Forgiveness Without Words

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Our brother shares how words slashed down his family, but also how God healed the relationship without a word. It’s not the words one speaks, but the condition of one’s heart that pleases God.

People tell me that I, as a writer, have a way with words. So isn’t it ironic, then, that I suddenly become an incoherent mess, completely inarticulate, to the people whom I am supposed to be closest? I can’t speak to my family—my parents and younger brother—in a way that makes sense. It’s been one of a few roots of our long-lasting conflict.

They say introverts (I am one) think in complex layers, much more than they could ever verbally express, which is certainly true in my case. We write better than we talk. But I am also a teacher, so I spend my days explaining—by speaking—some extremely dense concepts to my students. I’ve taught hundreds of students for nearly a decade now, and the one consistent feedback I’ve received is that I’m exceedingly clear and eloquent. I break down even the most convoluted ideas into digestible pieces, so even the most lacking student begins to grasp the concept.

But I still couldn’t talk to my family. In fact, a few months ago, I was no longer on speaking terms with them. This was a self-imposed hiatus, a fall out after a particularly brutal argument with my brother. It was the worst I can remember, and those who know my family know that we do not normally get along. It got so bad that at one point during my childhood, I packed a getaway bag and mapped out my path to run away. It got so bad that we were often on the verge of killing each other, knives drawn and at each other’s throats, until the cops showed up and we had to lie to them. It got so bad another time that I had enough adrenaline to pick up a large sofa by myself, heave it above my head, and hurl it 10 feet across the room—Incredible Hulk status.

This recent argument was worse.

As retribution, I vowed to disown my family. In my mind, I literally did not care if we ever spoke again. For days, I flung myself into my work, distracting myself with the things I could control. Making it a point not to contact my family again, I deliberately ignored calls, texts, and pleas from my parents to get in touch. My argument was not with them, but with my brother. Yet, they are so tightly grouped in my head as a single entity of “them” versus “me,” that my anger easily spreads to all of them. I’ve been hurt by each of them in a way that the tiniest trigger will set up a chain reaction explosion that seems highly disproportionate and inappropriate to outsiders. I get judged a lot for being such a rebellious, angry son because outsiders don’t understand my history with my family.

I successfully ignored them for about a week, but their incessant calling finally vexed me enough to pick up and yell at them. My parents had done nothing wrong at that point; they just knew my brother and I were in a deadlock (and my brother wouldn’t explain to them what had happened either), so they wanted to mediate our tension. I couldn’t take it. I needed space. So I exploded, unable to explain what had set me off or what my brother had done to anger me so much. It soon divulged into yet another lecture on how self-absorbed, incompetent, stubborn, and stupid I was—so naturally, I responded with, “I don’t have a brother! You’re not my father! I don’t care about family and don’t need any of you—ever.”

In my head, of course, I knew all the reasons I was hurt and angry. I just couldn’t explain it. I got tongue-tied, which led to my immature, hyperbolic outburst. Something about the way they trigger me shuts down my normally logical and precise rationalizations. The worst part was, I couldn’t care less about their understanding me. I felt righteous that they had done me wrong, when, in fact, I had also committed a grave sin.

When a friend told me I had to talk to them about it, I told him there was no way. I did not have the words to express myself in a way they could see all the ways they have hurt me and explain my immature behavior. But as much as I hate my family sometimes, deep down, there’s an inseparable bond between us. We’ll be there in the worst of situations—but not any of the smaller ones. Somehow, after decades of bitter resentment at one another, we were still together, still talking every so often.

I don’t know how if not by God’s grace. A few weeks after the argument—which was still unresolved—my dad had some free time off work, so he decided to come down to SoCal to visit me and my brother (we live in different L.A. suburbs). He isn’t the type of guy to hold onto the things that have hurt him; he prefers to forge forward, starting afresh.

My friend continued to urge me to speak with my brother, but I knew that wasn’t going to happen. At best, my dad’s visit would bring us all together for dinner, and we could ignore the issue and brush it under the rug, like always.

My dad spent a good deal of time at my home, but I was in the middle of busy season at work, laboring 12-15 hour days, every day for two weeks. We hardly had time to interact, and even if we did, we still wouldn’t have talked. It was one of those sensitive topics that even a word on it would set me off again.

I went to my church and spoke to them about it. One of them told me that maybe my family wasn’t at a place to verbally apologize to one another yet, but that didn’t mean we couldn’t make it clear we were sorry.

In my time at work, my dad helped me build a custom closet, fixed my broken toilet, and prepared meals. It was his way of saying let’s move on, without words. Words are important to me—they’re my livelihood and also my soul, but actions even more so. I didn’t appreciate his acts of service so much as I did his intention behind them.

My family hardly says sorry to one another, but we move on. I wanted desperately to move on as well, to forgive them and return to something better. But even after my dad performed those acts to serve me, I still could not forgive my family—I had been hurt too much.

But the Bible says in Matthew 5: 23-24 (NIV), “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” I knew I had to make things right with my family.

Unfortunately after two weeks here, my father’s time was coming to a close. He soon had to return back North, but we still hadn’t resolved anything. And I had not met up with my brother or even spoken to him since our fight. I prayed to God to humble myself, to find a way to fix this situation because I clearly did not have the power alone.

I asked God to allow me to show to my family that I was repentant. And God delivered—miraculously, I suddenly found myself with nearly an entire day free, which almost never happens during my busy work season. To suddenly have a day when I have virtually no clients (just one that day) who want to meet during the busiest time of the year was unheard of.

Maybe I couldn’t find the words to express my feelings, but I decided to plan a nice day with my dad and later my brother. I thought for a long while about what we could do, and I remembered we used to go down by the reservoir back in my hometown, inflate a little boat, and go rafting. Suddenly, images of us happily floating down the dirty water, sticking our hands into the weeds sprouting from the surface, and splashing around reminded me that there were good moments with my family. We also went to summer camp together and enjoyed kayaking through the ocean.

I couldn’t find the words to explain myself, but I prayed that my family would understand and accept my actions. That day, I reserved a few hours to go kayaking down at the marina with my dad. We didn’t speak about the argument—we just enjoyed our time together, trying to see who could row faster, trying to paddle to the sea lions for a closer look.

When our kayak time was up, I took him to a nice vegetarian restaurant (because he’s vegetarian) that is normally twice the budget of what I’d spend on food. Normally, I’m exceedingly careful with my money and would not dare to even spend this amount on myself, but I wanted my dad to know that this was important to me. Afterwards, we even got to enjoy a stroll along the boardwalk, checking out little shops and people-watching.

At dinner that night, my brother joined, and as a gesture, I decided to splurge again and treated everyone to an expensive meal. We didn’t discuss our issues, but I think the message was clear—God had carved out a slot in my schedule and heart to make it up to my family. Without God’s support, I could never have had the will in me to invite them out. We are now on speaking terms again, even if I haven’t had any time to actually see them since then. I tried to have dinner with my brother a few days ago, but unfortunately had to cancel because of last minute work demands. However, I praise God for the chance to be able to reach out and not be rejected for it.

Perhaps this isn’t a fairy book ending, but God knows that when the condition of our heart is to repent and make up with our loved ones, He will find a way to make that happen, even if it’s through a silent communion.


Image Credit: Unsplash/Matthew Clark