Family Matters #1
I exist in a divided family. Many of us do.
That term covers a multitude of differences in my family. From ideological beliefs to personality traits. In fact, a friend recently coined the term “spiritual mutt” to define my existence in my family dynamics. I say this because I am going to step back into the past for a minute, but I hope to bring this back around to talk about my current family dynamics.
I lived in a false persona of security for most of my childhood. When I was about 12, circumstances in my family started changing. One thing led to another which led to another which led to abuse. I think there’s three things that I want to point out about abuse. One, abuse carries with it a weightiness no matter it’s frequency or severity. Two, men are not the only abusers. Three, sexual abuse isn’t just penetration.
Briefly, here’s a little bit more about my background. From age 12 until 18, I was physically, emotionally, and sexually abused by my mom. From her perspective, she didn’t feel heard and she didn’t feel cared for. At every turn, the ways that she spoke to me and treated me was a result of feeling misunderstood. Don’t get me wrong, there are other factors that exacerbated her responses but, at the core of it, it was the turmoil in my parent’s relationships that led to her actions.
The typical dynamics of my family at the time looked something like this. My parents would often get into arguments and I would act as the mediator. There are so many factors that motivated my role as the mediator. I had younger siblings that I wanted to shield. I wanted to earn their affection. I needed to earn my place. I mentioned that sexual abuse doesn’t only involve penetration. I say this because, for me, my mom would do whatever it took to make me uncomfortable enough to leave the room when my parents were arguing. Sometimes, that looked like caressing me in places where she shouldn’t.
Having said all that, imagine how hard it was when my first thought after going through a difficult experience a couple years ago was “I just want my mom. I want to lay in her lap and cry.” She was never that person. She still isn’t that person. But, that was the Lord beginning to work out forgiveness in my heart. It’s been really messy sometimes. Most of the time, I’m completely unsure of myself. I question if I really want it, if it is really worth it. I question her and if anything has changed. Navigating family relationships is hard because I want more for them then they are currently experiencing, but I also what more for our relationship than we are currently experiencing.
There are some things I want to own about the beauty of forgiveness.
One, it is okay to grieve the relationship that should have been and isn’t. A problem arises when that yearning for intimacy overshadows wanting the gospel for them.
Two, forgiveness reveals misconceptions that have been colored by trauma. Misconceptions about God and our expectations. What expectations for our family have we elevated to the same level as salvation? As in, I will know God has redeemed my family when they are seeking counseling. Reciprocating the relationship in this way? Things that are good to want but aren’t the same as salvation. What expectations do we unnecessarily place on God as evidence that He is faithful? Can I just trust that He is faithful despite my circumstances? And, misconceptions about our family. Bitterness, and hurt, do a lot of damage that tend to negatively affect the way we view someone else’s motives. I’m not even talking about abuse. When we experience hurt at the hands of someone else, it is hard to believe the best about anything else that they may do. I am not free from this. Our own trauma blinds us to the trauma of the person that has traumatized us. Trauma that probably motivated the trauma that they impressed upon us.
I have to regularly remind myself that I have forgiven her. I have to regularly check my beliefs and my thoughts about her and her motives.
Four, I have never known the depth of my sin and the Lord’s grace for me more than I have since the moment I first extended forgiveness to my mom. It’s not just the mysterious, one-time act of forgiveness but I am incapable of loving her from moment to moment apart from Jesus in me.
So….how do we get from overwhelming grief to overwhelming understanding? By the grace of Christ in us and the mercy of Christ for us. Regardless of circumstances, I am well because I am well because I know that the grace of God is enough for me because He is faithful to keep His promises. This kind of knowledge is what God wants for us.