My journey on this principle with my father, parents divorced when I’m 15. My youth pastor starts to walk me through some biblical patterns and biblical principles for forgiveness. I make a choice to forgive my dad, but I still had all this anger and bitterness toward him. So I began to pray God heal my heart of the anger and bitterness I have for my dad. I don’t want his bad behavior to be a ball and chain around my life. So six years later, I was a junior in college. I had this early morning class, like the crack of 11 and I’m getting up and I’m in the, I have this memory, I’m in the bathroom, I’m shaving both my facial hairs and I’m thinking about my father and for the first time in years that I could remember the emotions that swept in as I thought about my dad. The primary emotion that came in was compassion and that was not the normal emotion that I would feel in thinking about my dad and all these memories or facts about my dad’s life flooded in.
My dad was born in 1918. There was a global flu epidemic that year and his mother died. He was born in the University of Iowa hospital and there was a flu epidemic that year and his mother died in childbirth with him. His father already had two sons and we don’t exactly know all the details, but his father didn’t want him, couldn’t take him, maybe grief over losing his wife. We don’t know all the details, but all that to say his dad didn’t take him. He was also a preemie baby. He was born at seven and a half months. Back then, that was a major life threatening situation and so he spent the first year of his life in the hospital at the University of Iowa and, any of you, many of you have had little infants, little babies.
Some of you right now have a little infant, little baby. That first year is an important year. That’s a year for mommy that’s a year for daddy, brothers, sisters, grandmas, grandpas that is a year of that child’s little spirit coming to understand what the world is like. Am I loved? Am I safe? So thank God for the nurses that took care of him that first year, but that’s just not what a little baby’s supposed to have and then he gets adopted. He gets adopted by his aunt and his uncle. His aunt and his uncle, two single people, brother and sister, aunt and uncle, brother and sister, single.
They live together for functional reasons. So he never saw a marriage work, never saw a family work and his adopted father was Robert Rienow. He was the Dean at the University of Iowa and he was an atheist and he was a secularist and he was pretty systematic in teaching my father and I remember growing up, I remember my father telling me stories about the Dean. He referred to his adopted father as the Dean.
So you might get a sense of what that house was like, but he told me growing up, I remember he would say Bobby, he called me Bobby, he was the only one that did that. I’m 10 years old, he’d say, Bobby, let me tell you the number one lesson that the Dean taught me. So I’m a 10 year old boy, Yes, dad? Jesus was just a man. Jesus was just a man.
So your mom dies. Dad doesn’t want you, year of your life, first year of your life in the hospital, adopted into this kind of family. Where do you go to get wounds like that? Healed starts with a J, Jesus. Yeah, Anybody else? Nah. Pretty much no, one stop shop. You’re either going to him or it’s not happening. So the only Person in the universe who can heal my dad of those wounds is Jesus and that’s the person that his adopted dad says, well, He can never help you. How do you feel about my dad? What emotion do you have for him? Compassion. Isn’t that just sad? It’s heartbreaking. He spends his whole life looking for women to love him, dies with a picture of his mother on his dresser.
I remember he was 80 years old, were out to breakfast, and I said, dad, I wonder if you’re angry at God for letting your mom die when you were born. Half a sentence out to tear, comes down as cheek, wipes it away, I don’t want to talk about that, talk about the Red Sox. 80 years old, half a sentence and he wasn’t a very emotional man. Half a sentence about his mom and he cries completely unresolved, hemorrhaging emotionally and spiritually about these wounds as a child. It didn’t excuse the things he did, didn’t excuse his bad behavior, but what happened is it shifted my relationship with him, shifted my ability to care for my dad who was such a broken, broken man and out of that brokenness came so much of that behavior that ended up hurting me and hurting our family.
I’m going to tell you more about my dad’s story later in the week. Actually, I think tomorrow morning. I want to give you one last principle. I had hoped to leave time for questions, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to pull that off.
One last principle on healing family relationships, then I’m going to lead us into a time of prayer. I want to talk to you about this idea of the reconciliation line. I want you to imagine that when it comes to healing a family relationship, that reconciliation is a line in the middle. All right? Two people come to the reconciliation line. They want to both take responsibility for their part in the problem. They want to humble themselves before each other. They want to ask for forgiveness. Okay?
Just a picture and in a lot of circumstances and I’ll use a marriage example here, in a lot of circumstances, there’s one person who’s at the reconciliation line desiring healing in the relationship and one person who has checked out and distant. So let’s just say and I’ve observed this in marriage counseling, let’s just say that a wife is desiring to heal the marriage and she is taking steps and she’s pursuing and she’s going to counseling and she wants help, all these things, but her husband is off doing whatever and I’m not talking about a situation of adultery, abandonment, abuse, addiction, okay? Like 9-1-1 marriage things, okay, that would be a separate conversation, but she’s engaged in seeking healing and he’s not.
What oftentimes happens is years go by in that situation and the person at the reconciliation line loses heart and they lose the endurance spiritually to continue to pursue healing and what happens when they lose heart? They leave the line and they disconnect and again, I’m not talking about 9-1-1 family crises here, okay? What I’ve seen happens so often is within a day or a week or a month of the wife leaving the reconciliation line, God works a miracle in the husband’s life, softens his heart to the Lord, softens his heart toward his wife. He comes sprinting to the reconciliation line where he knows his wife is because his wife’s been there for five years, but where is she now?
Yeah, She’s gone. She left a week ago, a month ago, a couple of days ago. So now as the pastor, as the counselor, the guys in my office now and I’m like, okay you, you stay right here. Don’t you go anywhere, right? Cause now who knows? We got five years before we get her back here. Right? So here’s what I’m trying to say, if you’re the one at the line, you ask God to give you endurance to stay there. God, don’t let me lose hope. I might have to set boundaries, I might have to do all these things we talked about today, but God, don’t let me lose hope. Don’t let me lose endurance for the marathon of this ministry and if you’re the one who’s been disconnected, if you’re the one who’s been hardhearted, if you’re the one who’s been separate, repent today and sprint to that line because what a tragedy it would be if your brother, your sister, your father, your mother, your son, your daughter, your wife, your husband leaves that line just days before you get there.
That’s just plain sad and it doesn’t have to happen. So I’d like to finish this morning and we’re gonna sing to conclude in just a minute, but I’d like to lead us into a short time of prayer. Would you bow your heads? Would you close your eyes? And I’m going to encourage you to pray some silent prayers with the Lord and the first one would be this, just ask God right now in the quietness of your heart: am I in bondage to anger and unforgiveness with someone in my family? Do I have a ball and chain of bitterness around my heart? Just ask God that question. Am I in bondage to anger and unforgiveness? Do I have a ball and chain of bitterness around my heart?
Another prayer that goes with that is God bring to my mind someone in my family I need to forgive. Doesn’t mean I have to trust them, doesn’t mean I have to like them, doesn’t mean that I can’t have boundaries with them, but is there someone in my family that you want me to be free of my hatred and bitterness and anger toward? Bring that person in my mind.
Another prayer would be: God bring to my mind someone I need to go to and ask their forgiveness. Maybe they’re even in the room right now. Bring to my mind someone I need to go and ask their forgiveness. Heavenly Father, I know that You love us and You love our families. You put us together with our families on purpose and part of that would be that we would learn what it means to forgive and be forgiven and God, I know that You do miracles of healing, not just physical healing, but You do miracles of reconciliation in situations that seem even hopeless humanly speaking. You can soften hearts, You can give the gift of repentance, and You can restore things that are broken. So God, every one of our families is so messed up. We sin at home more than anywhere else and we need, even this week, this special week of family week here at Bethany, we want to ask for Your Holy Spirit to do something very powerful in our families. It’s to bring healing where there’s brokenness and do this Lord for your glory and so that future generations, God, would love You and trust You even more. We pray this in the Name of Jesus. Amen.
An excerpt from “Healing Family Relationships” by Rob Rienow: