Q: My father recently passed away. Unfortunately for the last several years our relationship was estranged because of a pattern of abuse in childhood that had ongoing ramifications into my adulthood. I find myself struggling now with feelings of guilt for not having worked harder to mend our estrangement before he passed. How can I move forward now?

First of all, We want to express our deepest sympathy on your father’s passing. Losing a parent is difficult anytime, and the feelings are only amplified when there are additional emotional complexities involved as you have mentioned here. We also want to acknowledge the deep pain of your childhood abuse and the trauma that you have carried from those childhood experiences into adulthood. Your father’s job was to protect and empower you, not to cause you pain and shame. 

Unfortunately, none of us has the ability to go back and rewrite our past. And now, you do not even have an opportunity to begin a new story in relationship with your father here and now because he has passed away. However, you do not have to be defined and confined by what happened to you and how that impacted your relationship with your father. There is a way forward. 

A first step is to recognize that there is a distinction between the conviction of God, and the condemnation of our own hearts. The guilt that you have expressed sounds like it is coming from a wounded place in your heart. Rather than getting stuck in a cycle of guilt and condemnation as we often do, could you let this simply be a prompt from the Spirit to begin the healing process so that you can write a new story for yourself going forward?

In our Way of Reconciliation Course we have a whole session on Renewing the Soul. We outline four simple yet substantial steps that we can take in this process. The first step is to reflect. This is an opportunity to mourn, grieve, as well as name and confront our fears and pain. It is often very helpful to have a companion along the way on this step, a trusted friend, a pastor, or a counselor. Many also find help through journaling about their thoughts and feelings. 

The next step is to reconnect. In this step we are invited to engage the person who has wounded us by speaking the truth in love about our experience and how we have been hurt or offended. In the case of someone, as in your situation, where that person has passed away, it is often very helpful to write down in a letter your thoughts and feelings about what you have experienced. Somehow the process of getting those things out of your head and onto paper is healing in and of itself. 

In this step we are also invited to extend forgiveness, to open our hands and release the person from our judgment and commit them into the hands of God who alone can judge perfectly. There is much we could say here about forgiveness but one thing we have learned is that forgiveness starts with a choice to release which then begins the process over time of unwrapping ourselves from the wound and pain. We know for sure that the only person that is hurt when we hold on to bitterness and resentment is ourselves.

The third step in the process then is actually experiencing renewal as we learn to rest anew in God’s love, receive His grace, be released through His truth, and build resilience through His power. The familiar words of Psalm 23 provide a beautiful picture of this process and it would be a good practice to spend time in concentrated meditation on that word. 

Finally, there will come a time when the final step will naturally happen, we rejoice. That may be impossible to see from where you are standing right now, yet we want to stand with you in confident hope that a day will come when you will be able to ground yourself in gratitude and practice thanksgiving for how God’s grace and goodness has brought healing to your soul. That is our sincere prayer for you. May the Lord keep you and cover you in this season of greeting and healing.

Thank you for reaching out,

The PCR Practicing Reconciliation Team