Something happens in our relationship with our parents as we crawl from age 20 to 30.
Fights are no longer about curfew or getting grounded; they are deeper, full of blame, and laced in personal dysfunction. “You were never home, I felt abandoned, and now I have a hard time in relationships.” “You left Dad, I felt the instability, and now I party to silence my insecurities.” “You did not say ‘I love you,’ and now I don’t love myself.”
It seems common: We leave home, become more of who we really are outside of the proverbial nest, and we say, “Wait. This isn’t right. That wasn’t healthy. My parents did this so wrong.”
Some of us choose to ignore it. Some of us walk through the forgiveness and reconciliation easily. Some of us get angry and bitter.
I chose the bitter route. I told my parents things I saw in my upbringing that weren’t quite right, and I seethed. I brought up issues loudly, and the fights lasted literal years.
This isn’t how it should be, is it? I was a good person; they were good people. I could see some of the amazingly helpful things they did in raising me, such as teaching me about Jesus, leading with love, and generously providing for my needs, but the negatives screamed so loudly.
The fifth of the Ten Commandments says, “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you”. The Hebrew word for “honor” here means “to make weighty” or “to glorify.” I understand this to mean we give weight to the essence of our parents’ beings because I believe God placed them in authority over us as children, and Jesus affirms the call to honor them for the rest of our lives. We don’t obey them when we enter adulthood, but we do honor them.
So, how could I give weight to their words when everything they said seemed to be blanketed in a shroud of past hurts?
The only way I could do this was through forgiveness.
To begin this process after seven years of fighting, I had to name the pain. I had to name what hurt before I could know what to forgive. I wrote it out. I mourned it. I added at the bottom of the page what these injuries cost me.
With a friend, I took each hurt to Jesus. In my mind’s eye I handed him each attribute of the pain that I had written. In this prayer I could not take my eyes off of him. If I did, I went down a tunnel of anger and rage. Only he could heal and handle the weight of it, so my eyes stayed fixed on his.
Next, I imagined him taking all that pain on himself. The injuries took the form of wounds on his body. He was marked for my parents’ sins. He was nailed to the cross for what they did.
After seeing Jesus’ injuries, I added my own sins to his lacerations. Because I believe the only way I can truly forgive is if I feel the weight of my own sin. I saw how my angry words, my hatred, my poor choices, and my outright terrible decisions nailed him to the cross, too.
And I wept. Not out of bitterness, but out of sorrow. I was and am no better than they.
This is the only way I can forgive anyone: I have to see and feel what I and the injurer cost my Savior.
Going through this process is the only way I can be in relationship to my parents today at 29 years old. I see the good, I see the bad, but the ugly no longer covers every conversation. They are broken. I am broken. We all need Jesus.
I do not always get it right (just ask them), and if they hurt me again, I have to go through a smaller version of the process again. But I’m guessing they do a similar thing when I hurt them, too.
I look at my one-year-old daughter now, and I am already praying for her college years. “Lord,” I petition, “please help us to get through that potentially tough season.” Maybe she won’t go through it, but I’m guessing she might. The twenty-something angst seems to be an inevitable part of growing up.
But I do hope that when she hits it and says, “Wait. They did this so wrong,” she can eventually find the freedom of forgiveness and have a relationship similar to the one I have with my parents that I cherish today.