When Life Hurts - Part 8

You've reread the story of the Prodigal son so many times you can almost quote it. You're clinging to the hope that someday, your wayward child will "come to himself in the pigpen" and it will all be over. You lie in bed and weep as you imagine the day your child shows up on your doorstep, broken and repentant, begging forgiveness and ready to embrace the life you know God has for her.

But what if it doesn't happen like that?

What if the faint attempts to "clean up his act" do nothing more than straighten up the outside, but you see no humility, no true heart change, no real repentance. What if that arrogant face still sneers at you, still blames you and everyone else for the horrible life decisions he alone has made? What then?

What do you do with your sack full of rage, your broken dreams, your wounded family? Is this all you're going to get? What about the beautiful dream of complete reconciliation?

Forgiveness doesn't come all at once. No matter how much we may want it to, how hard we may try, forgiveness isn't necessarily a one-time thing. You may have to work at it for years before God completely takes the bitter sting away. Don't feel badly about yourself if this is the case, as long as you are working at it. Just don't quit too soon. You will miss out on the peace of God.

In our case, I prayed daily for the strength to forgive. I would think I'd done it, only to learn something else--a lower level to which our daughter had sunk that I hadn't known about. And it would all come rushing back.

We had known nothing about the extent of the evil activities in which our daughter had been engaged until it all came to a head and we kicked her out. Over the next few months, the revelations came one at a time, each one more shocking until I thought I couldn't take any more.I would find things, hear something from a former friend who thought I already knew, see a photo, find a letter under her mattress. And each time, the shock would send me reeling for days. When I thought I knew where the bottom was, there was always a deeper hole.
The anger was eating me alive. It's easier to forgive someone when they "get it." When you see real agonized repentance. When someone says, "I'll do anything to make this right," as the Prodigal said to his father. Forgiveness is so much easier when you've been vindicated by the one who harmed you.

But forgiveness is not dependent on the offender's attitude. The truth that kept coming back to me was that Jesus forgave the men who were nailing him to the cross--while they were doing it! They weren't the least bit sorry. He even excused them to his Father by saying, "They know not what they do."

And our children "know not what they do" to us, to their families, or to themselves. They may not "get it" for years, but God gets it. God knows how badly you've been hurt and he wants the hurting to stop.

You have to let go of it. This has been one of the most difficult steps I've taken, but God has miraculously lifted this burden of rage from my heart and I have forgiven my daughter, even of the things I still don't know about and don't want to know. Much of what she did was directly harmful to us, and that stung more than the things she did to herself. But if Jesus could forgive the men who crucified him while they were in the act, who am I to withhold forgiveness, even though my child may still be hurting me?

God's gift of forgiveness is his gift to you. By forgiving, you remove the barrier that loomed between your broken heart and the One who could best comfort it. You can now run freely, without guilt, to his side and find the rest and peace that your child has stolen from you. And you can also look forward to the good that God will bring from your suffering, because he is now free to bless you and use you without having to try to work around your enormous load of pain.

Don't confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. It's nice if they work together, but that's not always possible. Forgiveness does not condone further sin, nor does it restore trust, respect, and friendship. Great sin has great consequences, apart from forgiveness. A child who is still caught in the tangle of rebellion will often try to use your offer of forgiveness to further manipulate you. We allowed this to happen early on, thinking we were showing mercy when all we were doing was enabling.

Forgiveness is what takes place in your heart, but you can still require a faithless child to earn back your trust through a very slow process. The difference is that you are no longer controlled by your hurt and they lose the power to control you by their actions.

None of this is the slightest bit easy. I had already experienced painful events: my parents' deaths, my younger child's crippling accident. But none of that compared to the excruciating pain of losing a child through an act of her own will.

But God is bigger than our hurts and if we work with him, he can turn even something so senselessly painful into something good.

Our daughter has spent the last two holiday seasons with our family and has stopped many of her harmful behaviors. Although it will never be as though the heartache never happened, we are building a "new normal." Our other children have learned much from watching their sister's poor choices and having seen the effects of evil up close, want nothing to do with it. One more way God can use bad things for good.

If you've been helped or encouraged by these posts, then He's already turned the darkness into light. And it's not over yet. "All things work together for good to those who are called according to His purpose." If you are one of His, He wants your pain, your ruined family, your shattered dreams about the life you thought you would have. He can twist your molten life into a work of art and no wayward child has the power to stop that.
So how about you? Have you worked through the guilt, the pain, the disappointment? Or are you still in the thick of it? You're not alone. Feel free to email me if you'd just like a shoulder to cry on. I've been there and I'd be glad to offer that shoulder to you. leaannmcc@gmail.com


Jill said...

Right now we're going through the cycle of forgiving and then finding out new things she's done. You're so right that forgiveness and restoration are two different things. At one point when our daughter was trying to do right and make some changes, she struggled with the fact that everything in her life didn't quickly go back to the way it was. I reminded her that restoration is often a process, but that Jesus can help her through that. Since then she has gone back to her own ways and has turned her back on us completely. A daily helping of God's grace is what's getting me through each day.

Oh, and you're right, too, about the other children seeing the effects of poor choices and a life lived in rebellion.

Lea Ann McCombs said...

Jill, Thank you for stopping in each day and letting me know your story. I've been praying for your family and your daughter. One Scripture God brought to my attention about a year ago was in 2Samuel when Samuel was stepping down as prophet, but in his speech to the people he said, "I don't want to sin against God by neglecting to pray for you."

That struck me as I realized that in letting go of my daughter, I had also stopped praying daily for her and it wasn't only a sin against her, but against God.

I encourage you to keep praying, but not in desperation. In confidence that God will turn something so painful into good in your life.

Silly Susie said...

I love you, Mom.
I think what you're doing is really great.
I'm so glad you have found this way to touch so many people. What a while of treasures you have waiting for you in The Gates!

You're a fantastic writer.
You win.

Deborah M said...

Lea Ann,
Thank you for sharing your story. I hope that it helps many others. I sent it to a friend to send to her friend who is going through some hard times with her son.
Deborah M.

Deborah M said...

Lea Ann,
I can't remember the post it was in, but you talked about your daughters choices leading to mental illness and that your pastor agreed. I wanted to put my two cents worth in here. I've dealt with chronic depression for many years and I'm involved with Georgia NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Many times we have a mental illness that is not diagnosed and/or treated and the choices we make in life can exacerbate that mental illness. Just like when we don't take care of a physical illness the symptoms are going to get worse. Mental illness happens when something in the brain is not working right. Anyway, just wanted to voice my opinion.

Once again, I really admire you for writing about this, because I know you put a lot of yourself/emotions into this. We need to be more supportive in our church families for those who are going through situations that are looked at as failures of the person/family. I'm waiting for the day when reality meets Christian Fiction!
Deborah M.