Warning. This story is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who want to let go of pain and are serious about forgiving those who caused it.
For 40 years of my life, I lived with bitterness and resentment towards my mother. I just didn’t know how I could possibly forgive her. As a child, I wasn’t a priority. My mother didn’t know how to express love, and I felt like I didn’t have a purpose for her, other than to clean her home.
My step father was abusive to me. He was extremely manipulative and perverse. As a sexual predator, he began priming me at a very young age. When I was 12, he started fondling me. Over time, his advances and molestations became more and more frequent. He encouraged me to be sexually promiscuous with other boys, and eventually attempted to have intercourse with me.
My mother knew what was happening, but she never said anything to me. She was in denial. It took a lot of courage for me to finally break the silence. I reached out to a relative and I eventually had to tell my mother what was happening.
My mother’s response hurt me for years. She said with little emotion, “If that’s what happened to you, I’m sorry.” She never looked at me in the face. She never comforted me. She never told me she believed me. She never confronted my step-father or held him accountable.
Instead, she decided to bring me to church. Although I went to a catholic school, we never practiced any religious faith and we never went to church on Sundays. All of the sudden my mother began bringing me to a Baptist church so the pastor and staff could pray over me. I felt like she wanted to pray away the problem. They put me in a counseling program and youth programs, but we never once addressed the real issue about the abuse.
I was eventually taken out of the home. As a teenager, I recall my mother’s feeble attempts to persuade me to come back. “You should come back home,” she’d say, “because Macy’s is having a sale and I can buy you some school clothes.” She thought buying me things would somehow make up for the fact that she never had time for me, never made me feel like I mattered, and never protected me from her husband.
I was buried in bitterness. I thought, "How could a mother betray and abandon her own flesh and blood?" The resentment grew over time, especially when my half-sister was born. I was 17, and I perceived my mom nurturing and loving her in a way that I had never experienced before.
In my 20’s, when I learned that my step-father had given his life to Christ, I’ll never forget the day I visited him. He asked for forgiveness and admitted to being an alcoholic and a drug-user. “I wasn’t of sound mind,” he regretfully admitted.
Not convinced by his words, I challenged him. “If you’re a new man in Christ, then tell your wife the truth about what you did to me.”
To my surprise, he did exactly that. He approached my mother and admitted to sexually abusing me over the years. He was apologetic and sincere. And he was attempting to face his demons head on.
At that moment, I was able to forgive him. How could I possibly forgive the man who destroyed my life? It happened in just a few deep breaths. I knew it had to be grace.
My mother, on the other hand, avoided her demons. She repeated what she had said three years earlier. “If that really happened to you," she said with tears streaming from her eyes, "I’m sorry.” Again, the key-word was “if”. I felt like my mother's tears were more about her having to admit it happened and worried about the possible repercussions to her marriage, rather than caring about what happened to me. She still never acknowledged the abuse, never consoled me, and never provided me an ounce of comfort.
I was so angry! Again, even after my step-father admitted to it all, I thought, "How could my mother betray me?"
That anger turned into bitterness, which turned into resentment. Every year it grew, and I knew I was prisoner of it. Even though I attended church regularly and prayed for the ability to forgive my mother, I found the bitterness lingered. It acted like cancer and it kept me from living free from shame and animosity...until I listened to a presentation on forgiveness.
The speaker challenged me. Through meditation and a state of relaxation, she said, “Anyone that has hurt you, picture them in your mind.”
She directed us to imagine that person as a child and asked us to take note of what we saw. She said that the person who hurt us likely experienced a lot of pain that hindered them from being the person we wanted or needed them to be.
For the first time, I saw my mother as a vulnerable child. I imagined the pain she must have felt growing up, witnessing her mother as a victim of domestic violence. She too was an abused child. Additionally, she lost her mother for five years when my grandmother had to go to jail for domestic self-defense. My mother didn’t have a stable home. She hadn't experienced a healthy and loving upbringing from her parents.
For the first time, I saw my mother as broken. She was broken just like me. Her childhood had been destroyed. She didn’t know how to show love and she didn’t know how to work through the pain.
For the first time, I felt compassion towards my mother. She was young when she had me. She was doing the best she could while raising me and I shouldn’t take her actions towards me personally. Although I expected, wanted, and needed more from her, I had to accept her for who she was.
For the first time, I didn’t see the woman who abandoned and betrayed me anymore. It was at that moment of truth that I was finally able to forgive her.
Unforgiveness is stifling. It kills inspiration. You cannot live with it and be inspiring. It is an outcome of a disease. If you’re living with unforgiveness, you're also carrying the weight of anger, resentment, criticism and hate.
I wish I would have known how to forgive my mother earlier in my life. It took me until I was in my forties to finally release all the emotional baggage of my childhood. For me, I became more inspiring when I learned how to forgive because others could see my sincerity when talking about pain.
Now, I try to love my mom the way I wanted to be loved and the way she needed to be loved as a child. I try to nurture her. I tell her how beautiful she is and how much I love her.
And as she grows older, when I see loneliness or anxiety in her eyes, I tell her, “As long as I’m alive, you’re never going to be alone. I know how you feel, but you don’t ever have to worry about it. I’m your family and I will take care of you." I repeat myself often to make sure her heart really believes me when I saw, "I will always be here to care for you and support you. I will never leave your side.”
I’ve come a long way. I never thought I would ever say these things and feel so much love for my mother.
If there’s someone who has hurt you and you’re ready to forgive, try what worked for me. You’ll realize that person is the one who is likely in more pain than you. Hopefully when you realize how broken they are, you'll experience the grace of letting go of all the pain you’ve been holding onto.
Love conquers all, if you let it.