Two questions from two Anons:
- How do you forgive a parent? I know it’s Gods command to honor them but my mom has hurt me so much, I went a college in another state just to heal. She wants me to come home for the summer but I don’t want to. :( i know I have I forgive but it’s hard.
- My dad cheated on my mom, and I have not kept a close relationship with him since. He claims to be the dad of his gf’s 9 yr. old daughter, though DNA tests support that he’s not. And now, his gf is keeping him from fixing his relationship with me. Every time I get the courage to forgive her for what she did, she does/says something to change my mind. I want to forgive her, but I can’t.
I know that forgiving parents can be a tricky thing because of the emotional ties and long history, but besides a few extra issues to navigate, God gives you the gift of forgiveness to help you and not to endanger you. Forgiveness does not equate to “overlook all hurts and act like it never happened.”
My dad and I still have tons of issues that we haven’t exactly resolved, but I’ve learned long ago to keep a certain distance from him because it’s about as much as I can stand. This doesn’t make me or you less of a Christian somehow, so long as bitterness has not grown its hairy roots in us. In fact, distance has been healthier for the relationship, and necessary.
I don’t want to tell you what to do in your respective situations, but please allow me to share some guidelines that are worth considering.
1) Forgiveness does not mean friendship.
If your ex-boyfriend or ex-husband or parents have physically abused you, you don’t ever have to go near them again. If your parents have verbally or psychologically hurt you, you’re allowed some time for healing before you can safely pursue a close relationship again. Forgiveness does not mean it’s suddenly all smiles, winks, nods, and let’s be buddy-buddy. More than that, forgiveness actually acknowledges what happened, calls it a sin, and removes the knife from the wound.
God doesn’t want the idea of forgiving someone to be either uber-romantic or a forced obligation. It’s a spiritual gift that works FOR you so you can be free of what has happened to you. It should never be a magnetic chain back to a bad place: it’s always a way forward. Yes, it’s certainly for God’s glory that there’s reconciliation. But we must balance that with your peace, joy, and growth, which glorifies Him too.
2) Parents are just people too.
A - They are just one opinion. I know we give extra weight to what our parents say and do; we are biologically wired to respond to them more. But in the grand scheme of things, they are not our main source of encouragement nor is everything they say always true. There’s only one encourager, one truth.
B - Boundaries with family are okay. Family has a way of driving you crazy. Just as with anyone else, you can draw a line for yourself and disallow anyone from crossing. Assuming you are not in their house anymore, it’s okay to say something like: “Hey, thanks for inviting me and don’t take it personally, but I don’t need this right now. Let’s hit pause on that and talk later. Please respect my time and my space.”
You don’t ever have to put yourself in a compromising situation. If your mom or dad re-marry and the new person treats you like crap: who are they to do that? The old adage is true: people need to earn respect. A title means nothing and no one owes anyone anything. Sure, forgive the hurts and don’t let it grab a foothold, but that doesn’t mean you need to force a plastic-smile and have a pow-wow every Tuesday.
Also, if you’ve left the house and if you’re more or less self-sustained, you are now building your own house with the Lord. You can control what goes in and out. You’re allowed to say a big fat NO to your parents if they steer you off course. Yes, we should honor them: but the Bible has a lot of things to say to both children AND parents, and if you’re caught between compromise or Christ, don’t let fear push you into compromise.
C - They have the same hopes and hurts and history as everyone else.
Please understand that your parents act the way the do because of an entire lifetime behind them. I remember one of my friend’s moms was extremely overbearing, but my friend was supernaturally patient with her. When I asked my friend about his patience, he said, “When my mom was a kid, she was kidnapped during the Khmer Rouge along with her brothers. She saw all her brothers shot in the head, one by one, right in front of her. You don’t know what that does to a person.”
You see: your parents have been through more than you will ever know, in a uniquely strange era, with challenges you couldn’t understand. And if they raised you since diapers, they have sacrificed far more for you than you could bear to hear. Have grace for them, like you would any struggling person. I’m not absolving them of responsibility, but try to see the obstacles they are facing and the upbringing that has wired them how they are today. You’ll be able to better maneuver around them.
3) You can find a way to help.
There comes an awkward time when many young Christians spiritually outgrow their parents, and while that doesn’t make you “better” than them or anyone else, it does mean you are in the position of helping them forward. You can start to see their blind spots, and in a bit of a delicious twist of irony, you can serve your parents as the mature Christian.
At some point you will establish some street cred with your life. Whether your parents believe that or not, you will have a right to call them out on some things. You do that with respect, of course, without accusation and with all grace and understanding, but if you feel something is off about their life, you can raise the question. Just like with any other person, they might reject you or condescend or storm off or yell at you, and that’s kind of their loss. But there’s a chance they will be humble enough to see you are trying to help.
4) Ultimately, serve your parents like you would anyone else.
One day, time will grow short. Maybe you can’t make up for lost time or old hurts, but you can still make peace in the end. If anything, Jesus knows it’s better for your soul.
It’s the Christian thing to serve them, even if you feel like they don’t deserve it. Because Jesus served us, and none of us deserved that either. When conviction calls and the time is right, bring a peace offering like cookies or bagels and just hang out with your parents. Ask if they need a car wash or the kitchen cleaned. You’ll be surprised how both you and your parents feel about that.
Please don’t be so stubborn to think that this won’t “work” somehow, as if we always need to work an angle. Sometimes it’s best to wipe the slate clean for the day, head to your parents’ place, serve them, and hope for the best. Not every mission trip or church service or outreach goes perfectly, and this one won’t either. But we still serve, because Jesus served us. Try to have that long-term endgame in mind. Try to understand them as you would any other human being.
How I treat my parents is always an area I can work on. And mine are so loving too.