March 9, 2010 6:23 AM
Moms - finding emotional freedom
Reprinting the companion piece to Christian mom and anger problem:
One of the things I've realized along the way is that each of us is hurt in childhood. If I tell you the things that happened to me as a child - abandonment, foster home, abuse, inadequate mothering - it can sound pretty pitiful. Maybe you don't have such dramatic and obvious hurts in your past.
And yet, when I think of how vulnerable and tender children are - and after raising 12 of my own as a flawed human being and making many mistakes along the way, even after my life was set on a spiritual foundation - I know that it would be a rare person who escapes childhood without emotional wounds. That's because we live in a fallen world and no matter how hard we try as mothers or how much we pretend to the outside world, we just can't be perfect.
Don't get me wrong, I still think it's important to strive for perfection - but it's also important not to beat yourself up or get too discouraged to throw yourself at the feet of our Heavenly Father and surrender to receiving His help building your character.
I remember when Tripp and I had first become Christians (20 years ago) and he once became all woebegone remembering how his parents raided his savings to buy him a bike one Christmas. I was so indignant that he would think that that was anything to be upset about - after all, look at all I'd been through! I was recounting this indignity to an older and wiser woman, expecting sympathy, when she surprised me by saying, "You know, Satan can take something really small and make it look really big. And he can take something really big and make it look very small."
I've never forgotten that. And it began a process in me of realizing that part of the human condition involves being hurt somehow in childhood and having wounds to overcome. Perhaps there are people who haven't had to do this. Perhaps there are people who had absolutely idyllic childhoods. But in thinking it over, I have come to believe that in order to fully realize our humanity and our interconnectedness, we must have had to transcend some difficulty. For those who've read Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces, I'm thinking along those lines. Each of us to be fully realized as a human being and to be able to reach out to other human beings - not to mention raising some of our own :) - must have on our own personal level had to overcome some inner struggles.
What I'm trying to say here is that though your personal growing-up story may not have been fraught with the drama and difficulties of mine - although there are readers here whose journeys have been even harder - that does not diminish the things that caused you hurt, no matter how small and trivial they may seem. Your parents may have been great and your home life stable and happy, but chances are along the way there was some hurt.
As adults, I believe, our automatic responses to people, places, and events in our lives can be traced back to whatever response mechanism we built as children to protect ourselves from hurt. Some people can float through life pretty effortlessly and they may never need to dig below the surface - life is good. Some feel the emotional turmoil beneath the surface but are afraid to look too closely at it - much less let others see - so they cultivate a cheerful front and no one is the wiser.
But I know from going to Beth Moore Bible studies, where the nicest Christian women I've ever met have shared their fears and failures (lust, bulimia, compulsive overeating, pride, to name a few) that we simply cannot assume that a sister in Christ is any better off than we are. That's why I can say we're all struggling with sin - it's just part of our Christian journey as we allow God to help us become more closely conformed to the image of Christ.
So how does this apply to anger?
For years as a drug addict and alcoholic, I put off dealing with the emotional baggage of my past. I was 32 years old when I got clean and sober, but emotionally I was 16 - the age when I began drinking (and that was back in the 60's). A lot of issues had been postponed. I discovered I was an angry person. My anger wasn't directed at my children so much - because I identified with their vulnerability - but at my husband. Thank God for Tripp's patience through those years, when the slightest thing would stir my wrath and I would find myself locked in angry mode and unable to get out.
I think what helped me was when I finally realized that my anger was the response of the a child whose life is controlled by others - dumped in a foster home, sexually abused, moved from place to place without any preparation or acknowledgment that I was a real person with feelings . I realized that there were probably several ways I could have responded to this later in life. I could have become depressed, I could have become an abuser myself - and probably other unhealthy responses. But my unhealthy response was anger.
I realized that when I felt hurt, the hurt was bypassed and I got angry. Anger was how I avoided feeling like a victim. If my husband hurt my feelings - and remember, Tripp was a recovering alcoholic when we married too so neither one of us was bringing a lot of relationship skills to the table - I would get angry. And when I got angry, I'm talking about days or weeks.
We are past that now, through the grace of God. I recognized the role of my past and took responsibility for my unhealthy responses, while not blaming myself for having them. As a counselor I worked with way back then assured me, a child under siege has to protect herself somehow - it's just that as adults we need to learn to recognize them and let them go. We don't need them anymore. I needed to realize that my husband was not out to exploit me and was not going to abandon me. I needed to trust him and stop pushing him away with my anger (which meant I was in control).
Still, the intellectual knowledge about my inner workings could only go so far in helping my healing and my marriage. As those who've read my story know, in 1987 Tripp and I had five children and an exceedingly successful life. And yet our marriage was still in turmoil beneath a rosy faÃ§ade. Which was how we ended up going to a Family Life Marriage Conference where we surrendered our lives to Christ.
Now the real healing could begin as the intellectual apprehension - which could only go so far - was met with the spiritual grace and wisdom I needed to completely let go of my old responses and become a more emotionally healthy human being.
Forgiveness played a major part for me. By the time I came to Christ, I had hurt many people and was in much need of forgiveness. Through Jesus' sacrifice, I not only felt the forgiveness of my sins but of all the people who had hurt me too. I saw that basically I was no better than they were. The ground is extraordinarily level at the foot of the Cross. I have never had any doubt that I am as capable of as gross sin as anyone else, and it is only by the grace of God on a daily basis that I can rise above my sin nature.
In the last post, I mentioned the story of Joseph. It is my favorite story in the Bible (see Genesis). Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. His life included being falsely accused and imprisoned, forgotten by those who promised to help him. And yet God used him eventually to help a country in famine - including his brothers. When they realized who he was, they flung themselves at his feet, begging for mercy, yet his heart was tender toward them: "Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people." Joseph was not angry or bitter as many in his position might have been because he saw the larger purpose God intended.
No matter where you are on your journey of self-discovery and forgiveness, I want to challenge you not to give up at just forgiving those who hurt you in the past. What God helped me discover through the Bible is a land of emotional freedom beyond that - where I actually embrace my past and would not change a single thing. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly - all have contributed to who I am.
Of course, when I say that I'm thinking of the times I was hurt - those I wouldn't change. I do wish I could change the times I've hurt others. I have to say that at this point in my life those memories are more painful than the times I was hurt. But when I remember them, I pray that God will extend his grace to those I've hurt and that they will experience the same forgiveness and healing that God has extended to me.
A beautiful post Barbara. I can see the hope in it. I suffer from anger issues for the very reasons you point out (past hurts) and I've tried so many ways to let it go. I have found it odd that I can let go of some really horrific things that were done to me (most by my own family) but what I can't get over is the constant lying from a particular family member, whether it's through omission of certain details or embellishment of certain details, you never know if you're getting the truth. The hardest part for me is that I'm called to respect this person.
So I've gotten over the hardest parts of the hurt this person has done to me but now I'm starting to see how the lying that is done affects my children and can see how they're becoming confused, hurt and distrusting of this person.
I've been told to "let it go" but each and every time we talk, she lies. It's come to the point that I've limited my contact and my family contact with this person, unfortunately I then get told I'm being mean to this person when all I'm doing is just choosing to not have contact with her.
And yes, I come from a very, very controlling family. Oiy... anger... what hard and confusing situations it causes!
Posted by: Anon | March 9, 2010 9:28 AM
Eye opening Barbara.
Asking for forgiveness and forgiving others is a constant thing huh?
Posted by: Shannon Best | March 9, 2010 10:19 AM