Book Response: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers by Leslie Leyland Fields

DS-Daughter readsWhen 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.

signage-familyOn 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)

yellowflowerI 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).

Forgiving our Fathers and Mothers Leslie Leyland FieldsAs 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.

* * * * *


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.

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  • Comments

    1. Ann, what a beautiful reflection on a difficult subject. I haven’t read Leslie’s book but it sounds like something I might enjoy. Thank you.

      • Thank you for your sweet comment, Laura. This book weaves Leslie’s memoir with stories of others who have had to forgive hard, harsh parents. It’s had me looking at myself and my own family and all relationships with humility and compassion. I think you would appreciate how it’s put together with professional advice from a professional counselor along with the stories.

    2. Thank you, Ann. This is a direct answer to my prayer tonight, and a great place to start my repentence. :-)

    3. jacquie reed says:

      Ann – Thank you for a thoughtful review of the book. Blending Oswald Chambers thoughts is a beautiful weaving. I like the way you made the book personal, wondering how your children will look upon you as they go away – my guess is they will realize how fortunate they were to have you as their mother.
      I also liked the way you suggested the book can be used for any person needing to extend forgiveness – friend, parent, neighbor etc. You gave many perspectives to relate to the well written book. Thank you.

      • Jacquie, one reason I call these segments and “book response” instead of a “book review” is because when I read a book I generally live with it for days or weeks as I work through it, and then inevitably I have conversations or new thoughts as a result and it seems like I respond to it as a reader, as a real person, as someone pondering and struggling with these issues.

        Your note gives me hope that maybe the kids will at least find some balance in their dorm-room reflections, seeing not only my shortcomings as a parent, but perhaps some of the strengths and good times, too. Thank you. I hope and pray for them to remember lots of laughter and know that I love them.

    4. To my daily set prayers, I am going to add, “Lord, disillusion me.”

      That assertion from Oswald “The Meddler” Chambers, that disappointment in a person might actually be a failure to love God, is stunning. Hm.

      On the subject of parenting in hindsight, I commend to you Joyce Sutphen’s poem “Things You Didn’t Put on Your Resume.”

    5. I have Leslie’s book on the “to read” list. I’ve missed Oswald’s devotions the last couple of weeks but I’ve loved his depth of insight for years, truth-telling from such a young man with a wise and discerning soul. I have gifted forgiveness and I was the one who gained most from choosing to let imperfect be trumped by love. No props for me…this kind of love is born from God and no other. Thanks for sharing your story. I look forward to reading Leslie’s.

    6. A lovely response, Ann. I’ve got that one on my pile and hope to get to it in the next month or two. I love her blog and her sweet spirit, despite a difficult childhood.

    7. Acknowledging our common ground and that we ultimately long for the same things is a wonderful starting point toward forgiveness and understanding. If only we could remember that… but as we grow and mature, I think we do move in that direction toward remembering, and move toward that “gift-love” type of response. My Utmost for His Highest is one of my favorites, a stand-by, always next to me on the nightstand.

      This other book sounds look a good one to add to my list. That quote at the end is a truth to hold onto: “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).”
      I learned some new things your post; thank you for sharing.

      • Thank you for your note, Anna, and taking time to ponder this personally. That last quote follows stories of parents abusing kids, and Leslie has by that point in the book arrived, herself, at a place of freedom (as have many of the people who allowed their stories to be included). The ability to forgive the unforgivable reminds me of the scene in The Hiding Place when Corrie meets one of her torturers at Ravensbruck. She can’t forgive him. She can’t even shake his hand. She prays to God, knowing that she’s been traveling the world to preach the good news of forgiveness through Christ Jesus, and so the Holy Spirit compels her to lift her arm and then, the Spirit seems to do the rest, according to Corrie’s account. It’s as if she felt a physical sensation flow through her arm and all the way to where their hands touched in the handshake, and she realized forgiveness…when it can’t come from us, it comes from Him, flowing through us, somehow. And I think Leslie says the same thing, that we have all we need to forgive even when we don’t have it in us to forgive on our own.

    8. I needed this today. Thank you, Ann.

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