Preston VanLoon hasn’t always been an expert when it comes to forgiveness.
Growing up, the Mandan resident harbored negative feelings toward his parents, who finalized their divorce when VanLoon was 8 years old.
“My father was an alcoholic and he was physically and emotionally abusive to my mother,” he said. “I was angry at my mother for not having my father in my life, and I was angry at my father for not being around in my life, because he was consumed by alcoholism.”
As he grew older, VanLoon said he began to see his mother in a different light.
“I began to see her through the eyes of compassion,” he said. “I began to see her not just as someone who divorced my father, but as someone who had experienced suffering because of what my father had done to her.”
He said he also developed sympathy toward his father.
“Alcoholism is a disease. It’s something that he didn’t have power or control over, though he tried at different times,” VanLoon said. “I began to have more sympathy toward him and his struggle.
“Forgiveness allowed me to change my thinking about my parents, and to see them differently."
VanLoon, who received a master’s degree in divinity as well as Christian education from Illinois’ Northern Seminary, became interested in forgiveness while working on his doctorate in educational psychology, which he received from Northern Illinois University.
At the time, he was working as a chaplain in a hospital’s psychiatric unit.
“Pastors from the community would come and talk to me about struggles they were experiencing in their own lives, personally, and also in their churches, professionally,” he said. “Even though clergy, who value and embrace forgiveness … many times they don’t understand forgiveness.”
VanLoon said many of the pastors he spoke with had to learn how to apply forgiveness in their own lives in order to be effective in helping others.
“Forgiveness takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of courage," he said. "It takes a strong person to let go of their hurt and pain and to be kind towards someone who has hurt them.”
VanLoon, who works as the director of spiritual care at Sanford Health, is a motivational and inspirational speaker. He also provides daily “Forgive & Live” meditations on KNDR-FM radio.
“So often when someone hurts us, we tend to see that person through the eyes of the hurt and the pain they’ve caused us. We might say that person is a cheater, or a liar or an abuser, and we only see that person through those eyes, through what they’ve done to us,” he said.
“But there’s more to who that person is than what they’ve done to us. They are someone’s son or daughter, mother or father, brother or sister. They’re also another human being that’s been wounded,” he added. “What they need is mercy and compassion and love.”
VanLoon says all humans have two things in common: “We know what it’s like to be hurt, and we know what it’s like to hurt others.”
“I’m no different than the person next to me. We all know what it’s like to be hurt. We all know what it’s like to hurt others,” he said. “Forgiveness, though, is a very humbling thing because it changes our lives.
“If we don’t forgive, we’re tied to the past. The hurt and pain that we suffered continues to control us. When we forgive, we take our control back and we’re able to move forward in our lives with hope and healing,” he added.
VanLoon said his new book, “The Path to Forgiveness,” is for individuals who are struggling with an unjust painful experience and are in need of healing and hope in their lives. He dedicated the book to his mother, who died six years ago.
A book signing is planned from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at Barnes & Noble in Bismarck.
For more information, visit www.drpvl.com.