I’d held on to unforgiveness for too long. It was time to finally forgive my father. Time to move past the hurt, the rejection, and the anger. It was time.

Forgiving my dad set me free
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I can’t tell you how many times I said that to myself. And it never happened.
Days wrestling with my feelings turned into weeks, which turned into months, and eventually years. Layers of failed attempts or flat out refusals to do so had hardened my heart. Would I ever be able to forgive him?
Or had those years actually softened my heart? Had they actually prepared me for that night recently when I would read about breaking generational chains and forgiving my dad?
As I stood brushing my teeth, getting ready for bed on the night before Easter, a voice said:
Write to him.
Write to him? Write what?
Write ‘Dad, I forgive you.’ That is all it takes.
Just go to bed, I thought. Sleep it off, wake up, and this will all go away. You won’t have to go through the pain again to get to the other side.
That’s what I was afraid of. To get to the other side (forgiveness), I had to go through the pain again. It would have to get worse, for a moment, before it would get better.
Was I willing? Was I able?
And then pen somehow made its way to paper and I finally found freedom.

Dear Dad,

I forgive you.

I forgive you for leaving when I was two.

I forgive you for being gone for seven years.

I forgive you for leaving every night to drink.

I forgive you to breaking my heart and never putting it back together.

Dad, all this time I’ve thought I needed a reason to forgive you. I thought I needed to understand why you did what you did. I thought I needed to feel sorry for you the way I did Mom, to put myself in your shoes and say “how could I have done any better?” I thought I needed to understand you. But I don’t.

I don’t know why you destroyed our family. I don’t know why you just left us. I don’t know why time with me was never good enough. I will never understand.

But I forgive you.

And I do have a reason.

My reason is a three-year old girl sleeping as I write this. Her name is Aracelli and she needs me. She needs a dad who is there for her.

She needs a dad who isn’t shackled by the chains of unforgiveness. She needs a dad who isn’t eaten up by hatred…hatred for you and hatred for myself. She needs a dad who is a man, not a boy like you remained for so long. She needs a dad who stays, who loves her, who never breaks her heart.

She is my reason, Dad. I’m sorry you never got to meet her.

My wife is my reason. You would have loved her.

I am my reason.

I will no longer be held captive by your mistakes. I will no longer be a prisoner of my own anger.

I am free, Dad. Finally free!

I forgive you. I even thank you. Because of my pain, I can help others. Because of your example, I know what not to do.

I forgive you for everything.

Your Son,


I plead with you, if you have unforgiveness in any area of your life, let it go.
You don’t have to understand what the other person did. You just need to forgive him or her.

Action item: Write those first words which I wrote to someone you need to forgive. Just write the person’s name and “I forgive you.” That’s how it started for me. That was the beginning of my freedom.

I won’t dramatize what happened and suggest that my life instantly became a walk in the park. I didn’t. But I am free. And I do know joy now.
It is impossible for joy and unforgiveness to coexist. An unforgiving heart is too dark a place for light to shine.
Forgiveness finally made me free. It can do the same for you.

Will you choose to find freedom today? Will you choose to forgive someone who hurt you?

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50 thoughts on “How Forgiveness Finally Made Me Free

  1. Andy Collins says:

    Wow. This is powerful, Matt.
    To answer your question, yes. Yes, I will choose to forgive someone I need to forgive today. I can’t share the details here, but it’s been weighing on me for more than 10 years. I WILL do that today.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Do it! Today, you find freedom!!!

  2. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    Matt, such a powerful post. In some weird way you dad is inspiring you to be an excellent husband and father. The gratitude for that is so powerful.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      In his own way, yes he did. Of course, I battle with learning from/running from/copying his example.

  3. Robert Kennedy III says:

    Powerful post, Matt!

  4. Austin G. Netzley says:

    Powerful, powerful, powerful. What a great message. So hard to do, but I can see the weight just being lifted off of your back.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Yes sir! I smile a lot more lately 🙂

  5. Betty Draper says:

    Matt your post resonated in my heart for I too suffered from an abusive dad and could not wait to get our of the house. At 17 I got married, not a wise choice but this year will be married 50 years. I found forgiveness for my Dad when I got saved. One thing I did not expect was I needed to forgive my Mom for not taking us kids out of that home when we were young. It took the love of Christ to soften my heart with His forgiveness that gave me strength and courage to put into action forgiveness. Because my husband comes a dysfunctional home too we too worked hard at giving our two children a healthy, happy forgiving home. Good post brother.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow Betty. That is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Lily Kreitinger says:

    Thank you, Matt for this post. Vulnerability is very freeing. I was recently able to say out loud that my dad was an alcoholic. My mom and my brother would say I am wrong. He had so much pain in his life that he had two or three drinks every night to deal with it. Inside his adult body was a scared 5 year-old boy who didn’t understand why his mom and dad didn’t love him. This forgiveness prayer I learned years ago has a lot more meaning now:
    “You know how my Dad had been hurt, Jesus. You know how things just came off
    the tracks in his life. You know the sins that had been committed against him. You know what he was terrified of. He never told anybody else about them, but you know all his fears. You know how he got to that place, that he’d be hurting me. And you loved him, even there.
    Lord, let me choose to have your heart for him, right now.
    Let me trust you enough, Jesus, so I can say to dad “In Jesus’ name, I set you free. And you do not owe me anything, any more. And we’re both free in His love”

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I just cut some onions. That was amazing.
      I never thought of it before, even after writing my letter to him, but I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t know his hurts. Sure, his life seemed perfect while my mom’s was a train wreck. He had money, two parents, etc. but he also lost his father at a young age (24-ish like I did). I can’t justify what he did but I can forgive him. It’s the only power that I truly have.

  7. David Mike says:

    This had to be hard for you, but so worth it. I guess for me it has to be forgiveness for myself. If you’ve read my blog, I get pretty down on myself for having served without honor. Especially around Veteran’s Day. God is better than self pity though and I can rest in His forgiveness.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Amen David!
      Every time I read your blog, that thought crosses my mind of “man, he was messed up,” but it’s filled with beauty because you made it out and are able to share.
      What you share is amazing. Thanks for doing it!

      1. David Mike says:

        Thank you for your support, I appreciate it.

  8. Zechariah Newman says:

    Powerful Post Matt! Proud of you for writing this. Continue to walk out this freedom!

  9. Thomas Mason says:

    Wow, Matt! What a powerful letter and testimony. I’ve come to your article from Dan Erickson’s site and I’m so glad he led me to read this today. I, too, had an absentee father growing up. Not absentee as in he left the house. I mean absentee in that he was always in our home but he wasn’t responsive to either my mother or I in the way he should’ve been.
    I held on to bitterness and hate throughout my childhood and early adulthood. I let years build up and I still couldn’t find it within myself to forgive him. In early 2007 he passed away. He never met my then 3-year old daughter.
    At his funeral I wrote and read a eulogy and in that I forgave him. Since then, although I still greatly struggle with growing up without a father’s influence and love, I’ve not held any more bitterness and hatred towards him.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow. Thank you for sharing Thomas. You know the freedom I am referring to. GREAT for you!

  10. Mary Kathryn Johnson says:

    Beautifully said, and Joyfully shared, Matt! Thank you for allowing us into a bit of your innermost heart.
    Your daughter’s life will be that much sweeter with your full presence, and more importantly, yours will too.
    Here’s to the next hurdle…may you face it with the same heart.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      It’s a different heart now thankfully!

  11. Matt – such an awesome feeling to be free from the seeds of bitterness the rest within an unforgiving heart. This resonates with me so much because it is part of the first principal in my book and a huge lesson that I had to learn within my own experience of playing baseball competitively in college.
    I’m very excited for you and what this will do in your life, especially in Aracelis life.
    Keep pouring in brother!

  12. Mark Sieverkropp says:

    Matt, wow. Listening to you tell this story was powerful. Nothing but respect for you brother. I did this the other day sort of with a thank you note I wrote. I had a former boss that I didn’t get along with. I disliked him so much that when I saw him drive by me a year after I left the company I was angry just at seeing him and thought of all sorts of “nice” things to say to him. I wrote him a thank you note a few weeks back telling him that he was one of the biggest forces that pushed me to move towards work I love. That was a hard note to write. But it was so freeing afterwards.
    Thanks for being transparent and sharing with us!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love that!
      Not that it matters per se, but I am curious…did he reply?

      1. Mark Sieverkropp says:

        Nope. Haven’t heard a thing. Not holding my breath for it 🙂

  13. Eph 4:32 comes to mind as I read this. We are forgiven by God for things we can never “make up for”. We can’t earn our forgiveness by God- He simply gives it. He initiates it. All we must do is accept it.
    With others, they may not accept our forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean we can’t grant it- expecting nothing back in return. They may never change, but that doesn’t mean we can’t can’t change.
    Forgiveness is hard. Sometimes it takes multiple times of doing it. But it liberates us when we forgive others.
    There was a time I was mad at God. I forgave Him for the hurt I felt He caused. Forgiving Him liberated me and allowed me to see the event through new eyes- His eyes. I was overwhelmed by His love and amazed that He wasn’t angry with me for being upset with Him.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      “Forgiveness is hard. Sometimes it takes multiple times of doing it. But it liberates us when we forgive others. ”
      I can’t add anything to that. Well said!

      1. Thanks for the tweet!
        Have a great day.

  14. Dan Erickson says:

    You’ve started the forgiveness journey. This first big step is the biggest. your now on the road to freedom. But there will still be questions. There will still be anger. There will still be sorrow. The key is to make forgiveness an ongoing process just as Jesus did by example of The Lord’s Prayer.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Love that reminder Dan!
      Every day:
      Give us this day our *daily* bread.
      And forgive us our debts,
      As we forgive our debtors [daily].

  15. Mike Kawula says:

    Great post Matt.
    My parents got a divorce when I was young and at age 9 my biological mother told me she never wanted to see me again. She said I was to much like my father. She continued to see my brother and sister. I’m not sure really how it impacted me as I just brushed it off. I look back and say it sucks, but not sure if I forgave or just blocked it mentally. This really makes me think and thank you for sharing!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I kind of had the same thing Mike. Since my dad was back in my life later and it seemed like we “made up” I never thought about. It wasn’t really eating at me or anything but the hurt was still there.
      Freedom from that is amazing.

  16. Jon Stolpe says:

    Matt, Great post!
    I had a situation many years ago which required me to forgive my former employer for leaving me hanging. It was a tough conversation, but it was so worth it.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      You know…I should probably do that for someone. But actually for them not me. Thanks Jon!

      1. Jon Stolpe says:

        Let me know how it goes.

  17. Awesome story, Matt. Real life has a way of teaching us and others when we have the guts to tell the story. It’s one that needs to be told. Thanks, Matt. And thanks to Dan for linking it up.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I am very grateful to @disqus_3iu9zxEOOI:disqus as well.
      I’ve never been so reluctant to publish a post, but ended up knowing it had to be told and shared.

  18. Beautiful, amazing and touching story! Forgiveness is so powerful but can often be so hard, thanks for sharing this personal story!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Glad to Caleb. It only took me about 5 years from the first time I thought about it 🙂

  19. Jana Botkin says:

    Two things stand out: 1. you are truly a remarkable guy who is changing his family tree while helping others do the same and 2. the idea that we have to understand someone in order to forgive is a big obstacle to forgiveness, a big FALSE obstacle.
    Thank you for your transparency.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      It is a big obstacle indeed, but I finally realized it doesn’t matter.

  20. Wan Muhammad Zulfikri Bin Wan says:

    “You don’t have to understand what the other person did. You just need to forgive him or her.”
    Great words, Matt. I try forgive others as much as could in life. Yet, sometimes there’s a part of me that struggles to utter the word ‘I forgive you’ because it thinks that forgiveness is a sign of losing a chance – a chance to hate and exact revenge to others.
    But as long as I’m aware of that evil part of me, I’m not going to let it loose.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I’ve done it both ways…I’ve exacted revenge and hated others and I’ve forgiven. The latter dominates for sure.

  21. Joshua Rivers says:

    Thanks for sharing this, Matt.
    I can identify with your story. I never knew my dad growing up. I vaguely remember talking to him on the phone when I was 12 or 13. Otherwise, I met him when I was about 21. He was in the hospital with liver damage from drinking too much. I met him once or twice more, both in the hospital. The final time was in the funeral home.
    I had to come to grips with any bitterness and unforgiveness. My feelings weren’t as deep and my experience wasn’t quite as defined as yours. But it was a definite event. My younger brother still struggles with these feelings.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Powerful Joshua. So glad you forgave him.

  22. Amber Hurdle says:

    This is beautiful, Matt. What a gift this is to your readership. We need to catch up sooner rather than later.

  23. Rob Lewis says:

    Wow Matt thanks for sharing this. I got here through the link you put in Jeff Goins webinar. So timely as I was with my dad as he passed away a couple of weeks ago. Much the same story – never around, alcoholic, etc. Struggled a lot this past weekend as I heard story after story from friends of his…what a great guy he was and how he was always there for them…that was really hard to hear as this was not his track record as a parent. I realize that someone CAN be a great guy and a good friend, but still have to fight his own demons and figure out how to parent. I think I have forgiven him, but I think the exercise of writing it out is on my schedule for tonight. Thanks again for sharing this.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow…Rob I would love to hear how it goes. I hope and pray that it is as freeing for you as it was for me. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  24. Kimunya Mugo says:

    Hey Matt! Wow! This brought some crazy memories for me. We are so far from each other, yet I feel like we have a common bond. About two years ago, I did exactly the same thing. I forgave my father. What started off as a letter ended up as a book!
    Just thought of sharing with you and your readers my short story. I pray it brings hope and strength to someone… http://www.leadbychoice.co/2014/07/09/forgiveness-gives-birth-leadership/
    Thanks for keeping it real. Cheers!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Wow that is amazing Kimunya. I feel the same way about my readers…gotta love the internet, huh?

  25. Just Plain Marie says:

    I heard a long time ago that carrying unforgiveness around is like holding a live ember and expecting the other person to feel that pain. Of course they don’t, and you’re only hurting yourself.
    I’m glad you were able to let it go. My father and I have recently reconciled – not because he is any different than he ever was, but because I forgave and let go of any need to punish him with that live ember – and he is delighted by his grandchildren.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Well said Marie. Never heard that one but SO true!

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