My mother and I had an interesting, often challenging relationship. I was her only child, which perhaps led to the complexities of the relationship. Our story is weaved with many moving parts - ours was a novel of love, betrayal, misunderstanding, generosity, cleaving, laughter, obligation, tenacity, longing, and ultimately forgiveness.
It seems to me, behind any challenging human relationship, there often lies an underlying theme of forgiveness, or rather unforgiveness. I am not talking the kind where you never see or talk to each other again, but the kind that winds through every thought and motive, every feeling and emotion within the bounds of the relationship. The kind that puts a strain in the relationship. Right or wrong, we humans have expectations of others and when those expectations aren't met to our satisfaction, we feel disappointment. Those constant disappointments chip away at us and begin to create wounds within, which if left unresolved, become deep wounds that affect our life and most certainly the relationships of our life. Years go by, and if we continue on in the same patterns of expectations, disappointments, and hurts...soon the spirit of unforgiveness inhabits us.
I know, because it happened to me and my mother. We spent years in a dance of being in each others lives, being let down in one way or another, sweeping it under the proverbial rug, or simply shaking the rug off, and then starting the dance all over again. I wasn't happy in our relationship, and prayed for years-over 20 years to be exact- for something to change. I was asking God to help me love her unconditionally, not out of a sense of duty.
After one 'final straw', a very difficult situation for me in the relationship, I thought perhaps God had given me my answer, "My grace is sufficient for you" (2 Corinthians 12: 9)
So I spent the next several years playing the role of a martyr , and just accepting the relationship as is. I quit praying for things to change, and started asking God to help me accept what was.
And then everything changed, in a very challenging way for both of us, when mom came to live with us after she received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. For two and a half years, mom was in our home, with hospice care, and with the loving care of my adult children, children in law, my husband and myself. Those years were such a blessing for mom and I and yet they were our ultimate trial. Slowly, very very slowly over those years, amidst still more set backs, a transformation was taking place; we were learning how to truly love and forgive each other.
God had indeed said yes to my prayer of so many years, in such an unexpected and challenging way. He also said yes to my final prayer about mom and I; that I would be there, right there with her when she drew her last breath, as she had been there when I drew my first breath. It was a sacred moment. Love and forgiveness reigned triumphant in the wonderful, intricate, complex dance that mom and I were in. And I miss her.
But, as wonderful as forgiveness is, there is something it cannot do. It cannot erase my regrets, and it cannot change the past. I regret the lost time and am mournful for the memories we could have made. I regret that it took a lifetime to look past expectations and disappointments. I regret that it took the stark somber presence of cancer to work out the cancer within our relationship. As I write this, my eyes brim with tears. This has been a long time coming. My hope is this small part of my story, will encourage others to forgive with abandon, which is what true forgiveness is. Mom and I wasted far too many years, tied to the yoke of expectation, disappointment and the accompanying awkward moments that unforgiveness brings.
While forgiveness cannot erase regrets or change the past, it can change the future. God uses our past to shape our future. I know because I lived it - I learned it the hard way -