When I was a child, my father asked me to help him move a table. On that table sat a vase that my father’s mother had given him many years ago. It meant a lot to him, so he asked me to be really careful. He picked up one side of the table and I picked up the other. We had to carry the table down only two steps, but in doing so, the table tilted. The vase fell on its side and started rolling off the edge of the table. As I clutched my end of the table, I started saying to myself, “Oh, my gosh! Oh, my gosh!” My father was saying loudly, “Catch it! Catch it!”
The vase rolled off the table and broke on the floor. My father was not happy. But I just couldn’t catch it. I should have put the table down and grabbed the vase before it rolled off! I could have raised my end of the table as we went down the stairs to keep the table level. I should have taken the vase off the table and put it some place safe before I picked the table up. I must be really stupid, I thought to myself. I fell silent and stood on the stairs, holding the table and avoiding my father’s eyes.
At first my father’s face flushed with anger. But just as quickly, sadness replaced anger as he looked at the broken shards of something precious and irreplaceable. I wanted to put my hands over my eyes but I was still holding on to the table. I wanted to run but I was standing two feet apart from my father with each of us holding an end of a table. I had nowhere to go, and no way to protect myself from the blast of my father’s anger and the shame of causing his sadness that was engulfing me like flames from a dragon’s breath. The vase was broken and it was my fault. My father was not always what you would call a peaceful man, and I could feel his raging wrath was on its way.
We put the table down. My father stood, as if in a photograph, frozen and staring at a broken vase on the floor. I ran and got some glue out of the garage. My father looked on as I ~ kind of ~ fixed the broken vase. But it didn’t look very good. It actually didn’t look even remotely like what it looked like before its tragic fall.
My father watched me in my fear and sadness, as I called myself names out loud and desperately tried to glue the vase together with shaking hands. I looked up at him and said, “I’m sorry, but I fixed it.” My father placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “That’s okay, son, I forgive you.”
My father then took the vase and placed it on the mantle of the fireplace where it has stood for years. Every once in a while I look at that broken vase and think ~ not so much about how I broke it, and not so much about the flash of anger in my father’s eyes when I did ~ but I think about how my father forgave me for what I had done. And I wonder if I could have forgiven myself if he had not first forgiven me. Even though the vase is clearly made of pieces poorly glued back together; I do not see a broken vase ~ I see my father’s love and forgiveness.
I believe; I choose to believe that is how God ~ the father, mother and parent of us all ~ feels about us. When we make a mistake and call ourselves names; when we are wracked with shame and anger ~ God is slow to anger and quick to forgive as we try ~ sometimes successfully and sometimes not ~ to mend the broken pieces of our lives.
Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. He is the author of “Forgiving Our Parents” and “Forgiving Our Grownup Children” and blogs at dwightleewolter.com