Why was I so angry with my mother? This should have been such a sweet time for us to savor. Selling her home and moving in with us, Mom’s retirement gave her a well-deserved break from many years of giving herself to meet the needs of others. What was so exciting was this was her intentional choice to live where she had few responsibilities and obligations for the first time in her life. As my husband told her, staying with us was a “no brainer” to rest up and save money until she knew her next step.
Always cherishing our relationship, I did have some qualms about her giving up her independence, her home, her friends, her ministries, and her church family. If this didn’t go well, what would happen to the close friendship we had developed over the years we’ve been apart? Would she be resentful after making her decision? We are both strong-willed women who think our way is the best way. How would that work in the same household?
Unfortunately, things were actually worse than I had feared. Mom’s health was wavering and, she began to be fearful. Anything that came up was the worst case scenario in her eyes, and her faith was stuck in the quick sand of her anxiety. My reaction was not helpful at all, since her inability to deal with her new circumstances triggered my old habits of feeling responsible for rescuing Mom. Given the choice of fight or flight, my knee-jerk response was to fight for her.
I whined and carried on with God about the situation. I memorialized the old days of feeling like I had to carry the burden of my mother’s serenity on my shoulders as the first born. Resentment was welling up inside of me. I had dealt with the sexual abuse at the hands of my father during weekend visits over 25 years ago. Now I was struggling with choices Mom had made with my father and two step-fathers, who were all alcoholics. The truth that she had not been an innocent victim of these flawed men flew in my face and had to be confronted, or so I thought.
When I began healing from my childhood sexual abuse, part of the process involved actually remembering what had happened. None of the denial or trying to pretend it wasn’t all that bad. Once I had wallowed enough in pity, I had to make the choice to forgive and move forward. Now, being with Mom every day had caused the difficulties I had faced growing up in a home where you never knew what might happen to bubble back up to the surface. I couldn’t sugar coat the memories and pretend all was well with us. Her choices had hurt me and my siblings, and I could no longer deny the truth.
My brother, who has been sober for 25 years, suggested that Mom and I attend Al-Anon Family Group meetings. He’d been telling us both that for years. I didn’t understand why it was so important to him, since we did not live with alcoholics any longer. He asked me if I wanted relief or freedom. Reluctantly, we started attending Al-Anon meetings about a month ago. As God would have it, these meetings were exactly what Mom and I BOTH needed. It turns out that both of us were behaving in patterns developed while living with alcoholics. What we had not learned in many years of walking with the Lord, attending church, participating in Bible study, and even serving in leadership positions was waiting for us in the Al-Anon program.
The Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” Well, that’s enough to keep me busy for the rest of my life. I cannot change my mother. I cannot change my past. I cannot change me, for that matter, which is the first step in the AA Twelve Steps. I can have the courage to ask God to change me and leave the rest to Him. I can pray for wisdom. I can detach myself from feeling responsible for the serenity of others. If I take on someone else’s search for peace, it’s my own fault. Peace is what only God can give, and I’m not God.
My father wasn’t my enemy. My mother isn’t my enemy. When I think someone else is my enemy, I’m just taking swings at the wrong enemy. This morning, one of my devotional readings highlighted this passage in Ephesians 4: 25-27 (NIV), Paul says, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. ‘In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
Talk about good timing! This is just what I needed to hear to get the breakthrough I was seeking. When I suppressed my memories of sexual abuse, I didn’t put off falsehood. When I coddled my “fragile” mother, not wanting to upset her, I didn’t speak truthfully. I was angry about all of this for years, though I thought I covered it well. Unknowingly, I gave the devil a foothold. The REAL enemy was invited in by me and was hiding behind my parents. How many other relationships in my life have been affected by this scheme?
You know, this is how the devil works. He tricks us into thinking everyone else is our enemy, we believe lies that we are entitled to be offended, and he laughs when we take our swings at people we love. God calls us to “be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32 NIV). Now I understand that forgiving those who have offended us, before the day is done, is actually spiritual warfare. It slams the door on the devil’s foot we allowed inside by our unresolved anger. That’s the way to knock out the real enemy!