Confessing the Sins of Our Fathers and Mothers

Confessing the Sins of Our Fathers and Mothers January 21, 2014

A post by the author of the brand new book, Confessing the Sins of our Fathers and Mothers, by Leslie Leyland Fields. From  Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hate and Hurt (Thomas Nelson, Jan. 2014)

I’m walking with my arm on my father’s arm, though it makes me nervous to touch him. I shuffle with him down the hall of the nursing home where he lives. I have flown more than 4000 miles to be here with him in Florida. I have not seen him for eight years. In the last thirty years I have seen him three times. We’re headed back from lunch at the dining hall to watch TV in his room. I am being kind. So kind it’s nearly killing me. I am acting as though this man had been kind and good to me and that I am now tenderly repaying a debt.

My heart keeps sinking. I feel like Jonah thrown overboard, flailing as he plunged into the deep, arms twining in the kelp, feet running futile under water. I know I am supposed to “love mercy,” but I do not yet love mercy. I do not even like it. I am just beginning to move toward forgiveness. I know instinctively that I have to begin with confession, confessing his sins against me and my family. I am still unraveling a lifetime of absence from this father, and a lifetime of presence in all the wrong ways.

I did finally stopped running from him and running from my own story, as we all  must do. We must stop, remember and confess if we are to grow up and to move forward into the rest of our lives.

I think of God’s words and warnings to the ancient Hebrews who were stuck in the wilderness: “Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers’ sins they will waste away. But if they will confess their sins and the sins of their fathers . . . then when their . . . hearts are humbled . . . I will remember my covenant . . . and I will remember the land” (Lev. 26:39–42).

I know a little bit about the word confession. It’s from the Greek word homologeo, meaning “to say the same thing.” When we confess our sins to God, we are attempting to speak the same words about ourselves and our wrongdoing that He does.

And we can no longer be silent about these events in our lives. We take courage as we speak, because of Christ’s own life. Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf reminds us in his book Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace that we do not call out to an untested Savior. “If Christians claim to worship not Christ uncrucified but Christ crucified and risen, then we of all people ought to know that the past can be borne in hope—even if it takes a lifetime to learn how to do so well.”3

The past can be borne in hope . . .

We’ve run away from all of this and sometimes made a mess of our lives in the running. Now we are slowing, stopping, daring to turn back and remember, not because we are selfish or masochistic or victim junkies, but because we have not abandoned hope for justice and rightness in this world. We know that parents are supposed to act like mothers and fathers and do fatherly and motherly things. And even when the whole world seems bent against what is right and pure and good, we hold out for its presence. We say the same words that God does about the sins visited upon us. We abhor the wrongs; we confess the wrongs. We remember now all that was done, because we will not know the right until we acknowledge the wrong.

This is the truth of our experience. There will be more truths along the way, but without these, there is no place to start. We have run, and we have stopped and dared to leap into the sea of confession and remembrance. Like Jonah, we cannot bear the thought of mercy—those people! The carnage they’ve brought! The unspeakable things they have done! Even the ordinary faults of mothers and fathers—the gall of it, the bitterness it brings, all that was taken from us as sons and daughters . . . These waters are cold; we cannot breathe. We may be here for just a few moments, or we may be here longer. But we will move on. Jonah would have drowned without a rescue, without entrance into the safety of further truths. So will we. We’ve lost so much, but if we stay here, we’ll lose what’s left.

We can become fully ourselves again. Fully alive.

The past can be borne in hope.


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  • Tim Seiger

    I recently lost my father and this resonates with me. Sometimes it is hard to speak the truth and especially hard at a funeral. I love the end of this post where the author says “Jonah would have drowned without a rescue, without entrance into the safety of further truths. So will we. We’ve lost so much, but if we stay
    here, we’ll lose what’s left.” I loved my dad and I suspect that my “truth” about my dad was not as difficult as the truth spoken of above but my dad was not perfect and we had our hard times. The whole thing was especially difficult because my father was a pastor and for better or for worse many people look at pastors and see only the the things they want to see and end up living a lie about the reality of who pastors are and what they struggle with. When I spoke at my father’s funeral I wanted to tell the truth and point to the “further truths” that enable us to move forward. If interested here is what I said

  • Phil Miller

    “Grace must wound before it can heal. It must be dark and divisive before it can be warm and binding.”

    ~ Flannery O’Connor