Growing up, there was nothing specifically wrong about my home life from the outside looking in. But few people knew my mom struggled with a host of mental and physical issues.
Due to these issues, my mom couldn’t work, and my dad worked two jobs. There wasn’t money left over to hire outside help to pick up the slack of what my mom couldn’t do, so I took on a lot of responsibility at an early age. I would do laundry, clean the house, and cook dinner. Approval was everything to me, and I craved the approval of my parents.
Growing up with a parent who struggles with mental and physical issues changes the atmosphere of the home. You are regularly uneasy, wondering … What is going to go wrong next?
I can remember one birthday when I had planned a sleepover. My mom had been sick all day, but she was determined to still have my party (which is an endearing part of this memory). All my friends were at my house, but we eventually had to call the parents to pick up their children. I ended up sleeping over at someone else’s house, because my mom had to go to the hospital.
My mom couldn’t help this incident, but I regularly longed for her to be more resilient. To fight a little harder to be the mom who wasn’t sitting in her pajamas all day. To have the kind of house I didn’t have to take responsibility to clean if I wanted to have friends over without feeling embarrassed. Maybe this seems like I was being too hard on my mom, but this wasn’t a rough couple of months. This was my childhood.
But it really wasn’t until college that resentment set in. As someone who struggled with depression, anxiety, and eating disorders throughout high school and college, I couldn’t understand why I had to keep persevering when my mom had basically given up. I tried to discuss this with her at one point, but she shut down the conversation.
I struggled for a long time with whether my feelings and resentment were valid, or if I was simply asking more of my mom than she could give. Then I realized knowing the answer to that question was not important. The most important thing was letting go of resentment and offering forgiveness even though it was never sought.
What the Bible says about forgiveness
I think we often perceive forgiveness as a two-person activity. Someone apologizes and someone forgives. That’s how it works. But the Bible doesn’t present forgiveness this way.
- “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
- “… bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Colossians 3:13)
- “Then Peter came up and said to him, ‘Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” (Matthew 18:21-22)
None of these passages mention an apology preceding forgiveness. Obviously, we hope an apology would occur first, but it’s not required for forgiveness to happen.
Maybe you’re looking at Ephesians 4:32 and recalling how repentance is part of us following Christ (1 John 1:9). This is absolutely true. But once we accept Christ and ask for initial forgiveness for all our sins, that debt is gloriously paid. How often after we become a Christian do we sin and fail to ask for forgiveness? Praise the Lord, our debt remains paid! May we be quick to forgive like Christ, rather than quick to hold on to the past.
3 things to remember when you struggle to forgive
When I start to feel resentment toward my mom for past events, I try to remember three things: the good over the bad, my own sin, and that God uses hurt for good.
I have a melancholy personality. I honestly hate it. I’m often negative, so remembering the good over the bad can be difficult for me. But I’ve found this is crucial for me to forgive. No, things were not perfect, but my dad worked two jobs to provide for our family. That is worth remembering. My mom often felt absent when it came to motherly duties and responsibilities around our house, but she was never absent when I needed to talk and was always on my side. Remembering the good helps.
It also helps to remember my own sin. While I was writing this, I was reading Journey to the Cross by Paul David Tripp. He wrote, “The more you see your sin, the more you will respond tenderly to other sinners and want for them the same grace you have received.”
How often have I sinned as a parent? Sadly, I have yelled at my daughters and lost my patience more than I like to think about. Maybe it’s a different kind of hurt than what I experienced from my mom, but it’s still sin. Sin that I pray my daughters will not hold against me. I pray they remember my apologies over my faults. Shouldn’t I show that same grace to my mom, even if an apology was never offered?
Lastly, I have to remember God uses hurt for good (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Please hear me, I am well aware mental illness can be all consuming, and chronic physical illness and mental illness often go hand in hand. I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, but because of my past hurt, it has made me fight harder to keep going for my family. Because I am aware of what mental illness can do to a family, I cling to my Savior when I want to give up. Honestly, if I didn’t have my past experiences, I don’t know if I would be as motivated to keep running the race (2 Timothy 4:7-8).
Forgiven: letting go of resentment
By the time I was married, lived far from home, and was six-months pregnant with our first daughter, I had managed to let a lot go from my childhood. I cherished the conversations and texts with my mom and her excitement about being a grandma.
But as I was getting ready for work one morning, my husband, who had already left, returned home. My dad had called to let him know my mom died of a heart attack in the night.
At that moment, there was no resentment between my mom and me, I only missed her. Period. I only regretted that she would never meet her granddaughter. As I look back, this gives me peace knowing I had forgiven my mom before she died, and I’m thankful to God for it.
Copyright © 2022 by Megan Downing. All rights reserved.
Megan lives in South Bend, Indiana with her husband and two daughters. She has a Master of Arts in Christian education, with a concentration in missions, and has worked in the Christian education world for many years. Megan enjoys baking, writing, and spending time with her family.