Abuse is a horrible thing particularly when it’s done by parents. The memories never die … the pain and consequence never disappears. I shouldn’t say “never” because this is not true. In my case, I’ve worked through it. Slowly.
When one sibling is the beneficiary of another sibling’s abuse, yet denies it, it’s a gut-punch. This happened to me. My sibling was adored and protected by her mother — I was thrown to the dogs without either parent’s love. She’s unable to see this, probably because it throws into stark relief how much she gained and how much I lost. At this point, it doesn’t matter. I’m over it.
I can remember, though, when my mother died. I was relieved. The woman who had inflicted such pain on me was gone. I was free! It felt, strangely, like a huge load had been lifted off my shoulders. Yes, I was free from her manipulation and abuse. Finally.
Recently, I have been struck by the idea that I must forgive her because God has forgiven me. Besides that, if I don’t forgive her, God has reasons to hold back His blessings or, worse yet, not forgive me. Since I am a sinner, I need His forgiveness not His wrath.
For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.
So, alone, by myself, I’ve been praying to forgive and really mean it. It’s very very difficult to forgive someone who denies my abuse. But it must be done.
Let me share with you the stages of forgiveness.
First, I became aware, slowly, that I needed to forgive her, not because she merits it — she doesn’t — but because I want to do the right thing, to honor my Father and behave like a true Christian. Any psychological benefits of forgiveness do not matter to me. It’s the spiritual benefits I crave, a closeness to God that only comes to those who have short accounts with others.
Second, I realized I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t forgive her. The pain was too deep. To me, she’s my mother re-incarnated, so the relief I had felt when my mother died simply stopped when I tried to forgive. The torment returned. The horrible memories flooded my mind. I prayed and prayed to be relieved of these memories but they didn’t disappear. If anything, they intensified. At some point I just gave up. I told God I was unable to forgive her, so it was up to Him to either change me or change the circumstances.
Third, amazingly, He began to change me! He started by reminding me, not too subtly, that forgiveness isn’t an option but a command. So much of the Christian life is commanded, in fact. Including forgiveness. So, God raised the stakes. He commanded me. I had no choice but to give in … but how? I couldn’t do it.
Fourth, He began to show me things about my past that weren’t all bad. Before this, however, I had to recall the horrors and deal with them, one by one. When I had thought of my mother, I remembered her jealousy and how she liked to dig her into my skull, then laugh. I remembered her shriek. I remembered her sabotaging my success. She felt entitled to all attention and deeply resented the fact that, frankly, I was smarter, better educated, better looking, more athletic and all-around more likable than she ever was. This is not bragging. I’ve been beat down by life and am not this way now. But I was this way. I had to hide success in front of her and amplify any failure, which she loved to see.
When I applied to Harvard and Yale, mother told me not to tell anyone because I’d never get in and she didn’t want to be embarrassed. So, for the most part, I told only a few close friends. One of my friend’s mum was like a mum to me, so I told her. She said, confidently, that I’d be accepted and love it there. Sure enough, I was accepted into both universities with full academic scholarships to boot. But the joy of being accepted was tempered by the fear of what my mother would do to me! I began to vomit and actually considered not going because I feared more abuse.
My friend’s mum helped me tremendously. She told me that I had to tell my mother that I was accepted, and too, I had to go.
I vividly remember telling my mother about these universities. She spun around, stared at me and started screaming, “I‘m the smart one in this family, not you … you don’t deserve anything … you must have tricked them … it’s not fair … you are so bad … I hate you.” I stood there and took her verbal abuse, then silently walked out. This infuriated her. She stood in the doorway, grabbed a wadded sock and threw it at me.
“You deserve to be hit,” she said.
And then it was over. I left the next day even though it would be a few months before the academic term began. I simply couldn’t live at her home any longer.
When she died, I was so very grateful; I praised God effusively. But she didn’t really die, I found out, because she lived on in the form of her daughter, the one she loved, not me. My sibling is just like her. She even looks like her. Her voice and nervous laugh is just like mother’s. The last time I saw her, many years ago, I was struck by her walk — she tilted forward and walked determinedly like her mother. Their eyes are the same color. Her hair, also similar. The shape of their bodies is uncannily identical. Their interests are the same — they both had the same major in college. They had similar jobs. Similar interests. Similar outlooks. Similar insecurities. This makes perfect sense since they had been together all the time as if tethered at the hip: my sister’s entire childhood and much of her adulthood was dominated by her mother.
But now, I have to forgive this sister. Forgive the abuse she continues to deny. Forgive how she took advantage of my pain over and over and over. Forgive how she claims to be a Christian yet has no capacity for forgiveness. Forgive her mocking of what mother did to me, her assumption that I somehow deserved it.
Folks, this is hard. Really hard.
But I’m doing it. Alone. If she ever comes back into my life, which I doubt as we’re hiking down very different paths, I’ll tell her that I had struggled to forgive her but finally did it. She’ll assume, I’m certain, that she’s perfect therefore needs no forgiveness; she has done no wrong. She’ll blame the past on me. Whatever. That’s okay. My forgiveness of her is rooted in God’s command and God’s enablement, not her response. Finally, I’m free from her as well.
Free at last.
So, the fifth stage of forgiveness is actually doing it. And then, not looking back but setting my face like a flint, forward ever forward, walking toward the rising sun, and away from the horrors of childhood. I have forgiven her. It’s over. Done.
I obeyed God and am finally free.