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Forgiving The Negligent Parent

WE hear a lot about ``deadbeat fathers''--men who do not give emotional or financial support to their children. While the law can have an important effect on clarifying parental responsibility, there is a more effective way to reunite families.

I am a single mother. Although I had been raised in a Christian Scientist family, there was a period of several years in which I wasn't living according to its standard of sexual morality. This lifestyle resulted in my becoming pregnant. Although I did tell the father that I was carrying his child, I felt I could make no claim on him whatsoever. I moved across the country to start over.

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Dealing with the results of this unplanned pregnancy, however, turned my life around. I again took up the earnest study of Christian Science, and began living according to its moral teachings. In spite of the healing and moral regeneration that was taking place in my life, though, I still resented the fact that the child's father had not offered to help in any way. This went on for two years, until a friend at church pointed out, ``If you call yourself a Christian Scientist, you've got to forgive!''

I had a lot of trouble with this idea! After all, I fumed, I was the one doing all the work. Wasn't my resentment justified? But then I tried to think more about what forgiveness really is.

The most poignant image of forgiveness in the Bible is Christ Jesus crying out on the cross, ``Father, forgive them; for thy know not what they do'' (Luke 23:34). Paramount to understanding Jesus' forgiveness is remembering that he knew that his crucifixion would lead to resurrection. He could forgive because he knew that no matter what others did to him, his immortal life remained untouched. I needed to learn that no matter what, my immortal life- -my being as God's child, held in His love--remains untouched by human circumstances. And, because this is true, I have no reason to be angry or resentful toward anyone.

I learned more from a statement in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, the Founder of the Christian Science Church. She writes: ``When an accident happens, you think or exclaim, `I am hurt!' Your thought is more powerful then your words, more powerful than the accident itself, to make the injury real.'' In the next paragraph she continues: ``Now reverse the process. Declare that you are not hurt and understand the reason why, and you will find the ensuing good effects to be in exact proportion to your disbelief in physics, and your fidelity to divine metaphysics, confidence in God as All, which the Scriptures declare Him to be'' (p. 397). For me, forgiveness had to include the acknowledgment that my child's father hadn't hurt me at all, and that he, too, dwells in God's love.

I kept this idea uppermost in thought for some months. Then, one morning just before Thanksgiving, I woke up suddenly aware that the resentment was gone. I wasn't angry anymore. I had insisted all along that I would never make the first move, but on this day, I wrote my child's father a letter. Because I was free from anger, the letter was, too. I just let him know that he was missing out on a really terrific kid. I included some pictures, and mailed the letter to his parents' address three thousand miles away.

Then something happened that I never expected. I received a letter from my child's father with a return address only ten miles away. His career had brought him to our area, and he was ready to try being a daddy. The night that he came to our house to meet his child for the first time, I felt such joy. We didn't marry or drift back into an immoral relationship, but we've grown to respect each other and are good friends. And we both actively place our child's welfare first.

Both practical support for children and holding individuals responsible for their actions are essential for a healthy society. Forgiveness and welcoming those who have made mistakes back into the ``family'' can be the foundation for that support, building stronger families and a better world for all children.

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