It was the night of our first planning meeting for our wedding. All of us involved in the preparation were all buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm, right until the pastor turned to me and asked, “Who would be walking you down the aisle?” All the brainstorming gave way to a deafening silence.
Who was going to walk me down the aisle? I had no ready answer.
My parents separated when I was four. After a few scheduled monthly meetings and increasingly awkward yearly holidays, I saw my dad less and less. It came to a point when I stopped missing him altogether, and it did not matter whether I saw him or not. Before the pastor had asked that question, it had not occurred to me that I had not forgiven my dad all these years.
Memories are funny things; they seem to have a life of their own. Whenever people ask about my dad, I have difficulty recounting shared experiences. I even had to ask my mum what she knew of the time I had with my dad.
Ironically, she had an endless string of wonderful things to share, complete with photo albums filled with evidence—the twice-yearly beach holidays when we had picnics and built sandcastles, the season when we did cycling trips, and that one family holiday to Disneyland. It was as if my mind had an in-built defense mechanism that had caused me to somehow forget the entire divorce proceedings—along with all the good memories of my dad.
Despite the years of what might be termed estrangement, my then-fiancé thought it would be best to let my dad do the honors anyhow. “It might help the relationship”, he said optimistically. He had no idea how difficult it would be for me to even initiate that first meet-up, much less broach the request. Nevertheless, I decided to give it a go, choosing to meet at lunch because that would limit my time with dad and any awkwardness that could ensue.
Unfortunately, it did not turn out better than expected. Meeting a distant parent is not quite the same as meeting a long-lost friend. Instead of sentimental hugs to exchange and juicy gossip to share, it was formal and distant, no different from meeting one of my primary school teachers. He quizzed me about how I did in school, asked about what I did for work, and finally asked about the family. Lunch was full of niceties and roundabout conversations, with me not being able to broach the subject.
That night, I could not sleep. As I reflected on the way our conversation played out, it became obvious to me that I was still bitter towards my father. Years of respectful and courteous meetings had merely built walls between my dad and me. After two decades, these walls had unknowingly become an impenetrable fortress. The reason I did not want him to have a share in the joys of my wedding day was that I continued to harbor hatred in my heart towards him. I felt abandoned and unloved.
Ironically, my Bible reading plan that week led me to Luke 15, that familiar series of “lost” parables. The parable of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. It felt like a mockery of sorts reading about the prodigal son who left his loving father after cursing him to death (which he effectively did by asking for his inheritance) because in each of the stories, the lost one was found; but in my case, I was “thrown away”. The voice in my head screamed, “It’s the father who’s the prodigal in my story—not his innocent children!” But as I read the chapter again, the full weight and meaning of the word “found” hit me.
In a bid to find me, my loving heavenly Father had to do much more than what the father of the prodigal son and the woman looking for her coin did. He had to allow his precious Son to come to earth, to live as a man, and to die for my sins. If He had not abandoned His son that day on the cross, if He had kept the Lord Jesus in heaven, there would have been no way I could become a child of God. He gave up His most beloved possession in exchange for sinful, flippant, and selfish people like me.
My realization of the Father’s love for me, shown through His abandoning of Jesus, His Son, overwhelmed me. You can still see the tear stains on the pages of my journal where I wrote, “How can I, a mere sinner, loved and found by the Most High God, harbor any hatred or bitterness in my heart? The sheer love of God fills my heart to the brim and overflows. With the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I release the hurt, the anger, and the pain to make way for His love which has found me once again, even now.”
A week later, I met my dad again. This time, it was at his house and on a weekend. This time, there was no escaping or skirting around the issue. To my surprise, he was touched and grateful that I would let him do the honors. What’s more, he even offered to get a suit for the occasion and participate in the rehearsal at the church. That being said, forgiveness did not come completely or miraculously in a single instant. But it was certainly the start of the journey towards reconciliation.
On our wedding day, now four years ago, my father took my arm in his and walked me down the long aisle. To give me away to a man whom God had prepared years before, a man who promised to love and never forsake me, as long and until I am prepared to be received into the arms of my Heavenly Father.