(Photo: Thomas Nelson)
Leslie Leyland Fields, an Alaska-based author and public speaker, overcame the emotional hurt she latched onto for over 20 years due to her father's abuse by forgiving him in his old age before he passed. After longing to be free from her hatred towards him, Fields began the difficult journey of forgiveness as she illustrates in her latest book, Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate.
Drawing from her personal experience along with the clinical perspective of Southern California-based psychologist, Jill Hubbard, Fields writes about the power in letting go of resentment and returning the power of judgment against a mother or father to God.
She emphasizes that individuals should forgive their parents and that no one is exempt from being pardoned since God Himself bestows mercy upon everyone. Fields writes that even though a person grapples with deep hurt it is possible to become capable of honoring parents.
An edited transcript of Field's interview with The Christian Post is below:
CP: What specifically prompted you to write this book?
Fields: I got a phone call one day that my father had been in the hospital. I hadn't seen him for eight years then. It occurred to me that if he died, no one might know for days and I would not cry, perhaps no one would cry. It felt like that would be one of the worst tragedies, that someone lived, had six children, died, and no one would cry.
CP: For most people, letting go of their pain is very difficult, which makes it nearly impossible to pardon their offenders. But you write about the difference between the cost of forgiving and the cost of not forgiving, what is the distinction?
Fields: Forgiving others does cost us a lot. It's important to remember that. But not forgiving exacts a greater cost to ourselves, to the ones we need to forgive, and even to the world at large. In each case, we're losing the chance to heal a part of what L. Gregory Jones, author of Embodying Forgiveness, calls the "universal disaster of sinful brokenness." We're stuck in that brokenness ourselves if we don't extend the gospel, which is about mercy, into these hard places and relationships.
CP: How about forgiveness and reconciliation, is there a difference between the two?
Fields: Forgiveness is really a two-way release. It means releasing others from the debts and sins they have committed against us, and at the same time releasing ourselves as judge, jury and prison guard over them because that's God's position.
Ideally, the ruptured relationship can be restored so there is some kind of harmony and God wants forgiveness to lead to reconciliation. However, some people are so destructive, and some sins are so heinous that reconciliation and restoration is impossible or unwise.
CP: How did you get to a place in which you were able to forgive your father?
Fields: The decision to forgive was a quick decision although it was about 20 years later than it should have been. However, living it out was a much longer process. I had to learn to see beyond my own hurt as a daughter to be able to see my father as a human being who had suffered a lot in his life. As part of that, I had to stop looking to him to fulfill needs he was never going to fulfill. That enabled me to move from what C.S. Lewis calls "need love" to "gift love."
CP: Is resentment and hurt more common among children and parents in American families than we know?
Fields: Absolutely. We're so caught in our individual lives, so busy chasing happiness and so mobile as a people, that we've left our families behind. There's an incalculable amount of hurt and damage out there. Resentment and hurt from our parents is nothing new, it's part of the brokenness of the world we're born into and it perpetuates itself generation after generation until it's interrupted by forgiveness and mercy.
CP: You also write about honoring your mother and father, as commanded in the bible, but how can someone do good to an individual who they think does not deserve it?
Fields: We have to realize that we're not the ones who get to choose who is worthy of honor and who isn't. There's no qualifying phrase in the commandment "honor your father and mother." It's consistent with the whole gospel, which tells us even to "love our enemies." We're sinners and debtors ourselves before God and His goodness has not come to us because we deserve it either.
CP: Can a person forgive their parent after they have passed? Is it possible to completely heal from their emotional wounds in that case?
Fields: I think forgiveness is so powerful that it can move backward in time. We can still forgive a parent who has passed, because in many ways, they're alive in our memories. When we hear their voice in our head, when we remember a hurtful action, we can choose to be wounded and angry all over again, or we can see those actions through the fuller lens of understanding and compassion. As many times as we remember, we can choose to forgive. Forgiveness will not erase the past, but it can eventually diminish the hurt of the past and its power over us.
CP: Often times, as noted in your book, parents mistreat their children because they were probably mistreated by their own parents. Do most people see that as generational curses that they need to break?
Fields: It's cliché but it's true that hurt people, hurt people. Some of this is simply the consequence of living in a dying world, but people need to know that these behaviors and wounds passed down from one generation to another can be stopped any time. As we go forward into a new life, it's up to us to extend the mercy and forgiveness we've received to others in our family. It's possible for whole families to be healed and made whole.
CP: What if a parent doesn't accept their faults, how can a person receive closure for their hurt in that case?
Fields: Forgiveness is not about confronting people with their faults and our hurts to extract an apology. Forgiveness is about loving the other person, letting their offenses go, knowing we are all sinners. However, if a parent continues to harm you or others, then we're talking about a need for intervention, or therapy. Most of the time closure will not come from your parents, it comes from God.
CP: In order to begin the forgiveness process, you write that people need to train their spirits in compassion, how can a person begin to do that?
Fields: We can begin by practicing kindness. Look beyond your own needs to the needs and wounds of your parents. Listen to their stories, their losses. Begin with small acts of mercy, and you'll find that there is joy in bringing joy, even to someone you may not like very much at the time. You'll find your heart inching outward and you may even come to love that difficult father or mother.