Live To Forgive
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Being let down by those closest to us can sometimes make them the hardest to forgive. Jason Romano tells the story of the work God did to help him forgive his dad.
Live To Forgive
Jason: I pretty much lost all respect for him, at that point, when he calls me and asks me for money. I’m like, “You spent all your money on gambling and drinking and now you’re calling me, in college, and saying, ‘Can I borrow money?’”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Today, we’ve got Jason Romano with us, one of our great friends. Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Jason, glad to have you back.
Jason: Thanks for having me back, guys.
Dave: Jason leads really an incredible ministry called Sports Spectrum, where they interview athletes about their faith. Formerly, he was with ESPN for 17 years—a job we all wish we had—I wish I had.
Ann: Do we?
Dave: Oh, yes; what a great—
Ann: Every guy wishes for that?
Dave: —I mean, it’s just something you turn on everyday at 7 am and turn it off at midnight.
Ann: Oh, that’s terrible.
Dave: So anyway—I’m just kidding; I’m just kidding—but really, what he’s doing now is phenomenal.
But you, Jason, have an incredible story with your dad that, when I read your book about—well, you’re going to tell us today about that—but man, your relationship with your dad was similar to mine; wasn’t it?
Jason: I had a father, growing up, who wasn’t around.
Ann: —physically or emotionally?
Ann: If you had to describe him, as a little boy like under 12, what would you have described him as?
Jason: I would describe him as a very loud—in some cases, angry—person who loved sports. That’s the best way I could have described him.
Ann: And then you got older, and you became resentful.
Jason: Very much so. In fact, the 12-year-old Jason, I never felt love from my father. I’m sure he loved me—and of course, I under the current here loved him, too, because he’s [my] dad—but I never felt that love. The only way I ever really felt love from my father, even growing up through high school into college, was when we would have a connection for sports and when he was sober. Unfortunately, because of the drinking, he wasn’t sober that often.
As I got older, and I started experiencing things as a teenager, and seeing him in states that you shouldn’t have to see your dad in—usually drunk—I became very resentful and very angry. Didn’t know how to process it; I didn’t have anybody in my life to walk me through it other than my mom.
I want to be careful here, because my mom saved us [Jason and siblings]. I tell people, “When we were easily headed down a track like my father, my mom kept us back on the narrow/the straight and narrow and allowed us to have experiences, like normal kids, even though our relationship with my dad was anything but normal.” For the most part, other than that, I kind of had just a normal childhood, thankfully: you know, just going to school, playing sports, hanging out with my friends.
Ann: And it sounds like you lost respect for him.
Jason: Very much so, especially as I got older, and I got into my/got into college and, even more, out of college. I’ll tell you a time when I definitely realized I’d lost respect for him—when I was in college—19 years old. I went away; it was a community college, but it was about three hours away. I lived in an off-campus apartment, growing up quickly, just trying to live on my own.
I got a call at midnight from my father; I’m like, “What’s going on here?” I knew my dad wasn’t in a good place anyways. At that point, he’d already missed my high school graduation because he was in a rehab center; so I knew he wasn’t doing well. I answer the phone. My dad is on the other end, calling up, telling me that he had no money and was asking me for money.
Now, I’m in college. Anybody listening, who’s ever went to college, knows that we are the poorest people on earth; [Laughter] we have no money. But it was so bad that my dad got so desperate. I think he was hoping that I would have some kind of empathy or sympathy for him/feel sorry for him. “I’m sorry, Dad, that you’re in this spot/that you lost all your money. Sure, I’ll send you the $5 that I have,” which is pretty much what it was.
But I pretty much lost all respect for him, at that point, when he calls me and asks me for money. I’m like, “Are you serious? You drank yourself out of this. You spent all your money on”—he gambled a lot too—"so you spent all your money on gambling and drinking and now you’re calling me, in college, and saying, ‘Can I borrow money?’ What are you doing?! What are you doing?!”
Dave: There’s, obviously, an anger—
Jason: Very much so.
Dave: —there, and you even said your brothers wanted to kill him.
Jason: Oh, yes. There was a time—this was a couple of years after this—in fact, one of the chapters in Live to Forgive is the time my brothers wanted to kill my dad. We didn’t know how else to title that chapter other than what it was. This was a story that they told; I wasn’t even around for this. I wanted, as people read the book, to see that it wasn’t just me that was affected by what my dad had done; my two brothers went through this too.
Ann: Are they older or younger?
Jason: They’re younger; I’m the oldest.
One day, my dad comes home. My dad was—it was up and down with him—I mean, when he had his bad moments, it was really bad. My dad shows up drunk, and my brothers saw that my dad was yelling and screaming at our grandparents. My one brother, Damian, and him got in a verbal exchange but, also, a physical exchange.
Ann: And at this point, none of you are believers or followers of Christ.
Jason: None of us are [at this point]; so we have no faith/no understanding of who Jesus is. Even after that, which we can talk about, I still had a lot of issues with my father; but at that moment, my brother saw what had happened to my dad. He said, “Listen, you’ve got to call the cops on this guy; because I’m going to kill him if he doesn’t get out of my face right now.” It was that much anger that that had spilled up in my brother’s life.
When they told that story for the book, I remember talking to them and saying, “I don’t think I knew all about this.” I remember them telling me kind of: “There was a time we almost killed Dad,” or “…felt like we wanted to kill him”; but I had not experienced that. But I’m glad they told me; because I went through my own stuff with him, but they went through it too. So this wasn’t just a Jason story; this was all three of my dad’s sons’ story that we all went through, and it was bad.
Dave: And so a few years later, you surrender your life to Jesus;—
Dave: —and it all goes away; right? [Laughter] Everything’s wonderful and—
Jason: Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work, Dave?
Dave: —perfect relationship.
Jason: Oh, yes; “Thank You, Jesus!” [Laughter]
Dave: So really, talk about that; because some people may think that’s true. You still had a struggle, and you had to go on a journey. Tell us what happened.
Jason: Very much so. I’m so grateful that that day took place that I began that journey with Jesus. My brother, Chris, who I just mentioned, led me to the Lord Mother’s Day 2001—20 years now; I’ll never forget it. I had to understand who Jesus was for me; it was my relationship. But there were many moments, even after that, where I didn’t understand truly what forgiveness was about and understanding how to process what was going on with my father. Even after I became a Christian, my dad still continued his battle and his struggle with alcohol for the next 15 years.
Ann: Had you shared your faith with him?
Jason: Yes; mult/I wouldn’t say multiple times, but a few times. I mean, all three of his boys now are Christians. A little bit of a spoiler alert: my dad’s not walking with the Lord still to this day; so that is a tension in our home a little bit. I’ll get to how he’s doing in a second.
But he, at that point—you know, I’m walking and trying to learn who Jesus is: trying to understand salvation, and the cross, and forgiveness—and if you read the words of Paul, he says, “Let all bitterness and anger and wrath and slander and clamor be put away from you, along with all malice,”—verse 32—“Be kind to one another, forgive as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
That part—the “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger…”—like that didn’t happen. It took me a very, very long time to understand; because what would happen is: my dad and I/we lived two hours apart. My dad, unfortunately, had a DWI. In 2006, he lost his license; so he wasn’t able to drive. We very rarely saw each other—a couple of times a year, even in the midst of his drinking—but we would talk.
His outlet was to pick up the phone and call. My dad has never had a smartphone. He doesn’t have/he’s never been on the internet to this day—has no email—it’s good old-fashioned 1993 relationship, where he picks up the phone and calls you. That was good; but it wasn’t good, because that was where he would go to—especially when he drank—he would pick up that phone and he would call.
Here’s how I knew I hadn’t forgiven my father: when he would call, and he was sober, everything was fine. We can talk; we can have/most of our conversations revolved around sports, but we could talk. But when he called and he was drunk, I turned into a different person—I turned into, in essence, him—I wasn’t drunk, but I was angry; I was bitter; I was lashing out, saying things back to him that you wouldn’t want to wish anybody would say to anyone. That’s not the example of Jesus, and it took me a long time to forgive him.
Dave: Well what happened? I mean, there’s a journey—I’ve been on that journey, so I know it can take a long time—but what changed?
Jason: I think what changed was this powerful word—that we all need more of, I think, in our lives—empathy. See, I never saw my dad and thought about what he was going through. I only thought about what he did, or how he acted, and how it affected me—how it affected my wife, my daughter, my brothers, my mom, extended family—I mean, my dad ruined a lot of relationships because of his drinking.
I always thought about the effect it had on other people. I never thought about how it affected him. He must not have enjoyed the life that he was living; seriously. I always thought, “Man, this guy’s probably just this bad dude, who would say these things,” and “I just wish he would stop drinking,”—for many years, that was my prayer. My prayer was simply—even after I became a Christian, it wasn’t that he would come to Jesus; this is just honesty here—it was that he would stop drinking.
But it came to a boiling point in 2013, where my dad hit his lowest point. At this point—my dad is not only drinking heavily still, and he’s in his early 60s here—he’s also struggling with depression. When you combine the alcohol and the depression, that’s a recipe for disaster; it was bad. My dad hit his lowest point in 2013; he tried to end his life—woke up one day, just didn’t want to live—he had hinted at that in the past on different phone calls. I had heard that since he was 40 years old on phone calls/that: “Maybe I’ll just end my life. Maybe I’m just not worth living for.”
There were moments—I hate to admit this—but it’s the truth in where I was in my walk, where I thought it would be better, maybe, if he wasn’t here. I hate saying that, but it’s true. I didn’t, again, have that empathy for my dad. I just thought, “Well, this was easy if it just would all go away.” My dad thought that way, too; and he tried to end his life. He took a bunch of pills. Thankfully, I think really quickly after he took those pills, he recognized that this wasn’t a good situation. He called 911; they came. They took him to the hospital; and they saved him in a sense, and he’s alive. He’s still alive today, thankfully.
But it was at that moment, when I got the call from the nurse—and here’s where I know where my mindset was with my father, at that point, six, seven, eight years ago now—the nurse calls me and says, “Jason, your father is here at the hospital—took some pills last night—but we have him, and he’s okay. He’s going to survive. We didn’t know if you wanted to come visit him, or if you wanted to come up and see him, or whatever.” I said, “No, I’m good. Thank you for calling me and letting me know that.”
I hang up the phone, and I had nothing. I was numb; I didn’t even have any feeling—there was no sadness; there was no empathy—“Maybe this is just what needs to happen; it just needs to go away.” But I spent the next week really diving deep into prayer, talking to my pastor/my small group and sharing. I’ve always shared about my dad and just say, “Can you pray for him? He’s still struggling with his alcohol.” While at this point, I’m saying, “Can you pray for him? He’s now in a really, really bad spot; he tried to end his life.”
My pastor and I had a conversation one day; and he goes, “You know, you need to think about forgiving him.” I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m fine; I forgave him years ago.” I had thought I had forgiven him for many years; but every single time he would call, and he would be drunk, and I would lash back out, I realized I hadn’t forgiven him. I was still bitter; the bitterness was there.
Allowing him back into my life I thought was forgiveness, but that’s not what it is. Because forgiveness is not about the other person; in fact, it’s never about the other person. Forgiveness is about ourselves and the chains that we carry when we hold onto that bitterness and that unforgiveness.
A week later, my dad, actually from the hospital, calls me. He’s lifeless; the voice I hear on the other end is just a man, who has no intention to want to live anymore. When I heard my dad’s voice that day—maybe it was because of what my pastor said; maybe it was just because I finally had empathy for my father for the first time in my life—that was the moment, where I told him, verbally, that I forgave him. I said, “Listen, Dad, I know what you’re going through; I’m so sorry.” I said, “I just want you to know I forgive you and don’t worry about anything else right now; just get better.”
Ann: What was his response?
Jason: My dad was not feeling great at that time, so there wasn’t really a response. It was most like—it wasn’t even “Thank you”; it was like, you know, “Whatever.” But it wasn’t about my father at that point; for that moment, it was what I needed. Now, it also was what my dad needed; but I had to make a decision that, if my dad never could get sober, I still had to choose to forgive him; because it wasn’t about him.
I’m happy to report—that day, when he went into the hospital—that’s the last day, to this day, that he’s had a drink. He’s been able to stay sober now for seven/almost eight years. That’s a miracle in its own right; and that’s an answer to prayer, because that’s where my dad was—and that’s what I prayed for—was for him to get sober.
Now, we’re hoping someday that he begins a walk with the Lord; and that still hasn’t happened yet. Our relationship now is better, but it’s not great—but it’s not horrible anymore, and there’s no bitterness—there’s still things that my dad does, where I’m just like, “Oh my gosh! Please stop.” [Laughter] But I’ve forgiven him; reconciliation for us took place.
I tell people: “Forgiveness is always required, because Jesus tells us to—just read
Matthew 18; just read various other passages in the Bible—but where forgiveness is always required, reconciliation sometimes can’t always take place. Sometimes the damage is not repairable; but again, remembering that forgiveness is not about anything that other person does; it’s for yourself.
Dave: I remember when I was toward the end of my journey of forgiving my dad, I read this quote by Lewis Smedes.
Jason: Yes! It’s in my book.
Dave: Lewis is one of the guys—that is [in]my opinion: an authority—so much written about forgiveness. Lewis says: “When you forgive someone, you set a prisoner free, only to discover you’re the prisoner.” I mean, I literally [book dropping] dropped the book. I mean, it hit me; the second I read it, I’m like, “Oh, my goodness; I’m the prisoner.” I thought I was locking him up: “And that’s what he gets,” and “That’s what he deserves for all these years of alcohol and abandoning your son,”—blah, blah, blah. When I read that, it hit me. It was like God was saying, “You’re the prisoner, and you’re never going to be free. You’ve got the key; you’ve got to unlock that, and forgive your dad.”
Again, it didn’t happen that day, but when I did—and I can sit here now, in my 60s, and I used to say it to the men at my church—“I became a man at age 35, because that’s when I was free to become who God wanted Dave Wilson to be. I was not able to be the husband she needed/the dad my kids—and I’m not saying I’m a perfect man—but it was like, man, it was that big, holding onto that bitterness.
I know there’s listeners, right now, it’s like, “I can’t forgive.” I know what—you can’t, and neither could I, and Jason couldn’t either—but God can through you. I really think it’s supernatural.
Dave: It’s a supernatural thing/a divine power of God, especially when the wound is that deep and hurtful, to be able to let that go.
Jason: Look at the example of Jesus; right? He was beaten, mocked, spit on, made fun of—everything you could imagine a person goes through—and yet, He’s standing there/or up there on the cross—and the people, who put Him up there, are mocking Him and making fun of Him. He looks down; He says, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Ann: I will say, as a wife, it was probably the most marked difference in Dave that I’ve ever seen; because he became free. I think you had an anger issue kind of simmering below the surface all the time.
Dave: —just like Jason was saying.
Ann: Yes, and you really were released from that.
Dave: And here’s the thing that is so critical to understand, and if you’re a dad or you’re a mom, please hear this: “If you don’t deal with this, you will continue it. It will go into your legacy; you pass it on. The sins of the father visit through the generations.” I didn’t know it then—that my decision to forgive my dad—would affect my sons. They didn’t really even know; they were so young at the time. And again, I’m not saying they don’t have bitterness and those kinds of issues; but man, it changed the legacy because they have a dad, now, who’s free.
And again—not perfect freedom—because you know, we get triggered at times; but it’s like I no longer have this desire to punish him. That’s what Smedes defines forgiveness: “You give up your right to punish.” You know, God/[Jesus] was punished for us and forgave us; and we can do the same thing. I would say to anyone listening: “Today’s your day.”
Jason: It doesn’t mean we’re perfect—absolutely, choose forgiveness—but it doesn’t mean we’re perfect either. I still struggle with—not anger I would say—but lashing out sometimes at my daughter, or my wife, or a few people. But I will say that, having chosen forgiveness, especially walking through writing a book about forgiveness, has helped me understand that that’s available to us every single day. Like that’s what we do every single day when we wake up to Jesus and we say, “God, forgive us of our sins.” We’re asking for forgiveness every day; but then it’s our responsibility then, to be Christ-like in that, to exude that on everybody else. If we don’t, we’re basically putting a hand in God’s face and saying, “I got this”; and that’s when we get in trouble.
Dave: And we don’t have this.
Jason: We don’t have it, clearly! [Laughter]
Dave: I’d say, “Pick up Jason’s book today, Live to Forgive. I love the subtitle, Moving Forward When Those We Love Hurt Us. You want to move forward?—it starts right here.”
Ann: Dave, will you pray?—just for people that are struggling with that/that are struggling with forgiving people.
Dave: I’d love to do that. Let’s pray.
Father, You know better than any of us the pain of what it took to offer Your Son as the payment for our sin and to forgive us. We didn’t deserve it; we didn’t even ask You for it. But You unconditionally loved us, and You love us still, and You made a way for us to be completely forgiven and free. And through the blood of our Savior, Jesus, and even through His resurrection, we have, not only forgiveness to ourselves, but we actually have the power of God residing in us to empower us to forgive others that don’t deserve it.
Lord, just as You have forgiven us, give us the power to forgive others and set them free; but in the process, set ourselves free. Lord, I know we cannot do it without You; and we need You desperately to help us. We ask right now; and we commit we will do and we will be what You call us to be through Your Son, Jesus. We thank You for His forgiveness. We pray in His name. Amen.
Bob: I have to think that many of us, as we’ve listened today to Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Jason Romano about his relationship with his father, we’ve thought about people in our own lives—maybe parents, maybe siblings, other family members, who have wounded us—and the question is: “Have we been able to move to forgiveness?” Jason has written about his relationship with his dad in a book called Live to Forgive: Moving Forward When Those We Love Hurt Us. It’s a book we’ve got in our Family Life Today Resource Center.
It’s a book I think many of us would benefit from reading. The Bible makes it clear that a failure to forgive says something about our own relationship with Jesus. If we are forgiven people, we forgive others. You can get a copy of Jason’s book, Live to Forgive, when you order it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call to order at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life and then the word, “TODAY.”
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