You Know the Importance of Forgiveness, But Did You Realize it has to Include Your Parents?


In the beloved original Star Wars trilogy Luke Skywalker, in forgiving the sins of his fallen father Darth Vader, fulfills in a profound way the Biblical injunction to “Honor your father and mother” (Exodus 20:12).  While it may serve to make compelling cinema, does Luke’s act of mercy hold any practical value for us, especially if we are dealing with the effects of abuse by our own parents?

All of us, having been reared in a society in which Judeo – Christian ethics are deeply embedded, have been taught the importance of rendering respect to our parents and guardians. Certainly a noble sentiment, but one that is sometimes taken (along with other parts of the Bible) at face value: Even, unfortunately, to the point of enduring abuse – physical, emotional, and otherwise.

Such abuse brings with it both immediate and long lasting detrimental effects on physical, emotional, and psychological well-being. According to the most recent research published in April 2016 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “In one long-term study, as many as 80% of young adults who had been abused met the diagnostic criteria for at least one psychiatric disorder at age 21. These young adults exhibited many problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts.”

This is a vivid demonstration of how “the sins of the parents” can be visited upon their children. (Numbers 14:18) How can we honor the people who, in violation of their parental duty, have harmed rather than helped us? Is there anything redeemable about such experiences or are we fated to inherit the cursed mantle of our family trees? The handling of such familial baggage is an archetypal theme in literature, theater, and film; as mentioned earlier it featured prominently in Star Wars, which chronicled Luke Skywalker’s struggle to resist following the same tragic path as his father, the former Jedi hero Anakin Skywalker, who morphed into Darth Vader.

Thankfully, it need not be our destiny to fall victim to such negative conditioning. Rising above our parents’ shortcomings begins with revisiting and forgiving the sins of the past.

“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother who sins against me? Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not just seven times, but seventy-seven times!” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Forgiveness, as modern medicine has discovered, is one of the most potent of healing balms. It helps to clear out the poison pockets of pain and anger that have welled up in our minds and hearts, often times causing us to “act out” or seek to combat the pain through drugs, alcohol, etc. As Dr. Joseph Murphy wrote in his classic best-seller The Power of Your Subconscious Mind:

“Forgiveness of others is essential to mental peace and radiant health. You must forgive everyone who has ever hurt you if you want perfect health and happiness. Forgive yourself by getting your thoughts in harmony with divine law and order. You cannot really forgive yourself completely until you have forgiven others first.” (Chapter 17, “How to use your Subconscious Mind for Forgiveness”)

As difficult as it is, forgiveness requires being able to step back and objectively look at our upbringing. This aids us in understanding that our parents and guardians were ultimately doing the best they could with what knowledge they had. It also grants us the opportunity to realize that in no way did we as children bring on ourselves such injurious treatment, which was symptomatic of our parents’ negative psychological patterns. This dispels any sense of guilt that we brought such suffering on ourselves.

Forgiveness, however, is not synonymous with reconciliation or reengaging in a relationship with the person(s) you are forgiving. As Dr. Murphy wrote, “I feel sure you know that to forgive the other does not necessarily mean that you like him or want to associate with him. You cannot be compelled to like someone…We can, however, love people without liking them.” (Ibid.)

Love is nothing more than the fulfilling of the Golden Rule, to “Do to others as you would have them do to you”. To forgive is to give for – to give peace for discord, love for anger, and joy for mourning. When we can think of our parents in a spirit of peace, wishing them all the blessings of life, we have cleared the first hurdle. Now, from a peaceful attitude of mind, we can start to honor them by seeing the good they possess. Consciously sifting the wheat from the chaff, we can incorporate the choice qualities of our parents into our own personalities and consign the undesirable ones to the fire to be forgotten.

It is through this process that we render our parents the highest honor. This was poignantly illustrated in Return of the Jedi, the final film of the original trilogy. After a fierce lightsaber duel, Luke is goaded by Emperor Palpatine to strike Vader down and become his new apprentice. After a moment of temptation Luke tosses away his lightsaber, firmly proclaiming, “You have failed your Highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” By forgiving the sins of Darth Vader and embracing the virtues of Anakin Skywalker Luke transcended and redeemed his father, who in a sacrificial act of love destroyed the Emperor.

Through consciously grafting the good and pruning off the bad we, like Luke, will learn that love covers a multitude of sins and that is only through such love that we fulfill the commandment, “Honor your Father and Mother.”

Conor MacCormack is a freelance writer covering New Thought and alternative spirituality. He is preparing to begin a course of study to earn ordination as a Religious Science minister. MacCormick has written a book of poetry, Lines of Life and Vision, in addition to producing updated editions of New Thought classics The Science of Getting Rich, As a Man Thinketh, and The Edinburgh Lectures on Mental Science, all available on Amazon.  He also works as an editor, providing proofreading and content creation services for authors, entrepreneurs, health care practitioners, and educational organizations. MacCormack lives in New England with his wife.

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