20 Ways to Rock at Being a Mother [6]: Offering Forgiveness

Offering forgiveness is crucial to maintaining healthy relationships, and critical to being a mother who rocks.  As you think about your teen years, you will almost certainly think of things you did that your mother forgave you for. Or maybe she didn’t forgive you, and she still holds resentment!

My mother had a very short time to deal with resentment. No holding onto bitterness for her! The big event colouring my teenage years is the decline in her health and eventual death when I was 16. I look back now and know that while I didn’t fully appreciate it at the time, every one of those days with her was precious.

20 Ways to Rock at Being a Mother Offering Forgiveness
Mother and son, toddler boy, sitting on the bed, holding hands, looking at each other

She knew it though, and I’m sure she figuratively kicked herself for dying when my sister and I were still so young. I am pretty sure she worked hard just to forgive herself for being so sick. No doubt everything in her wanted to spend every spare moment with us.

Amazingly though, even during the last month of her life, she let me go away for a week with a girlfriend and her family. It was the summer holidays. My mother wanted me to have a break from all the sickness, stress and sadness. She was a master at self-giving love when it came to her offspring, and that’s evidence she was great at offering forgiveness.

You can hear me talk about Offering Forgiveness on radio HERE >>>

Or go back to 20 Ways to Rock at Being a Mother, No 5 – Be Self-Aware

You Take the Load – and Often!

As a mother, you automatically take a heavy burden. If something goes wrong, you’re often likely to take the blame, just like my mother did.

Have a think about your response when you’re sick and can’t look after your children properly? How much worse it would be if you knew you were going to die. But then, think about what happens when one of your children is a mischief-maker at school? Or if he or she is bullied, or worse, instigates bullying. Or has low grades.

You are not alone if you find yourself saying, “Where did I go wrong? It must be my fault!” If you frequently have thoughts like this running through your head, then it is time to forgive yourself.

But there is more to forgiveness than that, isn’t there.

Forgiving Your Children

The other side of the coin is to forgive your children when they do wrong. Some people would suggest this is a natural element of being a mother. And it may be.

But that doesn’t mean it is easy to do.

“The Heart of a mother is a deep abyss, at the bottom of which you will always find forgiveness”

Honore de Balzac

Forgiveness is not always an easy, natural thing to do. Just think of scenarios like this:

  • A can of paint deliberately spilt on the floor, causing lasting damage
  • A child slamming a door in your face when you were trying to help
  • Very little sleep for several weeks due to a crying baby
  • A poor result on an assignment due to late submission, when you deliberately set aside ample time for it be completed on time
  • A child who lies, and makes you look silly
  • A child who makes life very difficult for his or her school teacher

Offering forgiveness is not so natural, but it’s the best solution to problems like these. It is so easy, though, to start feeling resentful. If not for your child, then resentful of the circumstances, or even at yourself for letting things get that way! Resentment is your natural response to when people hurt you. The problem is, unforgiveness and resentment are the things that scar you.

Forgiving does not erase the bitter past.  A healed memory is not a deleted memory.  Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember.  We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.

Lewis B. Smedes

Unforgiveness and its Consequences

1.      Your health – mentally and physically

It’s that issue of resentment, and sometimes, the need for revenge, that chews people up inside. Unforgiveness swirls in a storm of bitterness and negative energy. It may recede to the depths of memory, forgotten on the surface. But those who cannot get their heads around offering forgiveness, suffer unintended consequences on their own good health . . . I’m convinced that unforgiveness and bitterness are the cause of many of our modern-day illnesses.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a South African cognitive neuroscientist who researches the impact our thought life has on our physical health. She has come to some stunning conclusions, such as this one:

“. . .  when we make a poor-quality thinking decision—i.e. a toxic thought—such as unforgiveness, bitterness or irritation . . . This immediately puts the brain into protect mode and the brain translates these poor quality toxic thoughts as stress. This stress will then manifest itself in our bodies.” (read the full article HERE)

2.      Your Eternal Life

Another reason for offering forgiveness to others has to do with God, and your eternal future:

 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

Matthew 6:14-15

It’s good to remember that God’s forgiveness matters in the long-term. Heaven is within reach if you believe this, and forgive others.

Offering Forgiveness and Receiving Freedom

Offering forgiveness to someone has nothing to do with “letting them get away with it”. Instead it gives you freedom. Freedom of body, of mind, of spirit NOT to be held down by that past event. In fact, if you do not forgive, that person still has a level of control over you!  So, the end result of forgiveness is to free your own self.

“For-give” – literally, it means to give up the desire to punish. (see etymonline.com) But it also means to give yourself a gift. It’s a gift of freedom. For you! Let it go, and stop being stuck in those cycles of bad feeling, depression, stress and anger. All those emotions only hurt you.

Instead, choose love. It’s the hard-won, giving-up-of-self sort of love. It’s the basis of unconditional love, which is another term for loving-no-matter-what-happens. When you decide to truly love someone, that’s the sort of love you are up for.

Here is a reminder from the Bible:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Colossians 3:13-14 

Do You Have to Tell Them?

Is it necessary to tell the person who offended you that you are offering forgiveness?  Contrary to some ideas, it’s usually not necessary to tell someone about your side of the story. Forgiveness really is a very personal decision you are making for your own benefit.

Someday you may find it is appropriate to tell them, but often it only causes more angst if you do. Telling someone that you held resentment against them is making them aware of your struggle, which only clouds the issue.

On the other hand, if they come to you and ask for your forgiveness, that changes things. They are ready to hear you say those precious words from you: “I forgive you.”

Yes, but HOW do I Forgive?

Forgiveness is a decision, or a commitment of your will. But it’s not as easy as just saying, “I forgive you.” They are just the words. It’s the attitude and intent behind the words that’s so important to successfully offering forgiveness to someone.

Here’s a place to start:

1.       What is the Offense?

Be very clear in your own mind what you are upset about. This can be easy. But it can also be quite difficult, depending on the situation. You may just need to think it through. Or it may be helpful to write about it in a journal. You may even find it good to write the offending person a letter (the letter is best not delivered though!)

Sometimes, you may need to talk about it with a trusted friend; or even go to a counselor to talk the issue through.
At some point, you will end up with a short sentence such as:

“I am unhappy with [add name] because they [add action].

2.       Make the choice.

Your personal decision is the critical thing. Say it out loud, so you can hear yourself say it:

“I forgive [add name], because they [add action].”

This may become a sentence to repeat every day – or whenever that feeling rises within you. While you may not feel love toward this person, and the emotions could still run high, what you are doing is re-programming your brain, so it does not respond with the emotional overload anymore. You are choosing another path.

It will take a while for your feelings to catch up with your decision. With all offenses, but some in particular, you will need to ask for God’s help to forgive. But eventually you will be able to think about the incident without the emotional overload. At this point you are free from that person’s power over you.

3.       There will Still be Consequences for Them

The offending person may still need to be brought to justice. Forgiving them does not mean they do not have to suffer the consequences of their actions. Remember, the consequence should match the problem.

It may be as simple as requesting your daughter apologizes for her lies. Or, if your young son has stolen apples from a neighbour’s tree, possibly he will need to return them and say he is sorry. If there’s some sort of abuse involved, perhaps the police may need to get involved.

The good thing is, once you have forgiven, you can more clearly see the appropriate level of response.

Forgiveness is not about letting the other person off the hook. It’s about giving you freedom! It’s about loving-no-matter-what. Forgiveness enables you to keep your relationships open.

And especially, forgiveness is about unconditionally loving the important people in your life – your children, your partner, your parents.

Are there areas in your life where you struggle to forgive?

Or perhaps there is an area where you have done the wrong thing to someone else. Maybe you could do the hard work, and ask them for forgiveness?

The series continues: 20 Ways to Rock at being a Mother No. 7 – Look After Yourself!

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