Should You Forgive Your Parents?
This isn't typical for me. This is going to be harder. I need to share something with you that I'm currently going through. It's easier for me to share stories of the past, especially when they feel resolved, but this isn't one of them. This is a sticky topic, and we're working through it.
Growing up, I had a tough childhood. My parents divorced when I was 10 years old, and my mom moved my brother and me 500 miles away from our dad for a few years. Life was more negative than positive until more recently in my life. My parents didn't function well as two independent single-parent households. They didn't have the energy, emotional capacity, community support, money, love, etc. to raise kids single-handedly.
As a kid, the breakdown of your family unit is the breakdown of your life. You don't know much of life outside of your home. When my parents divorced, I lost my family (we would never be the same), my home, my community, and my sense of hope in the future.
If you read my previous post, you know I took it hard. Really, really hard. I did things I deeply regret, but one of the things I regret most is allowing that one heartbreak to spawn a decade of anger.
The more I share my story of growing up in a broken family, the more I find out that I'm not alone. No, I'm not even slightly alone. I am the majority. In an attempt to cite a dated piece for us millennials:
Of all children born to married parents this year , 50% will experience the divorce of their parents before they reach their 18th birthday. (Patrick F. Fagan and Robert Rector, "The Effects of Divorce on America," Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, May 2000.)
Most of us grew up in broken homes, whether we had divorced parents (half of us), or whether our parents remained married but not in a loving partnership.
There are a million things I could say here, but the conclusion I see is that we as a society, WE DO NOT KNOW HOW TO STAY MARRIED.
If you don't believe me, I'd like to ask you this question:
What do YOU know about marriage?
In my single days, I thought marriage meant romantic dates every night followed by "adult time" and snuggling. I thought it meant someone to always tell me how pretty I am. I thought it meant we would always get along because #hearteyesforever, right?
Now that I'm married, I think marriage is more about not yelling at my husband for leaving his beard clippings all over the sink. And having to schedule date nights on the calendar just to have a little romance in our lives. And saying no to really awesome events when I know my husband needs me at home (often not to talk, but just to be near).
In all honesty, I married a really easy guy to get along with. He refuses to fight -- he won't even argue with me when I want to argue! He picks up after himself and is cleaner than some female roommates I've had. And he would never betray my trust.
With all that said, I can see why people get divorced. I'm not saying I'm getting divorced. I'm saying I can see how people go from swooning to wrath...and quickly.
If you're a hot head (and I am/was/in recovery/whatever you call it), it's hard to be married. If you're wildly independent (and I was), it's hard to be married. If you don't understand the biblical meaning of marriage, it's hard to be married. And even if you DO understand biblical marriage, it's hard to DO what you SAY you believe. Like how exactly does a husband actually "give up his life" for his wife? (See Ephesians 5.) I don't want a dead husband is all I'm saying - LOL!
I write a lot about marriage, but this post isn't about marriage, so let me pull this train back on the track. What I want you to ascertain is: Marriage is hard. For two people. And then add kids, and it's harder.
This post is about forgiveness. Knowing the little that you and I now know of the difficulties of adulting, marriage, and raising little brats (like me) into functioning adults...
We need to forgive our parents.
For their divorce, for the fights we witnessed, for parenting all wrong, for parenting all right except [physical health, not speaking your love language, being broke all the time, etc.].
I'm not saying we disown our stories and pretend we're the Brady Bunch.
No, there is power in our stories when we use them in a way to heal, not to hurt.
I don't share my family's story to pain my parents...anymore. I used to. When I was younger, I used to tell people what rotten parents they were, and I'm truly so sorry for that.
But today, I write my family's story in hopes of offering a "me, too" to the most of us who grew up in broken homes. I open the sealed closets to say, "Let's dust the cobwebs off, forgive the past, and set our eyes toward a better future." I write to initiate forgiveness in my own heart and in yours.
How to forgive
Fine, you agree with me. NOT forgiving your parents isn't going so well for you. You're bitter, and you're too young to be bitter! Being bitter doesn't help you heal from the damage. But you don't know how to so simplyforgive someone who may have caused you a great deal of damage. Well, it's simple...and it's not. It starts with one decision today, and it continues into every day in the future. Forgiveness is a choice that you continuously remember.
If you are ready to forgive, pray earnestly about it. Are you really ready? If you're ready to feel better but aren't ready to surrender the weapons of warfare you've used against your family to retaliate for your broken childhood, then you aren't ready. Saying "sorry" without a commitment to forgiveness is merely going to un-bandage the wound. It will not heal, it will only be uncovered for new infection to invade. As soon as your mom or dad does the thing that you hated when you were younger, you're going to pick up those weapons and start battling again.
Forgiveness is a commitment. It's deciding now that you will no longer be unforgiving in the future. It's laying down your weapons and your deep hurt associated with your memories. The only way I've been able to forgive fully is by laying these down at the foot of the cross of Jesus. In Matthew 11, Jesus tells us:
Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Doesn't that sound amazing?!?
The restless soul
In my early twenties, I fiiiinally escaped the grip of my family's craziness, and I was 1,000 miles away living life, styling and profiling, thinking I was all that and a bag of chips (you can tell I'm a pre-Y2Ker). I thought, "Finally, life will be perfect without them constantly giving me bad vibes." But you know what I found out? All the hate and bitterness traveled with me every last one of those 1,000 miles. There was no rest for my soul as long as I was still holding onto the "My parents are the worst" excuse.
Everytime I lost my temper (read: blew up), it was because my parents never taught me good stress-coping.
Everytime I binged on vodka and Oreo's, it was because my parents never taught me healthy living.
Everytime I hated myself, it was because my parents never taught me to love myself.
Geez...I'm tired just writing this out. But that's how I thought for so long. And somewhere in my mind, I blamed my parents for everything I didn't like about myself.
Until one day...
I looked in the mirror of God's Word and saw myself, really truly saw myself. The monster I had become as a result of the decisions I myself made and was continuing to make. There wasn't a significant event that led to this, just God. I prayed and prayed that God would remove my rage, and my distaste for people, and my sex problem, and my sugar demon.
When I looked in the mirror of God's Word, I realized all my sinful ways are because I'm a human, not because I'm my parents' daughter. (For the mirror reference, see James 1:23.)
We need to quit blaming our parents for things they didn't even do. And then, we need to forgive ourselves for the things we've done under the guise of "my parents' fault".
"This post must be for someone else..."
Look, I know this is all really heavy and stuff. I know some of you are reading this thinking, "My parents are still married", or "My parents divorced, but they're still good parents". But in the last few months, I've heard from friends say the following:
My mom was a good mom, but she was awful when it came to our diets. That's why I eat junk food.
My dad wasn't around. He was always working. I didn't feel loved, so I'm always dating around looking for love.
My parents fought constantly, so I have all this rage that explodes without warrant. (That's me, btw...)
There's always something our parents could have done better. Not fought in front of the kids? Sure. Not punished us so severely for that "C" on the report card? Sure. Not this, not that...there's always something.
But what I've realized is this: Holding on to my unpublished List Of Wrongs hurts me just as much as them. If my goal is to find healing in my family, I must lay down my weapons at the foot of the cross.
When I look at the cross, I realize I have no right to hold anger toward my parents. I realize that I, too, am sin-filled compared to Jesus. I realize that Jesus laid down His right to be right in order to love me. And if I say I follow Him, I must follow His example.
Are you ready to forgive? To find the rest for your soul that Jesus promised? To surrender your right to be right in favor of love and healing for your family?
God, I've held on for too long to the faults of the past. I'm hurting from it, and carrying this weight of bitterness is too heavy for me. I lay it down at the foot of the cross. I want to take your light yoke of love and forgiveness. Bring rest to my soul. Help me to forgive my parents for all past offenses. Teach us to walk in Your way of love. Your love brings healing and restoration and redemption. Give us that Deuteronomy 30 restoration: "Gather us from everywhere we've scattered." Give us that John 10:10 life: living to the fullest! That's what I want for my family.
In Jesus' mighty name -- Amen!
Friend, be healed + be set free by the power of Jesus Christ! Go lightly back into your day!
Wedding photo by Benjamin Hewitt Photography.