‘You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ Matthew 5:43-48 NIV.
As a teenager when I watched the second film in the Star Wars series ‘The Empire Strikes Back” on television I was mesmerised. In the opening scenes the blackness of Darth Vader against the pure whiteness of the snow conveyed the contrast between evil and good. But for me the really engaging scenes were later on when the relative innocence of Luke Skywalker confronts the malevolent Darth Vader, only for him to find out in this classic line “I am your father” the terrible truth of his heritage. My eyes wide, I could only imagine his emotions as I observed the pain and anguish displayed on his face as those words lingered with devastating candour.
Growing up I did not know my birth father. Beyond telling me he was a guitarist, my mother only spoke ill of him. My surname at birth was his, but changed through usage from the age of four when my mother married. He played no part in my life until I found and wrote to him aged twenty-nine. At the time I was working in a family placement service (adoption and fostering) whilst I finished my undergraduate degree part-time. I was surrounded by social workers, and was fully aware having worked there for a few months that reunions do not always workout. I felt prepared.
Meeting my father outside Charing Cross Station in London was fortunately nothing as dramatic as the scene from the Empire Strikes Back! In fact, at the time I didn’t really know what to feel, I just took in the experience. A long-term friend came with me, and as my father was working in a West End musical, he got us both in to watch the evening performance. My father was delighted and excited to be in touch. He was emotional and overwhelmed by meeting me, and told me many times how he had always thought about me and regretted his past actions.
He did however spend some time telling me about his wife and warned me that she had harassed a few of his friends and relatives with the result of driving them out of his life. He was clearly concerned that she might become a problem for me. My father viewed himself as powerless and a victim of whatever she did. Life for him was a constant battle, of screaming and abuse.
We met a few times around Charing Cross, I was open and unguarded about my childhood experiences; something I later realised was unwise. Within the space of a month of meeting him, his wife had called my home leaving abusive voicemails, sent me abusive text messages, registered my details with companies to have DNA testing kits mailed to me, somehow managed to find and call my place of work, one day she even described what I was wearing – so now stalked me too! But then she threatened to get in touch with my mother. It was around this time that I began to realise that my father was trying to reason with his wife by relaying all that I had said to him.
Calling and telling my mother felt like the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. And she was fine with it for about two minutes, until I mentioned having met my grandparents (the only time before they both died), then the “How could you do this to me!” started. Eventually my mother rested in the smugness of “I told you he was no good”.
I took advice from a family solicitor who transcribed my story as a record of events in case I should need to go to the police. The solicitor suggested she would first write a letter to my father’s wife, pointing out that harassment was an offence.
At the same time I changed my phone numbers and conveniently had already planned a move of residence. I kept my new address secret, opting out of the public register and not telling my father. The harassment stopped because she couldn’t find me, but it also meant I no longer spoke to him.
We did not speak for years. Then having left London and moved to Cumbria a letter I did not expect arrived in my pigeon hole at work. My father had found where I was working via Facebook. Being a teacher, I had thought my privacy settings were set high, but no, not high enough. We began corresponding now and then, something he was able to keep secret. I too did not tell my mother and after she passed, I decided to give him my mobile number. He started calling me once a week to chat.
All went well for a year or so until my father accidently sent a message intended for her brother to his wife. Her response was, okay, if you are lying to me about this, what else are you lying about? And so she started sending me abusive messages through Facebook. The first time having forgotten to switch my phone off whilst I was teaching, it started to ping repeatedly as she typed her furious messages. She then called my place of work, sent abusive messages to my step dad and upon seeing that some of my father’s friends were also in touch with me, sent them abusive messages too. She was relentless. I blocked her, but she would set up another account on both Facebook, and Twitter. Though I was not named per se in her daily rants online, I was the devil daughter and the new sponsors of my academy were also the subject of her condemnation.
My father has to keep his calls to me brief as she calls his phone regularly to check if it rings through. I did not get the police involved until a friend of my father’s got in touch to tell me she was posting my photograph on her Twitter feed. She was visited a few times and issued with a ‘Police Information Notice’, but I was advised by them, not to look anymore. Then another time my father called me in tears saying he had not been allowed out all week, so I called the police with a ‘concern for welfare’. The police were brilliant, but my father smoothed it all over.
My current employers were aware of my story, but a couple of months ago put my name on their website. Thirteen years later, despite having never met her, or responded to her, she is still obsessed with me, and my father called to ask if I was okay because she had found me. Now living further south than Cumbria, she was getting frantic and my location was getting closer and closer to her day by day. I quickly asked for it to be taken down, and the alarm subsided as she assumed I had left.
I have learned many valuable lessons from these experiences. Most importantly that you cannot take on someone else’s struggle – boundaries are so important. My father is responsible for himself, and I have to stay separate from that. All I can do is be patient, gentle, encouraging and listen. People have to want change themselves, we cannot change a person. We may in some circumstances be able to help someone shift their perspective, but real change comes from within.
People who do mean things are only thinking of themselves. Jesus not only tells us to love them, but to pray for them. I can now let go and give it to God, praying in to the situation, that it improves for them both.
Jesus himself did in Luke 23:34 what he said to do in Matthew 5:44 – He prayed for those who persecuted Him.
“And Jesus prayed, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34 AMP.
Love is sometimes an effort, but it’s one that is worthwhile. Being prayerful and forgiving encourages us to be the best version of ourselves. It does not make us doormats, we can forgive liberally, but that does not mean that there are no consequences to wrongful actions. But if we take responsibility to become the change we want to see in the world, the more likely we are to see that change. People learn by experience, and often copy what they see. By being people who repeatedly forgive (see Matthew 18:22) and love others, then the more likely we are to experience this in return. And if that were to happen? What a wonderful world this would be.
Father God, thank you for Your gift of forgiveness. Thank You Jesus for Your cross. Heavenly Father, just as You have forgiven us, help us to forgive others, in all situations showing them love, even to those that seek to hurt us. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.