The Gift of Forgiveness

Accompanying my dad and grandfather to close our family cottage every October as a teenager was something of a tradition. Taking place usually on a Saturday, the three of us would end the summer in Conneaut Lake, PA by putting up storm windows, draining the hot water tank, and yes, even draining the toilets in the cottage with a sponge before putting antifreeze down the drains.

But while there was a lot of work to be done, I not only had the opportunity to be amused by some of the bizarre, almost senile comments my grandfather would say but also spend time with him. This was especially important since I wasn’t as close with my father’s side of the family as I was with my mother’s family, especially her father. There was also something sentimental about the time I spent with my father and my grandfather too. There we were, three generations of Schilling men, the only males in our entire family that carries the Schilling name, spending time together.

My dad and my grandfather had a close relationship when I was growing up. However, that wasn’t always the case. From my dad’s rebellious teenage years in the 1970s which clashed with my grandfather’s military officer persona and crude personality. To my grandfather’s struggle with alcoholism during my dad’s childhood and the time my grandfather spent away from home traveling for work.  The relationship between my dad and my grandfather was complicated, toxic, and distant.

However, through my grandfather’s sobriety and efforts to reach out to my dad and mend their relationship, my dad forgave my grandfather for their early difficult relationship. But my dad also learned to let that anger and hurt he felt towards my grandfather go.

“There is nothing gained in harboring those feelings (hurt and anger) for years and years,” my dad once told me why he decided to forgive my grandfather. “I have learned to accept him for who he is, embracing the forgiveness he genuinely seeks while letting go the lost imagery of the father I wanted him to be.”

Even though my dad and my grandfather weren’t men who shared their emotions easily and their process of reconciliation was more than likely not climatic beyond a few heartfelt words, my dad’s ability to forgive my grandfather taught me that forgiveness is not just a gift we give where we exonerate the feelings of remorse and guilt of those whose hurt us. But it’s also an act of liberating ourselves from feelings of hurt and resentment we carry towards that person.

“Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone,” writes Reinhold Niebuhr. “Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

My dad and his father (my grandfather) in 2010.

For my grandfather, the greatest gift he could have received was the feeling of forgiveness he received from his son. For my dad, the greatest gift he received was letting his years of resentment and anger go that he had towards his father.  And the greatest gift we all have received is the gift of forgiveness from God.

“God pardons like a mother, who kisses the offense into everlasting forgiveness,” writes Henry Ward Beecher.

The gift of forgiveness is a gift which leads us to reconciliation with one another and with our creator. By giving the gift of forgiveness we are not forgetting the past, but acknowledging forgiveness as being one of the greatest gifts from God for us to receive and share with others.  It’s through forgiveness that we acknowledge our failures and rejoice in grace we receive despite of it.  And it’s through forgiveness we bind ourselves with others in love in this short moment of life we share together.