Today, a friend (and writer in her own right) posted a piece from Huffington Post entitled “Is God Angry at You?” In it, the author challenges the dominant Christian interpretation of Easter – what is referred to as the “penal-substitution theory of atonement” – which I won’t go into here other than to say that I really enjoyed the writer’s critique of this taken-for-granted-in-many-circles understanding of God.
And it got me thinking about forgiveness.
Years ago, I wrote about saying prayers with my son. He was a tiny baby then, but this act had taken on some significance for me. Each night, as a part of our ritual, I would say “Please be with Addison’s daddy, wherever he is, keep him safe, and give him everything he needs to be happy.” You see, (and to save you the trouble of reading back for that bit of our story), this guy had dropped off the face of the earth about half-way through my pregnancy and we hadn’t heard from him since.
About three months after baby-daddy went AWOL, I was reading an Anne Lamott book in which the protagonist was facing betrayal and decided that she didn’t want bitterness to consume her – so she started praying for the betrayer. This resonated so strongly with me that I started doing the same. Every time he came to mind, every time someone else made a disparaging comment about his character or intentions, every time I thought of the pain my son would likely experience in his dad’s absence, I repeated this mantra. Well, maybe not every time, but many times, as I caught myself falling into bitterness – mine or another’s – this little prayer pulled me back from the edge.
After a while, it got to be less hard. With the baby, it was easy, because I could imagine that his dad being happy would likely create the most possibilities for him. When the guy finally called, around the time AJ was two, there was space in my mind and heart to not turn him away from knowing his son.
But then it got real. He hadn’t become a different person. He was still dishonest and manipulative. And now he’s done it again. After a year and a half of regular correspondence, calls, and some visits, he’s dropped off the face of the earth.
And I am pissed.
It’s one thing to mess with me…and another to mess with your child. It’s heartbreaking to be told, several times a day, “I need my daddy” or “I want my daddy” and know it’s so true and know there is nothing you can do about it.
I am pissed and I am becoming bitter. I want to punish like the God of the penal-substitution theory only I don’t want a substitute. I want retribution because it must be, or maybe it is about substitution…I want him to feel the pain that our son is feeling and going to feel in the future.
And, at the same time, I feel the pull of my heart – the truer, better part of myself that knows what I really want – back to that place of that simple yet profound prayer.
It was easier when he wasn’t real, when I knew nothing about him. When I could imagine he’d never actually come back.
It was easier before I had spent four plus years trying to sort out some reasonable child support situation without going to court, going further and further into debt in an effort to preserve my son’s connection only to come to this place where I can accidentally notice that he is getting along quite well, thank you, with a new life and lots of partying that somehow keeps him from bothering to call or even text his four-year-old kid who remembers that the last time they talked was his birthday two months ago.
It was easier then.
It’s more important now.
For my son, for this guy I have to fight not to despise and wish ill on. For me. I have to do it. I have to keep forgiving and wishing well and holding his safety and happiness in my heart and mind. I have to forgive myself for letting him in and exposing my child to this heartache. I have to let this forgiveness and well wishing peel back my grip on the need for justice and retribution so that I can take steps forward without entirely justifiable malice.
I have to, as someone in the Twittersphere so eloquently put it today, speak for my anger, but not from my anger. I must speak from love.
Perhaps those who pray can pray for me on that one…”Give her everything she needs to be loving.”