“There’s nothing good about her.” That was my mother’s curt reply to a relative who asked her to say a few good things about me. The remark cut like a knife. I had thought that I would be used to such callousness by now, but tears still welled up in my eyes.
Growing up, I’ve had words like “stupid”, “irresponsible”, and “uncaring” carelessly used to describe me. At first, I attempted to reason with my parents, but this only resulted in intense quarrels. There was even once when I walked away from them in the middle of a heated argument … on the way to a relative’s house during Chinese New Year! I ended up going to my best friend’s house instead, and there, I burst into tears, telling her how I felt so misunderstood. When I concluded that nothing I could do would ever be good enough, my efforts to do well in school and please my parents came to a standstill.
Gradually, I developed a new coping mechanism. Every time I was hurt by my parents’ words and behaviour, I would go to my room and withdraw from them. I became resentful of their seeming lack of love for me and found no reason to continue trying to impress them. I was bitter that they favoured my brothers over me and was angry that life was so unfair.
The hurt and pain within me festered and I found it hard to love my family.
Eventually, I stopped caring about them.
SOME THINGS ARE JUST IMPOSSIBLE?
After accepting Christ, it felt like I had found a new and ‘better’ family in the form of the church, my leaders, and friends. My life had a renewed sense of purpose and I thought things were finally looking up!
THE HURT AND PAIN WITHIN ME FESTERED AND I FOUND IT HARD TO LOVE MY FAMILY.
Yet, as I grew in knowledge of the Word, the call to honour my parents as one of the ten commandments gnawed at me. I began to feel an inner conflict between wanting to obey God and holding firm to my belief that respect and honour had to be earned. More importantly, how would I tear down the walls in my heart that I had painstakingly built, and honour these people who had become like strangers living in the same house? I thought, “I just can’t do this!”
During a particular church service on Mother’s Day, the pastor challenged us to send a text message with “I love you, Mum!” to our mothers on the spot. People around me started taking out their phones and typing away, but my heart was so hardened, and I remained unmoved. I couldn’t bring myself to do such a simple act. I wondered if perhaps, there are just some relationships that are too difficult to repair.
EVEN THE BEST PARENTS ARE SINNERS
One day as I was reading the story of Joseph in Genesis 37–50, something intrigued me. Joseph came from a very dysfunctional family. Among other family issues, he was hated by his own brothers, and was eventually sold into slavery by them. This cruel act caused him to face plenty of hardship and injustice all alone in a foreign land. It would have been perfectly understandable if he swore to settle the score or vowed to throw them into a pit someday. Yet, instead of holding on to bitterness in his heart, he saw his situation as a part of God’s redemptive plan (Gen 50:20). I remember being in disbelief at how Joseph responded to his brothers with kindness and generosity when he met them again after 22 years!
The dramatic transformation in Joseph’s family inspired me to begin a journey of processing and understanding what went wrong in my family, and how I could respond to them with kindness and generosity the way Joseph did. I heeded good advice to seek biblical counselling and began to see my parents with fresh eyes.
I’ve heard the saying that family is supposed to be our safe haven. Unfortunately, that’s not always true. Every day in the news, we see stories of parents abusing their children (and vice versa!), siblings taking each other to court … the list goes on. Even the Bible is filled with stories of dysfunctional families and parents who messed up!
There was Abraham who, under Sarah’s influence, chased away his servant Hagar and mother of his own offspring Ishmael; Isaac and Rebekah, who played favourites with their twin sons; Laban, who promised Jacob he could marry his younger daughter Rachel, only to do a bride swap on the wedding day so that his older daughter, Leah, would not be left on the shelf; and many more.
Slowly, I saw that my parents are sinful and broken people who have gone through difficult times of their own too. They were also brought up by flawed human beings and were simply modelling what they had experienced in their own childhoods. In fact, I found out that my maternal grandmother had died when my mother was only 14! Because of my grandmother’s passing, not only was the privilege of attending school taken away from my mum, she also had to quickly grow up and ‘mother’ her younger siblings too. This made me realise that her harsh criticisms of me merely reflected the expectations that were laid on her at a very young age.
I SAW THAT MY PARENTS ARE SINFUL AND BROKEN PEOPLE WHO HAVE GONE THROUGH DIFFICULT TIMES OF THEIR OWN TOO.
My anger and resentment melted away as I chose to focus on the good things my parents had done and the unspoken sacrifices they have made to provide for my needs and more. While I acknowledge that they could have refrained from saying certain damaging words and done some things differently in their parenting journey, I chose to take the first step of obedience to forgive them and see that while their words may have been harsh, their actions showed their love for me in many subtle ways.
Although the relationship with my parents is still not fully restored, I’ve healed from the emotional wounds of the past and learned to manage my emotions better when they say hurtful things. I’ve realised the importance of continuously forgiving them and learning to see things from their perspective. I’ve also reaped the benefits of setting boundaries; like not talking about sensitive issues which may lead to arguments, and not taking offence at every act of favouritism shown towards my brothers. I used to be troubled by how dysfunctional my family is, but I now know that sin is present everywhere, even in the most harmonious of families.
GOD HAS PLACED ME IN MY FAMILY FOR A BIGGER PURPOSE.
For some of us, the breakdown in our family runs even deeper, perhaps veering into physical and sexual abuse. In those cases, while these lessons of forgiveness are still relevant, we do have to handle the wounds differently — daring to seek help from the necessary people, and not bearing the shame and silence alone.
While a complete reconciliation may take a long time in my family, I know that God wants me not to hold on to bitterness, but to hold on to hope and His promise in Ephesians 6:2–3 that if I honour my father and mother, it will go well with me. Like Joseph who believed that it was not his brothers who sent him to Egypt but God Himself (Gen 45:8), I am beginning to see that God has placed me in my family for a bigger purpose, to be a crucible of grace and a vessel of salvation.
If your family is not the epitome of harmony right now, take heart and hold on to the hope that like Joseph’s broken family who ultimately reunited and grew old together, God’s redemptive plan will be visible in your family as well!