I started to write her a letter. It was supposed to convey my forgiveness. It was supposed to help me let go of the past. I was struggling to find the words. I wanted to forgive. Heck, I thought I had. I had made the decision to forgive, but I have been learning that I hadn’t completely gone through the process of forgiving.

I’m learning a lot about this process. It’s not about getting ‘over it’ but getting through it. In the past I had faced the facts, what happened, and even addressed some of the impact, what it did to me, but I had barely scraped the surface of how I dealt with it, or didn’t deal with it for that matter.

I had made the decision to acknowledge and forgive the facts, but I’m learning to engage the process of forgiving for the impact so that it doesn’t continue to echo in my present relationships. Left undealt with, present hurts can trigger previous wounds.

I listened to a saved voicemail and even hearing her voice made my stomach churn. It brought me back to a place in my memory of a younger me, the me that felt helpless, angry and scared. It brought me back to a time when I had little control over my circumstances as a child and my mother’s decisions--her choices in men, where we lived, how she treated me and her expectations of the younger me. Ultimately, these resulted in me numbing my emotions. I just stopped feeling, to an extent. It hurt too much. It’s taken years to unlearn this and many other unhealthy coping patterns.

When I’m hurt, my thinking starts in a place of questioning, like, “How someone could do x to me?” This question exposes where I am attaching my value and reveals it’s to the person who has wronged me. The impact of someone’s choice can feel like I’m the only one hurting. It’s hard in that moment to see that they are hurting too.

To authentically forgive I have to have compassion. Compassion means to suffer with. Brene Brown talks about self-compassion being the beginning of compassion for others. This too has been a hard lesson to learn, but such a powerful one.

Placing my value in God, His compassion, instead of any person, even a parent, frees me to think differently. When I lean into God’s love, my thinking can shift to how the other person could be hurting, or think so little of themselves that it leads to the behavior that in turn hurt me. Their very act of hurting me already has consequences for them, even if I never see it.

It’s taken time to sort this out in my heart, to choose to accept that often times the person doing the hurting isn’t even thinking about me, not because they don’t care but because they can’t. They are so consumed with their own pain and perceived needs or feelings that their self-preservation blinds them to anything else. This is the cycle of unforgiveness, multiplied into future generations.

It took time to be able to apply this thinking to my mother’s actions towards me. To see that it was not a result of her lack of love for me, or me being unlovable but rather her inability, due to her own pain, that drove the choices she made. Honestly, this shift in thinking can still be a battle but I’m getting better at applying God’s truths to these tender places.

“One of the most difficult moments in anyone’s life is when the fog of childhood lifts and we see, for the first time, our parents as people.” - Unknown

Ephesians 4:31-32 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

“Get rid of” is not a passive term, it’s an active one. It takes deliberate work, this process. Just as a workout would take to yield physical strength and transformation. This work wasn’t about her or anyone else but about me.

When a person is the source of my self worth and love, it’s never a matter of if but when they will fall short and hurt me. An indicator of where my source of love is, is how easily or quickly I can allow myself to become embittered or how long it takes me to forgive.

Neh9:17b “But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love,”

When God is the source of my love instead of people, I can love the person even when they fall short and hurt me. My love doesn’t just go away because someone hurts me. Focusing on all I have been forgiven and how He loves me gives me courage for the process and ultimately, brings me through to the other side. I can also accept that reconciliation may never come, with my parents that was certainly the case, but if I make the goal redemption with God before thinking about reconciliation than I can move forward regardless of the other person’s behavior.

The process is hard and iterative but the freedom is so worth it.

My mom, as the rest of us, was only human. God’s love and forgiveness shifts something in me that gives me the courage to face some of the deep pains of my past, to mourn them and forgive them in order to forgive those in the present quicker as I lean into God’s loving compassion for me. He too would agree with Lysa Terkeurst, who said,

“Your heart is much too beautiful a place for bitterness, unforgiveness and resentment to take root.” He has much greater plans for us than that.

For more on the practical steps on forgiveness check out Lysa’s podcast on 6 Practical Steps to Forgive. These have been a major part of my process.