As Americans get ready to celebrate Father's Day on Sunday, a young adult ministry leader is encouraging Christians to forgive their absent fathers and others who have inflicted harm in their lives.
David Marvin, a pastor at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, Texas, gave a sermon Tuesday titled "How to forgive" before the church's young adult group, The Porch, which ministers to thousands of young adults through live stream affiliations with 15 churches across 10 states.
"Christians are not called to just have the title of Christians, but the lifestyle of Christians. And Jesus over and over said: 'If you're going to follow me, you will forgive people.' And I know represented in this room there's a lot of pain," Marvin preached.
"When we brought up Father's Day a second ago, that's not a day of celebration. It's a day that reminds you of what you didn't have or the terrible father you did have. … God wants you to experience the healing that happens when you decide to forgive, which is why over and over He commands it."
He assured forgiveness can change the trajectory of someone's life.
Marvin, who's been on staff at Watermark for over a decade and has a biblical studies master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, said many people don't know what steps are needed to forgive. He believes there's a lot of misinformation on forgiveness, noting that "forgiveness is not forgetting."
"If anything, you have to remember in order to forgive someone. Forgiveness is not excusing what happened. It's not pretending like, 'man, it wasn't a big deal when they abused me.' That was a huge deal. But you're still called to forgive," Marvin preached.
"Forgiveness is not minimizing or belittling it. The sin that happened against you was such a big deal Jesus had to come on the cross and die. Forgiveness is not the restoration of a relationship. In other words, you can forgive someone, which doesn't make you best friends. But it is a command."
He stressed that "forgiveness is not fair" and laid out three steps to take.
Knowing what to forgive
The first step of forgiveness, Marvin said, is to "identify what to forgive."
"It is a really difficult thing to forgive or release the need for payback, to release that debt that was created if I don't know what was taken," he explained. "In other words, I can't forgive you for what you stole from my house if I don't know what you stole from my house."
Marvin said many never process what others did to hurt them, which can block the process of forgiveness to those who hurt them.
"Canceling that debt involves identifying what was taken. ... Every time somebody hurt you, sinned against you, neglected, abandoned, abused, sinned; there's the fact that it happened, then there's the impact it had, … and the fact of what was taken," Marvin said.
"What do I mean by that? That every time somebody has sinned against you or me, there's a debt that is created. And part of the way that we forgive is by looking it in the eye and saying, 'This is what was taken and I'm not holding that against you anymore.'"
Marvin offered himself as an example, speaking to the resentment he used to hold against his father for largely being absent from his life growing up.
"We'd see each other at holidays, and my siblings would drive across town two times a month due to custody orders, and we'd see him in this tiny little apartment," the pastor explained. "And I realized I was carrying some real hurt. And somebody gave me the teaching of forgiveness. It's really hard to forgive someone if you don't know what they took from you."
Years ago, Marvin began writing a journal to chronicle the different things his father "took" from him growing up.
"You took from me having a dad in the home. You took from me having a father show up at sporting events," Marvin recounted.
"You took from me the ability to see what God's design for marriage was meant to look like. You took from me every other Monday night where I had to drive across town and go to that apartment. You took from me having a father close in my life.'"
Forgiveness is a decision that needs to be made, Marvin said, referencing Ephesians 4:31. The verse reads: "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice."
The second step on the path to forgiveness and "by far the hardest," Marvin said, is making the decision to "let go" of the debt and release it to God.
"Maybe it was the fact that you grew up in a broken home like I did, and it led to some brokenness in your life ... that's not your fault and you didn't ask for it," Marvin said.
"But if you're going to forgive and experience healing, you've got to make the decision: 'I'm going to identify what was taken because I can't release that debt if I don't know what it is.'"
Marvin stressed that "forgiving is an act of faith" and warned of the potential consequences of failing to forgive.
"To say to God, 'I am choosing to not forgive this person,' is to say 'the eternal torment of Hell is not enough for the pain they created.' Or if they're a believer, it's saying to God, 'the death of your one and only Son Jesus on the cross, that may be enough for you God, it's not enough for me. And they need to pay. And however I can make them pay through the way that I treat them, or the way that I avoid them, or the way that I refuse to forgive them, I'm going to do,'" Marvin said.
"God says: 'the forgiven forgive people.' We forgive because we've been forgiven. ... God's grace doesn't just flow to us and His forgiveness doesn't just flow to us. It's to flow out through us and how we interact with other people."
The third step to forgiveness, Marvin said, is to "choose to forgive daily."
Marvin discussed the Lord's Prayer, which includes the portion that states, "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," which is also rendered as "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
"Forgiveness is a medication you will have to take for the rest of your life," Marvin said. "Is holding on to that bitterness going to help you? Jesus says, 'No.' It's going to hurt you and your future."