pain and we want to talk about how to let go of the bitterness today, how to find that relationship with Jesus Christ that gives you the foundation to let that pain go and to not hang on to it. And even if you’ve been a Christian for a long time and Leslie, our guest brought this out last time, you can go 10, 20, 30 years, like Jonah, and never do the right thing. And we’re gonna talk about how you do the right thing and how you see the Lord move in your life today.

John: And if you’re dealing with shame, with guilt, with pain that has not been addressed, we have caring, Christian counselors here at Focus on the Family and we would invite your phone call. Call to talk to one of them, to get the CD or go online and you can find more, as well as the download or the mobile app, so you can listen to the first part of the program. Our number is 800-A-FAMILY.

And a bit of background about Leslie, she’s a writer and a speaker and she and her husband have six kids and they live in Alaska, where they have a commercial fishing business. And Leslie has written a number of books. The one that forms the foundation for this journey of forgiveness is called Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate.


Jim: Leslie, welcome back.

Leslie: Thank you again.

Jim: I so appreciate that emotion I felt yesterday as you talked about the pain of your childhood. For those that didn’t catch the program last time, just quickly paint for us that picture of your childhood and what was the setting like and what were you experiencing emotionally as an 8-, 9-, 10-year-old girl?

Leslie: We were a large family. There were six kids and we lived in rural New Hampshire and we were very poor, so there were issues with, you know, food and clothing and all of that, which made school very, very difficult.

But my father was gone a lot, but when he was present, I would say he was present in all the wrong ways. There was abuse that was going on and at the same time, we were kind of invisible. He just did not connect to us at all, showed no interest in us. He was just kind of a void, a blank.

Jim: So, really, a non-father in many ways. I mean, just, he contributed to your creation, but that was like it.

Leslie: But that was it and in some ways, you know, when he was gone, it was much better, but to have him in front of you and not be interested to talk to you or not care about you or not do anything to help you, that’s really hard.

Jim: in fact, we talked a little bit about that, how those scars, we can go years without realizing how deep they run. And we put a lot of makeup over them to pretend we’re doing fine, that we’re doing well, but in reality, those are deep wounds, aren’t they?

Leslie: They really are and I look back and I know, I still struggle to this day with—

Jim: I see the tears in—

Leslie: –some–

Jim: –your eyes—

Leslie: –yeah–

Jim: –right now.

Leslie: –yeah, just a sense of worthiness, that you are worthy to be loved.

Jim: Yeah.

Leslie: And because when you don’t get that from your parents, it’s hard to get that. It’s hard to make up for that.

Jim: Well, and that’s typically what happens, I think especially for women, that tends to be the way that they go. They’re looking for love or affection or attention in all the wrong ways.

Leslie: Yeah.

Jim: Did that happen for you? You married young, but was that a compelling need for you to find affirmation–

Leslie: It was.

Jim: –in men?

Leslie: It was and that’s why I married so young. I didn’t intend to, but I realized I had no sense of self. I had no sense of identity on my own. I had to be with another person to have a sense of worth and a sense of belonging and a future. I could not imagine a future on my own, because I was nothing. I was nobody.

Jim: That is so hard to hear, because you know, the Scripture’s clear that we’re made in God’s image and the Lord knows you and it was so wonderful as you shared, when you were 13, you embraced Christ. You weren’t a Christian family. You didn’t go to church, but the Lord found you. He was fishing for you, wasn’t He? (Laughter) And He found you in that place as a 13-year-old heart that was crying out to Him.

Leslie: Yeah.

Jim: You talked in your book, in fact, about confessing the sins of your father and how important that is. Given your background, that seems like a tall order. I mean, how do you do that? And why do you do that, confess the sins of your father’s?

Leslie: Yeah, it’s a really important first step and I think a lot of people want to, you know, there’s this kind of slogan out there, you know, “Forgive and forget.” And this idea that you just sort of put it all behind you. You turn resolutely in the other direction. You know, you go to Alaska. You do what Jonah did. You run away.

But we have got to stop running and turn around and look behind. If we want to move forward, if we want to turn to the right, we have to first turn to the wrong. You have to acknowledge the wrong before we can recognize the right.

Jim: How did you do that?

Leslie: I would have to say, actually it was kind of in the process of writing this book in the very early stages of writing this book. And it’s kind of a scary thing and I know people listening, you know, it can be a hard thing to turn around and to open that closet door, the door to that dark room that you’ve shut so long ago. But if you don’t open it and go into it and really see what’s there, really take an accounting of what’s there, you’re not gonna move forward.

Jim: So, that would mean list those things?

Leslie: It can take, you know, several forms. You can actually literally write it down, list it. You can tell it to a friend. You can tell it to your pastor or to a counselor. I think there are some people who have experienced such trauma in their life, they really need to be with a counselor of a therapist–

Jim: To walk through that.

Leslie: –to walk through. Okay, these are the things that happened and to just name them as clearly as possible. We can’t forgive those things until we know what are we forgiving?

Jim: Do you think at times and I’ve been challenged in this with my dad and my stepdad and my foster dad, all of which failed me every turn and I was, you know, 8-, 9-years-old and I can remember even with the foster dad telling the social worker that I had tried to kill him and it was totally fabricated. And I thought I was a pretty good boy. I was just tryin’ to keep my grades up and not create a ruckus and why would this guy, this man be comin’ after me like that? I couldn’t understand it as a 9-year-old.

And it is a tough question to say, “Have you really forgiven them?” And I think I vacillate with whether or not I just nailed the door shut. I want to be the big guy and say, “Oh, I’ve definitely forgiven him” and I think I have, but sometimes I’m not sure. What’s the difference? And how do you know emotionally if you just kind of nailed the door shut on your past, versus opening it like you were describing?

Leslie: Well, I think we have some misconceptions about forgiveness and I think one is that, once we’ve forgiven, like it’s a done deal, like it’s over. It’s done, right? You’ve released all of your father’s or mother’s or whoever’s sins against you. You’ve let them go and now life is wonderful and beautiful again and you know, and that’s way too simplistic.

Forgiveness I think is almost a daily thing. You know, in the Lord’s prayer and Jesus, you know, instructed us, this is how you pray. And we get to the part in the prayer where He says, “Give us this day our daily bread” and the very next thing is “And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against [us].” I think there’s a reason that comes right after, “Give us this day our daily bread,” ’cause I think forgiveness is daily.

It is the moment that hurt comes back to your mind or your heart. In that moment you have a choice to make. You’re either gonna hold onto that hurt and you’re gonna let it have power over you and you’re gonna let it fester and bleed out or you’re gonna let it go. You’re gonna return it to God and let God deal with it.

Jim: Well, and in that context, you talk about your father’s humanness–

Leslie: Yes,

Jim: –and coming to grips and that probably comes later when you’re an adult and you can understand the shortcomings of our human state, the fact that we live in a fallen world as fallen creatures. This wasn’t what God intended.

Leslie: This is such a huge piece of it, Jim. And this is how God broke my heart toward my father. I thought, you know, when I imagined, saw my father in the hospital as this broken old man, I thought back to the parable of the Good Samaritan. And we think, okay, we see ourselves in that story, right? We’re the one who sets off on a road down to Jericho and we’re the one who gets jumped, you know, by the bad guys. And we got beaten up and robbed and we’re left there, bleeding by the side of the road.

And that’s how we feel, right? We’re wounded and we’re hurt and we’ve been left there. But here’s the thing. If we lift our head up and look over to the other side of the road, you know what? I saw my father lying there. I saw my father lying there, more beaten up, more bloody, more wounded than I was and I began to recognize how hard his life has been. He has not been loved. Of course, he can’t love. He has not been loved.

And God broke my heart that way and I think that’s what we need. I think we need to recognize whoever this person is, whether it’s our mother or father or our foster mother or whoever it is who has deeply hurt us and wounded us, they themselves are deeply hurt people. They are deeply wounded people and they are so bankrupt themselves.

Jim: Well, it gives you that empathy and it helps you manage those emotions a bit better, so I think that’s a beautiful point to remember the humanness of the person who has perpetrated, you know, bad things toward you. It is unfortunately, the state in which we live. Let’s move to the end of your dad’s days, because I think that part of the story really gripped me.

Leslie: Yes.

Jim: And you had, had no conversation with him, no reconciliation and you found out that he was about to die. Talk us through those emotions and what happened.

Leslie: Yeah. You know, when I got that phone call from my sister that he had congestive heart failure and I realized, oh, time is short. Lord, I, you know, I’ve gotta move here. And I actually had about two years before my father died, two years that I got to love him and to create a relationship with him, which I had never had a relationship with him at all.

Jim: What did that look like in terms of the relationship?

Leslie: Yeah, well, of course, I live in Alaska and he was in Florida, so it meant several trips. I flew down to see him. I saw him in his nursing home, had a wonderful visit with him there, with my sister, my other sister. And then he had a stroke a few months later and I flew down to be with him in a rehab facility.

Jim: Can you remember that first time that you flew down to see him?

Leslie: Yeah.

Jim: I mean, and how many years had it been—

Leslie: Oh, yeah.

Jim: –since you had seen him?

Leslie: I think it had been 10 years, at least 10 years.

Jim: And so, you walk into that hospital—

Leslie: Yeah.

Jim: –room.

Leslie: Yeah, I walk into that room and it’s really scary. I’m gonna meet this person, who I’ve run from all these years. And you know, what’s he gonna look like? Is he gonna be the same person, you know? Is he gonna look me in the eyes this time? Is he gonna speak to me?

Jim: Is he gonna say your name?

Leslie: Yeah, is he gonna say my name? And so, you know, it’s sort of a mixed review. He was happy to see me, which was very exciting to me. My father was happy to see me. There wasn’t much eye contact. There was some conversation, but you know, he was still my father. He was kind of the same person. You know, you kinda hope that all those years, you know, you’ve changed and grown. All these things have happened in your life and you kinda hope, you know, that something has happened for him, but I have to say, he was very much the same person. So, there’s kind of a disappointment there, too.

Jim: How did you walk out of there with any hope that it could be better?

Leslie: Well, that first visit, I wasn’t very hopeful that this was going to be better. I thought, well, here we are again. I’m still pretty invisible, but I returned home and the Lord continued to work in me. I mean, that’s the wonderful thing. The Lord never gives up on us, you know. There’s the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit kept sort of pricking my conscience and I kept seeing him alone in that nursing home. He is just completely alone.

And so, I started writing letters and sending cards and sending him gifts. You know, his birthday would come. I’d think, no one’s gonna send him any gifts. I wanted to have a gift and I started this process of giving, of just giving to him.

And it became, I don’t want to say it became addictive, but it became this wonderful thing. I got to give to my father, to this poor man who lived in a nursing home, who nobody loved. I was starting to develop a concern for him and to worry for him and to worry about his health and this is all new. I had never, never had any concern about my father before.

Jim: And we’ll get to the end of the story, but what about that anger? How did you deal with that anger? It sounds like you’re on a great path. You’re writing letters to your dad. You’re finding that forgiveness. Did you deal with the anger? Did that ever become an issue that you had to say, it’s okay to be angry? Or I’d better not be angry?

Leslie: I think it is okay to be angry. I think that’s really important and I grew up around a lot of anger, so anger was like the thing I always tried to avoid and I always kept everything sort of shut up inside. But you know, we talked earlier about confessing the sins of those who have hurt us. Anger is probably gonna be a part of that.

It’s okay to have that righteous anger, that you were hurt, that these things were done to you and we should be angry about that. We should be angry when sin is loose in the world, harming and hurting.

Jim: How do we keep that in a godly perspective though? I mean, you gotta do something with that anger.

Leslie: You do; you do. You can’t stay there and I think, you know, we talk about forgiveness as a process and as a journey and it’s really important to think of it that way. Yeah, so there’s gonna be some anger along the way, but you can’t stay locked there. And honestly, I have to tell you, Jim, if you talk about forgiveness, where forgiveness comes from, it comes from Christ’s own forgiveness of me.

Jim: What does that mean? Assume I’m hearing this and that I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about. What do you mean, Christ’s forgiveness?

Leslie: Yeah, you know, it’s easy for me to name like all the sins of my father, but the truth is, I am a sinner. I’m just as rotten as he is, you know. There’s this story, the parable in the Scriptures, which is so good. It kinda shows us who we really are, where all of us are standing before a king, you know, this holy, perfect, righteous king and here’s our debt sheet, you know. I’ve got a debt sheet and you know what’s on my debt sheet? I got a lot of pride there. I got a lot of selfishness. I got gluttony on it. I got the seven deadly sins. It’s all on there, breaking the Ten Commandments, oh yes, every single one of them. That’s me. I’m a sinner before God.

And my father’s standing next to me. He’s a sinner before God and you know what? We are equally sinners before God.

Jim: Leslie, that was the first of three trips that you made, as a mom with young children, all the way from Kodiak, Alaska. That’s a big journey.

Leslie: It was.

Jim: Talk about that last meeting with your father.

Leslie: I knew it was the last time that I would probably see him. His health was failing and it is such a long way to go and it costs so much money and I’m, you know, leaving all my kids behind. I can’t just … I can’t just do that, you know, at the drop of a hat, so I knew it was gonna be my last visit with my father.

And I was still, you know, the daughter part of me is still hungering for affirmation, still hungering to hear my father say, “I love you” and to say my name. And you know what, Jim, that didn’t happen.

Jim: Yeah.

Leslie: I told him that I loved him and you know, I said, “Dad, I have to go now. I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again, but I want you to know that I love you.” And (Weeping) I kissed his head and I left and he never said goodbye and never said, “Thank you for coming.” And he never said, “I love you,” you know, all those things–

Jim: Yeah.

Leslie: –that you want to hear. So, it’s not the way that I was hoping that it would end.

Jim: Yeah, I mean, I could feel the pain in your heart and the reality is, that’s not always gonna be the end of the story.

Leslie: Yeah.

Jim: But your responsibility is to do what you’ve done in forgiving him and moving forward, but it still leaves a big hole.

Leslie: Uh-hm, yeah.

Jim: That hole doesn’t go away.

Leslie: Right, it doesn’t go away completely, but there is good here. There’s wonderful good, you know. I have to say that for those two years that the Lord called me back into my father’s life, they were a wonderful two years, because for the first time in my life, I got to love my father.

Jim: Right.

Leslie: I got to love him and maybe he loved me back and he just couldn’t show it and I think that’s probably true. He just couldn’t show it, but I got to love him and love is not just, we think of love, especially as sons and daughters, we think of receiving love. We’re so hungry for it and need it. We need that affirmation, but the whole other part of love that maybe is even more powerful is us loving others.

Jim: Yeah, your father did die. You talk about your regrets in that regard. Fast forward the film for us. Tell us what was happening and how he passed away.

Leslie: He did die and I was teaching in a graduate seminar, a two-week long seminar and he died just shortly after that. I very much wanted to be there, but my own family dynamics were such I couldn’t. I had to fly home to Kodiak. I couldn’t be there with him when he died. And I was really sad about that. I’m so sad that I wasn’t able to be there at his death.

Jim: Your siblings were there.

Leslie: But two of my siblings were and I’m so grateful, because this man who loved nobody I don’t think in his life, he wasn’t really able to love others, he did not die alone. And two people who loved him very much were there at his bedside, who came to love him in his later years.

Jim: Both Christians–

Leslie: Yes.

Jim: –these siblings. That’s interesting.

Leslie: Yep.

Jim: Talk about that need to honor your mother and father. It’s a biblical truth. It’s one of the Ten Commandments, to honor your mother and father. Why is that important?

Leslie: You know, the easy answer is and you won’t like this answer (Laughing). The easy answer is ’cause God tells us to do it, right. So, there’s that obedience, that somehow you know, there’s lots of times when we don’t understand why should I do this? And that’s a good place to fall. Well, God told us to. You know, sometimes it’s not obvious.

But when we love and honor our parents, we are bringing healing to a broken world, because in, you know, in a human scale of things, maybe our parents aren’t honorable. Maybe they’re not very honorable and we can multiply that dishonor by also dishonoring them. Or we can come to them in love and mercy and honor them, even though they may not earn it or even deserve it from a human perspective.

Jim: Well, and that’s a beautiful place to end, because that is where it all comes back to, is what has God has asked of us?

Leslie: Yes.

Jim: Regardless of what someone has done to us, what does He require of us as followers of Christ? And you have so beautifully displayed that and again, I’m so heavy-hearted for all the difficulty that you went through personally, your siblings went through horrible abuse and yet, look how the Lord has used it in several of you, not all of you, but several of you, to bring about something beautiful from those ashes.

Leslie: Oh, absolutely and you know, Jim, God showed me how incredible His mercies are. God loved my father and God pursued my father till the very end of his days. God had people beside my father, sharing the Gospel with him, sharing the love of Christ to him. And it blew my mind that God would love my father that much. And that’s changed my life.

Jim: Yeah.

Leslie: And it’s opened my heart and given me the ability to show mercy to others, who maybe haven’t earned it, but to just pour out this mercy that God has poured out on me and so many others. And so, I feel like the process of forgiving my father and loving my father showed me the heart of God. I got a glimpse at the heart of God and maybe the closest glimpse of the heart of God that I’ve ever gotten.

Jim: Even through all that pain.

Leslie: Yeah.

Jim: Yeah. That is the heart of God. Leslie Leyland Fields, author of the book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers, you have really helped all of us see that picture through the pain, but really through overcoming it and seeing what God intended in a good way for us. Thank you for being with us.

Leslie: Thank you for having me.


John: Well, what a powerful two-day series with Leslie and you’ll want to get a copy of her book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers for yourself or someone you know, as it chronicles her entire walk of forgiveness and the freedom she found from hurt and from hate. It’ll inspire you and you’ll find a copy and a CD or a download of this conversation at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .

And as we’ve already mentioned, if you need someone to go through you with that pain to really unpack it, so you can deal with it well, we have caring Christian counselors here on staff. They can talk with you over the phone. They can find somebody that you can connect with in your own local area and they’re a phone call away. The number is 800-A-FAMILY.

Now when you get in touch with Focus on the Family, please allow us to tell you how your financial contribution to our work is changing lives. Every day God uses Focus to come alongside hurting individuals who are facing a variety of life challenges. It might be a very difficult family relationship or a child who is making bad choices. In one case we heard from a mom who shared how Focus on the Family was used by God to meet her family at a real point of need after the death of their child.


Woman: We received a phone call from Focus on the Family, a counselor just asking if there’s anything that they could do, praying for us at all and then they had also sent us some materials that we could use, just through our grieving process and then in turn, we could use that to help some others, you know, friends of our that went through a similar situation later on. So, just kind of a neat way to see how God’s used that whole experience for us.

End of Clip

John: Well, it is such a privilege to be here for folks who are in very difficult circumstances and to offer the counseling services that we do. We can only make those services available because you choose to step up and donate to Focus on the Family. Please a donation of 25 or 50 or $500 today will make a great difference in the lives of many. And when you contribute today, we’ll send a copy of Leslie’s book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers to you as a way of equipping you to mend relationships or to be part of that equation, as God works on hearts. Contribute when you call 800-A-FAMILY or at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio .

Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow. You’ll hear a powerful presentation of the Gospel from former basketball star, Jay Carty.


Jay Carty: The Ten Commandments were not given us to live up to, ’cause if you could live up to ’em, Christ wouldn’t have had to die. The Ten Commandments were given to show you how impossible it was to meet God in His terms. That makes us desperate for a Savior.

End of Excerpt

John: You won’t want to miss the next program. That’s tomorrow, as we once again, help your family thrive.

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