28. A Gift I Gave Myself

28. A Gift I Gave Myself

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

A Gift I Gave Myself

You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.

~Lewis B. Smedes

I sat alone in the guest bedroom of my in-laws’ house. I use the word “house” deliberately because it would never be a “home” to me. Tears streamed down my face, the result of yet another insult from my father-in-law, Bob.

“Why?” I asked the empty room. “Why does he dislike me so much?”

Since Robert and I had married several years earlier, his father had sent a constant barrage of criticism and snide remarks my way. He demeaned me in every way possible, including telling Robert and his three sisters that I didn’t take proper care of the children or keep the house the way their mother did.

To understand the depth of my despair, you have to understand our background. Family closeness is a tenet of our church. That I had failed in achieving that with my father-in-law made me feel like a failure on the most basic of levels.

When Robert came searching for me, he took one look at my face and knew what had happened.

“Your father strikes again,” I said, wiping away tears.

“He doesn’t mean it that way,” Robert said.

“Oh, and what way does he mean it?” I retorted.

“It’s just his way.”

“His way stinks.”

Robert sighed. “I know. And I’m sorry. I can’t do anything to change it, though.”

“Why can’t you stand up for me just once?” I asked, crying again. “Why do you let him get away with it?”

“I’m not letting him get away with anything,” my husband said. “But I don’t know how to make him change.”

I turned away. The argument wouldn’t be solved today. A family wedding had brought our little family from our home in Colorado to Utah. I needed to get our two small children and myself ready.

As if on cue, our four-year-old daughter and two-year-old son burst into the room.

I gave my husband one last look before beginning the process of dressing two squirming, uncooperative children.

A tense silence remained between Robert and me for the rest of the weekend. With strained feelings, we returned to our home two days later. Bob’s treatment of me and my husband’s refusal to come to my defense were a source of constant arguments and fights.

Years passed and still Bob was unkind. He now included the children in his criticisms, those comments stinging far more than anything he could say about me.

When his wife passed away, I thought he might mellow. Instead, his barbs and nasty comments only grew more pointed and mean-spirited.

After years of hurt feelings and tears, I decided that if I were to make any headway in my relationship with my father-in-law, I needed to forgive him. The irony was that he would have been surprised at my decision. He never saw that he had done anything that required forgiveness.

I started with making an inventory of Bob’s good qualities. He had been a devoted husband and continued to be a stalwart member of his church. An avid genealogist, he had traced his family’s line back many generations.

As I honestly acknowledged his attributes, something occurred that further softened my heart toward him. Complications with a knee replacement had sent him to a rehabilitation center for a month.

Through the family grapevine, I learned that Bob was deeply lonely and depressed. I resolved to try to cheer him up during this difficult time and wrote him faithfully every week, even asking my children to do the same. I called him and told him that the family was praying for his swift recovery.

My decision to forgive my father-in-law has not changed him. To this day, he continues to criticize me and to remind me that I will never measure up to his standards. To be honest, it still occasionally bothers me, but I’ve learned to accept that and to accept him. Though we will never be close, I have come to respect him and appreciate his strengths.

An added benefit of my decision to forgive my father-in-law was that my relationship with my husband grew stronger.

“Thank you for being willing to get along with my father,” Robert said one night. “I know he doesn’t make it easy.”

A new air of peace and love filled our home.

Forgiveness did not come in a day. Nor did it come without much prayer and help from the Lord. The other ingredient was my recognition that the only person I could change was myself. Accepting Bob as he was, flawed and imperfect, made it easier for me to accept myself, complete with my own set of flaws and imperfections.

In the end, forgiveness was a gift I gave myself.

~Jane McBride Choate

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