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Posts tagged ‘wise reconciliation’

Q & A: Honoring dysfunctional parents when there is no reconciliation

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

This week’s question: I am 37 years old, happily married with three children living in a different state than my parents live. Bottom line, I’ve never had a healthy relationship with my mom – but last year we went through some terrible episodes to the point that my sister and I were concerned about her mental health and asked her to get help (she does have a history of prescription drug abuse).

Of course this only made her angry and she got very defensive. We begged my father to intervene and get help for her but instead he defended her, enabled her, and made excuses for her to the extreme. He ended up losing his job because of their behavior. His refusal to do anything about the destruction she was causing was perhaps the most hurtful thing. She was clearly unstable. Why couldn’t he see that? Wasn’t his relationship with my sister and me worth fighting for?

Having read about boundaries, I chose not to respond to her spiteful calls, emails and letters, except to say, “This is not Okay.” Or “You can’t talk to me like that and expect to have a good relationship with me or my family.” I prayed, I sought the advice of my pastor and with the support of my husband, we asked my parents to leave us completely alone until we were ready to initiate contact. They were reluctant at first but eventually did stop contacting us.

My plan was to begin a 3 week partial fast in January to discern God’s will on the best way to reestablish some sort of relationship with my parents, working toward forgiveness and trying to figure out how to “honor” them despite all the hurt they caused. I envisioned a calm confrontation regarding the way they had damaged our relationship, hoping that they’d see the damage they’d done.

Then the day before the fast, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. It is a pretty treatable form of cancer, but believing it was the right thing to do, I flew out to see them and spent a tense weekend with them. I bought groceries, cooked meals and tried to honor them without saying many words. I came home feeling worse.

So here I am. I’m angry at my parents for all the horrible things they did last year. I’m angry that they now act like nothing ever happened. I feel like I can’t discuss my hurt with them now because my dad is getting chemo and my mom is stressed out with that.

Would it be cruel to add a confrontation to what they’re currently dealing with? I am angry with myself because I have very little compassion toward them regarding the cancer (and I am a pretty compassionate person). I do call and check on them once or twice a week, but our conversations are brief and superficial. I email them photos of the children. When is it going to be okay for me to talk to them about what they did? I can’t pretend like everything is fine, but I also feel like I can’t talk with them about why things aren’t fine….so how do I move forward.

Answer: I’m sorry that you are experiencing this. It is so hard when we want to do the right thing but yet we have no opportunity to address, heal and reconcile a broken relationship.

I think it would be helpful to you if you differentiated honoring your parents from having a healthy or close relationship with them. You may have to settle for the former while letting go of the latter. You indicate that you’ve never had a healthy relationship with your mom so I’m curious why are you expecting things to change now? You envisioned sitting down with them both and having this constructive conversation over what happened last year but do you really think that’s going to happen? Do you have any history of those kinds of honest conversations with your mom or mom and dad before? Or is this understandable, but wishful thinking on your part?

You said that you never noticed how unhealthy your dad was until this latest episode when you expected that he would stick up for you and your sister and instead he sided with your mother, even to his own job loss. That deeply disappointed you but my guess is that if you look over your childhood; your father has probably always been passive and deferred to your mother’s emotional state. Again why did you expect something different this time?

So the question you’re asking is: can or should you bring up this messy relationship stuff right now? My advice would be no. Going through cancer and chemo is stressful enough and it may very well be that the stress from last year of trying to manage your mother the best he knew how has already taken its toll on your dad’s immune system. I remember speaking to a man recently at a conference I was teaching and he said he didn’t realize he was in an emotionally destructive marriage until he got cancer. His body couldn’t take the stress anymore. But his cancer woke him up.

So reconciling with them in the way you want – to have an honest conversation with them in which they would hear your anger and hurt about what they did last year and apologize to you may not be possible right now, maybe not ever. So where does that leave you? Can you honor your parents through your ministry to them – just like you did with meals, phone calls, photos of the kids and have no expectations of close fellowship or relationship? I think that is possible if you do your homework.

So I recommend that you talk with someone about your anger and hurts, you definitely need to process them so you can let them go (for your sake) and forgive your parents (for your sake) while praying that someday you can fully reconcile. I’d encourage you to minister to them as you are able and honor them as your parents even if you don’t’ like them or trust them right now.

If at some point they notice that you are not overly friendly with them and they bring it up, then that would be the time to invite them into a conversation about why. You might say something like this:

“I appreciate that you’ve asked me and it’s because of what happened last year. I know you’ve been under a lot of stress with the cancer diagnosis and treatment. I love you and I’ve not wanted to upset you or bring it up but It was very hurtful to me. If you’re ready to talk about it, I’d be more than willing to do that so that we can heal our relationship.”

That short statement puts your toe in the pond of relational honesty and invites them to have a respectful but difficult conversation about what happened. Their response will let you know whether it will be a good idea to proceed or not. For example, if they show any remorse or regret over last year and say something to that effect, then you can move forward and share your feelings – constructively.
However if they get defensive, blaming or shaming when you say you were hurt by last year’s stuff, don’t go there. You are just opening yourself up for more of the same.

But I’d encourage you to pray, prepare and practice what you want to say to them so that if the door opens, you can walk through it and say what you need to in the best possible way, so that as much as possible, you’ve done all you can do to be at peace with your parents.

For more help in preparing that kind of talk, see my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship.

The Gift of Forgiveness

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

Forgiveness is the oil that smoothes over the rough spots as two people struggle to love when it’s hard and become what God calls them to be. When we keep score on marital wrongs, love is impossible. Although some excellent books have been written on the subject of forgiveness, I still find in my counseling practice a common misunderstanding of what it is. When I asked one client how she will know she has forgiven her husband for his adultery she replied, “When I don’t hurt anymore.”

Getting past the emotional pain caused by someone who has hurt you is a reasonable goal, but not a prerequisite for forgiveness. In fact, it was while Jesus was in pain he forgave those who abused him saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). Forgiveness doesn’t remove the hurt or the consequences that sin has inflicted upon the victim. Sometimes the life-long consequences are worse than the original sin.

For example. Susan wasn’t honest with her husband about how much debt they were in. She had started her own business just a few years earlier and the expenses were much greater than she had ever anticipated. Instead of sharing that burden with her husband, Susan kept it to herself and tried to resolve the household cash flow problems by taking cash advances on all the new credit card offers she received.

When the creditors finally started calling the house because of unpaid bills, Danny hit the roof. Although it wasn’t easy, eventually Dannydecided to forgive Susan for her deceit and pride even though he stillfelt hurt and angry. They had to file for bankruptcy. They lost their home and Susan’s business. If Danny waited until he felt no more anger or pain before he forgave Susan, their marriage may not have survived. The consequences of Susan’s deceit was devastating and would impact their lives for years.

Extending the gift of forgiveness doesn’t guarantee an absence of pain. Neither does it imply an automatic restoration of the relationship. Sometimes we confuse forgiveness and reconciliation. Forgiveness is something we can choose to offer because of who we are. God tells us we are required and empowered to forgive because we have been forgiven, not because the other person deserves our forgiveness or has even asked for it. In fact, it is often the person who has hurt us the most that never asks us for forgiveness. They are not sorry, or they simply don’t care.

Forgiveness is choosing not to hold onto our right for justice or vengeance. We cancel the debt they owe us. In order to be able to do this we must free our heart from the bitterness and resentment we often feel when someone has wounded us. Although love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 3:8), there are times that reconciliation of the relationship depends upon the genuine repentance of the one who has sinned. 

When we sin, God eagerly desires to forgive us, but our relationship with him is broken until we repent. In order to move back into right relationship with God, we must acknowledge our sin, turn away from it and seek his forgiveness. Like God, we too must extend the gift of forgiveness to those who have hurt us, but for true reconciliation to take place, repentance and forgiveness must work together.

Part of Susan’s repentance involved cutting up all credit cards, allowing Danny to handle the checkbook and being accountable for all expenditures. The restoration of their marriage relationship involved both Danny’s decision to forgive and Susan’srepentant heart and behaviors, leading to their eventual reconciliation.

As fallen human beings, forgiving someone is not something akin to our nature. Justice and revenge come more naturally. We can only truly forgive someone if we learn how to do it from the great forgiver himself—Jesus. Part of seeing what God is up to when our spouse acts wrong is understanding that God teaches us how to become more like Jesus through this process. For how do we ever learn how to forgive if no one ever hurts us?

There is wonderful freedom in knowing we do not have to react to a painful wrong either by shutting down or retaliating. As we grow in our relationship with Christ, we become a reflection of who he is in us rather than a reflection of what others have done to us. Gary Thomas author of Sacred Marriage writes, “We will be sinned against and we will be hurt. When that happens, we will have a choice to make: We can give in to our hurt, resentment, and bitterness, or we can grow as a Christian and learn yet another important lesson on how to forgive.”

**The gift of forgiveness as well as the other gifts are from chapter 9 of How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong (WaterBrook, 2001).

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