Eggshells, Fishing Poles, and Forgiveness
My mother had a personality disorder.
Hers was a not extreme case like you see in the movies, but it was also not an almost-normal situation that only those close to her would notice. Mom's scene was unnervingly in-between, and on any given day I couldn't guess what life might be like when I got home from school.
When "Real Mom" was around, she was fantastic. Amazing. And any other beautiful adjective you could invent. Real Mom was silly songs and animal noises and laughter and fishing poles. I loved my mom, and you would too.
But "Other Mom" was weirdly critical and there were land mines and eggshells, anger and sadness used for control. Other Mom was not someone you could talk to.
Dad was my larger-than-life hero. As a kid I couldn't imagine anyone being more awesome. I looked to Dad to shield me from the chaos—and possibly he did, but it didn't feel that way. I was bitterly disappointed. And lonely.
When I moved out as an adult, things actually got worse. So I became angry. Angry with Mom of course, but especially angry with Dad.
My anger was justified. Things were messed up and anger was a perfectly appropriate reaction. But I had more than anger—I had resentment and bitterness. I didn't simply resent what they did, but I also resented who they were.
I kept their hurtful acts alive in my mind. "You're the people... you're the people who did that," I would recite to myself in the middle of the night.
As a Christian I knew the Bible said I needed to forgive, I knew my resentment was wrong, and I knew that God had forgiven me for doing even worse things against Him. So I would muster my strength, grit my teeth and solemnly resolve that this time I would forgive. But before long I would step on some other eggshell and I would catch myself mulling the same bitter thoughts.
I'd pick myself up and give it another shot, but then I would be reminded of some ancient criticism and there I'd be. Because my choice of lawn mower had once been mocked, I couldn't even do yard work as a 50-year-old without contemplating payback. Those old hurts were surprisingly durable.
What good did it do me to harbor those stupid thoughts? I knew they weren't going to heal my mom or make landmines go away, or even just plain old make me feel better. My preoccupation was hurting me, hurting my own family and hurting my intimacy with God.
But as badly as I wanted to forgive like God does and let everything go, part of me enjoyed hanging on. I didn't hold bitterness—bitterness held me.
And I had to confess that in my own strength, I was powerless to let go and that I needed God's help. For those of us who know Christ, God gives the Holy Spirit to live in us and to enable both the desire and the ability to do hard and beautiful things that only God can do.
One of my favorite passages from the New Testament book of Romans says,
"God's agape-love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (Romans 5:5)
And when God pours out his agape-love, he doesn't dribble it with a teaspoon or an eyedropper. He unloads with a dump truck.
In my better moments, I'm aware I already have more agape than I will ever need—and there's more coming every day. He agape-loves me so much that I already possess more good things than I can possibly imagine. So I don't have to savor old injustices; instead I can allow the Holy Spirit to help me forgive and do so much more as I let God's agape-love overflow. Even from me.
But this didn't happen by magic.
First, I had to mourn the loss of not having the childhood I hoped for. In middle-age I had to allow myself to feel the loneliness... the sadness... and for the first time to allow myself to cry both for myself and for my folks.
I also needed to tell my heavenly Father all about it. Even though He already knew, I needed to go to my "Papa" and tell Him how wrong it was and how badly it hurt. My heavenly Father listened, and He told me—in His Word—that He was in control the whole time, that He loved me, and that He would take even those horrible experiences and use them for something beautiful. That's how wonderful He is!
I then told my Father that I was willing to let the Holy Spirit have His forgiving way in me - what the Bible calls "yielding" to the Holy Spirit.
I haven't forgotten what happened. My Father does not ask me to forget. So sometimes something reminds me, and I feel a twinge of resentment and the Spirit helps me forgive it all over again.
I have also been wise in interacting with my mother. So while I talk with her on the phone and visit her, I maintain boundaries of never reading her emails or listening to her phone messages, as those are typically from "Other Mom." Those boundaries have protected us both and made it easier for me to show her love.
So these days I'm happy to say Dad is finally once again my hero. And I'm thankful that I can love and feel love for my 90-something year-old Mom—Real, Other, or Unnervingly In-Between. Whether it means silly songs, landmines, eggshells, or something else, it brings me joy to brighten her day and, by the Holy Spirit in me, to shed the heavy burden of unforgiveness.
My heavenly Father is ready to help you do the same.