When I picture my two college-aged daughters at their universities, sometimes I imagine them lying across their bed or in the hallway of their dorm, discussing their peculiar childhood and frustrating parents. After all, the college years mark the first time most young adults have moved away and gained some distance and perspective. It’s when they can think back over their years at home. It’s when they can start comparing upbringings with roommates and suitemates and people they date. It’s when they can vote for who among them has the weirdest, cruelest, coolest parents.
We might get voted weirdest, and I’m okay with that. But as the kids look back with frustration on times when mom “flipped out” about things, I imagine they’ll tell of ways I failed to parent as perfectly as they wished. Their friends will shake their heads and grumble, “Why do parents get so uptight about things?”
And I’ll be sitting at home, regretting all the times I failed to parent as perfectly as I wished and wondering why I got so uptight about things.
On a recent camping trip, I shared with the family an Oswald Chambers devotional called “The Discipline of Disillusionment.”
We talked about having illusions of how we think another person should behave, whether it’s a husband or wife, mom or dad, child or friend. Sometimes when a person doesn’t live up to our expectations, we are left disillusioned, feeling bitter, frustrated, and angry toward the person who has let us down. As Chambers puts it:
[I]f we love a human being and do not love God, we demand of him every perfection…and when we do not get it we become cruel and vindictive; we are demanding of a human being that which he or she cannot give. (July 30, My Utmost for His Highest)
God-given disillusionment, on the other hand, brings freedom to both the person who has been let down, and the person who has let others down. Chambers continues:
[D]isillusionment which comes from God brings us to the place where we see men and women as they really are, and yet there is no cynicism, we have no stinging bitter things to say…. There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. (July 30, My Utmost for His Highest)
I told the kids about a book by Leslie Leyland Fields called Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. Leslie addresses this need to be disillusioned in order to offer forgiveness to others. As adults, we can begin to let go of illusions of how we wish our parents parented us; instead, we can realize our parents had hopes and dreams just as we do; we can recognize we’re all struggling, and we’re all messing up.
While Leslie’s focus is on parents, the same attitude can apply to relationships with any human who has let us down. When we see how much we have in common, for better or for worse, we can be more generous and understanding toward others, just as we hope others will be generous and understanding toward us:
We are pressed alike in the inescapable fist of time. We alike are made of humus, the dirt of the earth, and to dirt we alike will return. We alike are under bondage to ourselves, and we share a nature bent away from God.… We’re also made alike in the image of God, containing the very breath of God in our lungs. We each long for freedom, for a life that matters. We are equally the recipients of God’s love and mercy. We are all offered a new life, redemption, the removal of sins, the hope of heaven, the company of God’s Spirit within us. We share with our parents both in this “universal disaster of sinful brokenness” and in the universal offer of wholeness and restoration. (Fields 52)
With maturity comes also the freedom to offer love regardless of what we are given in return. Leslie references C. S. Lewis’s terms “Need-love” and “Gift-love.” She points out that as both we and our parents age, we “may still need their love, but as we’ve matured, we hope to grow toward a deeper kind of love, Gift-love, based on the simple desire to give and love another regardless of our own needs and the other’s response. This is how God loves us” (136-137).
As we talked about this around the picnic table on that camping trip, one of the kids engaged with the conversation more than the others. Most of them ate their pancakes rather quietly, contemplatively. Maybe they were processing this content; maybe they were eager to get past the devotional and on to other things. I hope, though, they will eventually embrace and live out what Leslie Leyland Fields encourages in her book and what Oswald Chambers observed in his devotional and what I have come to realize, as well:
When we trust that God is working in others and in us—knowing that people will fail us and will need our forgiveness—we find freedom for ourselves and offer freedom to others.
It’s not that we let people walk all over us, though; nor does this freedom give us license to hurt others.
It does make a way to break free from the crippling pain and abuse others inflicted on us in the past. Leslie says we can bless people like our parents or other authority figures from childhood, even if they never blessed us. We can create a new legacy. “We’ve been given all that we need to be whole people, people of peace, a forgiving people who won’t allow others’ sins to crush or smother us, who won’t let our love be silenced by neglect and selfishness” (152).
As I am learning to forgive people and reach out in love, regardless of the response I receive, I hope my kids forgive me, as well. In fact, I hope not only my kids but also my husband, my mom and dad, my in-laws, my nieces and nephews, and friends and neighbors will all forgive me for the ways I’ve failed them. I wish I could go back and do a lot of things differently, but I can’t.
At the very least, I can say I’m sorry.
Please forgive me.
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Chambers, Oswald. “My Utmost for His Highest: The Discipline of Disillusionment,” July 30. Oswald Chambers Publications Association. Oswald Chambers Publications Assn., Ltd. Web. 6 Aug 2014.
Fields, Leslie Leyland. Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers: Finding Freedom from Hurt and Hate. Nashville, TN: W Publishing Group, Thomas Nelson, 2014. Advanced Reader’s Copy. Print.