If you read the title and your mind went to a word that is inappropriate, well, I got your attention. That was my goal. Rest assured, though, that this post is not about nor will it contain that word or any other words unfit to come out of the mouth of a Christ follower. The two “F” words bouncing around in my mind today are Family and Forgiveness. Both of these words are ones that have the power to cause within me a crippling fear. It probably isn’t a coincidence that I struggle with these words the most after a conversation with my mom. (Don’t misunderstand if you know me well enough to know my mom too…she is awesome and I love her. It’s just that often in our conversations she will bring up names of family members for whom I do not feel warm fuzzies; in fact, it may be safe to say that my feelings for them border on despise and hatred.)
The word Family, for me, stirs mixed emotions. My own family–my husband, my two sons, my two daughters, and my son-in-law–all have names that if mentioned cause great amounts of love and joy and pride and blessing. Each of them hold a special place in my heart and I would go the lengths of the earth for any one of them if they needed me to do so. I have gladly sacrificed for them and have spent countless hours in prayer for them, at various times, over the last twenty-seven years. (That’s how long I’ve been married. Gosh, that makes me sound so old.)
Of course, the word Family also implies a family of origin. All human beings have parents. Even if a parent had no involvement or influence on one’s life, they would still hold the title of parent. Many humans also have siblings. I am no exception to either of these scenarios. I grew up with two parents and three siblings. One big happy family. Only, not really. To others looking in, the illusion was that all was well. My dad worked hard for his family. He owned his own business and, by the time I came along, was pretty well established in life. I lacked for nothing–food, clothing, space to call my own, entertainment, and most of my wants were always provided. My mom stayed at home as did most moms back then. She did a short stint of work at the local school district serving food in the cafeteria. I think she did that more to keep an eye on my older brother, though, than because the money was actually needed. For many years, we went to church. My mom knew everyone and everyone knew her. My dad drove a bus to pick up kids for Sunday School. I was expected to be involved in everything that took place regardless of whether I wanted to or not–most of the time I did not. I actually hated it, but that is for another post. My mom would have groups of ladies over for ceramic night at our house. We were the “perfect” family from the outside looking in. Of course, no family is really perfect. All families have something or some things they cover up and hide from those around them. Even if that thing is not an earth shattering secret, no family allows others to know every detail. Out of respect for my parents, I don’t intend to reveal those things right now, but we were no exception to the fact that no family is perfect.
So, with all this about family, where does Forgiveness come in?
Well, because no family is perfect, family members get hurt by others in the family. Hurts need to be forgiven. Sometimes that is an easy thing to do. I remember a time when my older brother threw a dog bone at me because I wouldn’t give him the comics. This wasn’t a rawhide bone; this was a bone from a half ham that my mom had given my dog to chew. I ducked, the bone went over my head and hit the table lamp. The lamp crashed to the floor and broke. When my parents came home, he told my mom the dog had knocked the lamp off the table. My poor dog got yelled at. I remember it but I don’t think about it all the time. Even as I typed that, I didn’t harbor unforgiveness or hatred in my heart toward my brother. Something like that is probably common among most siblings.
Some hurts, though, are much harder to forgive. That is where I start to struggle. There are certain family members who I have decided to disown–I no longer consider them family nor do I ever want to see them again. In case you think this makes me a horrible person, they feel the exact same way. I know that doesn’t make it right but it does shed light on the fact that some hurts run much deeper than a small lie that gets a dog yelled at. Some hurts go right to the core of who one is as a person, and they ruin a part of their lives. This is the kind of hurt that has happened in my family. I suspect that these issues will not be resolved this side of heaven. I have actually come to accept that and I look forward to the day they have to answer to God for what they’ve done. (Maybe that makes me a horrible person…I’m not sure) Just hearing their names spoken through the telephone in a conversation with my mom kindles feelings of hate. That causes a spiritual dilemma for me. My spirit is divided. On one hand, I feel I am justified for hating them. On the other hand, I know I am commanded to forgive them.
This disconnect isn’t something I am always struggling with nor am I always entertaining thoughts of hatred toward them. It is just when I hear anyone speak of them, there is a darkness that rises in me that threatens to overpower me. I find that I have to repeatedly go to God and cry all over again–“It isn’t fair, God, that they get away with what they did!” or “God, why don’t you make them admit what they did so there can be justice?” or a host of other cries from my heart. One thing I have learned over the years I have been dealing with this is God doesn’t answer to me. If he did, things would have been resolved a long time ago. God is God. I am human. God commands me to forgive. I find that forgiveness is not a one time deal all the time. I have learned that I don’t have to feel warm fuzzies for them because I have said I forgive them. Some people say if there isn’t reconciliation then there wasn’t true forgiveness. I disagree. In the epistles, Paul instructs that as much as it is possible, live in peace with one another. I believe that not being a part of their lives and not having them a part of mine is living at peace. Not seeing them or hearing their names helps to quench the feelings that arise when those two actions aren’t in place.
I’m not sure how to know if I have truly forgiven them. Someone wrote that if one has truly forgiven, then there will be no ill feelings at the thought of their action(s) . If that is true, I guess I have some forgiveness work to do. I do know that there is no way, in my own strength, I can ever forgive them. God promises, though, to be strength in my weakness. I think this is going to be a lifetime of work for me because…
Some hurts can’t be kissed away or pacified by a band aid. Some require major surgery performed by the only One who has the skills to perform such a procedure. And He isn’t always in a hurry to get the operation over with, for there are lessons to learn through the pain of the operation and the difficulty of the healing that needs to happen afterwards.
In the meantime, my prayer has been and will continue to be that my own family, my husband and four beautiful, adult children, will never stop loving each other. I know God hears the cries of this momma’s heart.