“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.” -Henri J.M. Nouwen
I am faced with the discrepancy of what I teach about love and how well I practice it every day. The gaps are sometimes overwhelming. I used to just experience them as the un-loved child from a dysfunctional family that only seems to get more dysfunctional with time. After a particularly caustic email on my 48th birthday from my mother, I was still caught off guard by how deeply it still hurt me. After all these years, I still carried the pain of not having a mother who loved me.
Now as I get ready to release my teenagers into the world, I am faced with the places where I am not quite the loving mother that I like to think of myself. As my children become less and less mine and reflect their own values, sometimes in direct opposition to mine, I have the same overwhelming feeling of rejection that I grew up with. It is not good for my positivity quest. The more I say, the worse it gets and I can’t stop talking.
I always think that this one last thing will sway him. Of course, nothing I say will convince my eighteen-year-old son of anything.
The need to be right is a distant cousin to the need to be acknowledged or seen. It is hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. They run together in a messy stream and often the most basic recognition can heal them all. Except when we get hardened in it and then we look for what we believe is wrong in the other person at every turn. It is heartbreaking for me to see myself as the mother who is not able to love or accept.
The only out, the only positive spin available when it comes to long-term relationships is whatever measure of forgiveness you can find. Today I spoke with my mother after six months of her wrath. She wasn’t really angry at me, but I was close enough to the unbearable situation with my sister that I was guilty by association. I couldn’t return the “I love you” that she ended the call with. I had to be satisfied with the forgiveness that I had in me. I listened to her and didn’t vent. It was a step towards forgiveness.
Every day I try to start anew with my teenager who will soon be on his own. As much as some of what he says scares me into him feeling like a stranger, I don’t want to re-create a legacy of not being enough for his mother. I look for what is good in him and try to keep my focus there. Many days I miss and am compelled to try to teach him or show him something.
Forgiveness is an action verb for love because it is the act that we have to start over again every day. It is the part of loving that people give up way too soon because it hurts so much when you miss and have to start from scratch. It is what positivity looks like in our fragile connections to each other. Hardest of all is the forgiveness we need to bring to ourselves each day. It’s ok, because we all deserve it.