Jean didn’t have much of a relationship with her mother. Growing up, Jean didn’t remember her mother putting in much of an effort to get along and, truthfully, once Jean hit puberty, she hadn’t either. She resented a mother who always seemed so tired and stressed out and defensive about everyone and everything, even Jean. As a young child, Jean had tried to make things right for her mother by being as good as she could be. When that proved unsuccessful, Jean stopped trying to be perfect and started trying to be invisible.
As soon as she could, Jean began to establish distance between herself and her mother. She stayed out of her mother’s way as a child and stayed several states away as an adult. Yet for all of that distance, Jean’s mother was never far from Jean. She’d hear her mother’s voice in her head when she was stressed. She could see her mother’s look of disapproval when she failed. Try as she might, Jean found that her mother still shadowed her life. Jean vividly remembered the day she realized just how close she still was to her mother.
That day was full of stress, with too much to do and too little time, including potty training her daughter, Emily. Jean had been trying to accomplish the chore of potty training over the past several weeks, frustrated that Emily just wasn’t getting it. On that day, an exasperated.
Jean, juggling three things at once, set the toddler in front of the television to watch a cartoon, so she (Jean) could, finally, get something – or anything – done.
Jean was already tense, frustrated, and on edge when it happened: Emily had an accident, which couldn’t have come at a worse time. On top of an already stressful day, Jean now had to also deal with soiled pants and a stained couch. Jean was convinced that Emily had known she needed to go but had deliberately chosen to stay on that couch to watch the cartoon.
Furious, Jean jerked Emily up from the couch and carried her straight-armed to the bathroom, setting her down hard on the toilet. Along the way, she berated her two-year-old for her disobedience. When Emily burst into tears of despair, Jean felt strangely satisfied with her daughter’s distress. After all, Emily’s deliberate actions had caused Jean’s distress. Why shouldn’t her daughter share in that pain? Then a wave of realization hit Jean. Her mother had always seemed to smirk whenever Jean was distressed. She remembered how much that hurt her, to think her mother took some sort of pleasure from her own pain. Now here she was doing the very same thing—and to a two-year-old! How could this have happened? How could Jean have turned into her mother?
When stress takes over your life, two-year-olds become adversaries. When you have too much to do, any request becomes unreasonable—no matter who makes it. When you have too little time, any demand on your time becomes a demand you resent. Stress has a way of reordering the us-versus-them columns. Jean grew up with a stressed-out mother who’s “us” category really came down to “me.” “Them” was defined as everyone else, including Jean.
When the world is against you, when people are out to get you, when events are against you, you live in a state of siege. A siege mentality contributes to the state of Red Alert. Unresolved anger is a breeding ground for stress.
How do you stand down from a state of siege? What do you do with unresolved anger? There is only one way to resolve the anger of past hurts. That way is forgiveness. God is serious about forgiveness, neither taking it lightly nor considering it optional.
When Jean realized she was acting like her mother, she was shocked. She’d sworn to herself, she wouldn’t make the same mistakes; yet here she was following in her mother’s footsteps. Repulsed, Jean grabbed up her distraught toddler, apologizing to her and hugging her close. When Emily reached up, patted her face, and gave her a sloppy kiss, Jean experienced the relief of forgiveness.
That day, which had started out so stressful, became a turning point for Jean. A small crack appeared in Jean’s defensiveness against her mother. As Jean realized she was capable of the same hurtful attitudes as her own mother’s, the crack widened, allowing forgiveness to establish a foothold in Jean’s heart. In time, Jean stopped looking at her mother as the powerful force of her childhood and saw, instead, a broken and bitter woman. Forgiving her mother allowed Jean to win a decades-old battle and come to a sense of peace.
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