I’d reduced my mother to tears again.
There we were, screaming at each other, each of us trying to make the other one “get it.” I was 17 and stepping away from faith, making no pretentions about my changing world view. And she was trying desperately to keep me from taking those steps.
Not only was she gravely worried about my soul, but she was also personally wounded, taking my dismissal of faith—her faith—very, very personally. No one who walked by the parsonage could have missed the words and tone of the angry exchange going on inside.
I know that this period in my life was very hard on my mother. More than once, I’m sure, she wondered how I could hurt her so. I was dismissive of her faith, and yes . . . sometimes of her—of all Christians, really.
She was certain if she could just find the right words, the right key to unlock my understanding of some concept, then I would “get it.” I would stop this dangerous direction. And, most of all, I would stop hurting her so.
There were two surprising things going on at this time.
1. I didn’t know I was hurting her so deeply.
2. She didn’t know it wasn’t personal.
How could I not know I was hurting her so deeply? There were tears, right? Well, yeah. But remember, I was a teenager girl. Tears are a frequent part of our venting/coping mechanism. We learn not to take them too seriously, even in ourselves. At least we do if we want to survive our own hormonal years.
So when I saw her tears, they were just tears. I didn’t realize that they were connected to the profound pain of a mother’s heart for her child. I say that with absolute clarity now because I have children of my own. I now know that there is an amazing vulnerability in the heart of parents for their children that is the most powerful yet tender thing on earth.
But I didn’t know it then. I couldn’t. It wasn’t even possible. Because I’d not yet had children of my own.
As to it being personal, it wasn’t, at least not as personal as my poor mom certainly believed. I was in the midst of a very self-absorbed time. I was figuring out who I was and what I believed. It required a great deal of my energy. I knew that some of my excess emotional stirrings were spilling out and onto those around me.
But I assumed that they were adults, and would take care of themselves. It may have seemed that my intent was to cause pain, but the truth was that I was much more self-absorbed. I wasn’t thinking about you. I wasn’t thinking about my mom. I was thinking about me.
I don’t say this with any pride or satisfaction. It took me many long years to fully realize how I’d wounded her during those times. I don’t think there is much merit in being so self-focused. And I truly wish I had not hurt my mother so. But my wounding of her was more of collateral damage rather than a direct hit. And I think if she’d known that, it would have been helpful, because she wouldn’t have had the added burden of feeling that I had wanted to hurt her.
Now I know this is not true of all kids. Some of them truly want to hurt their parents. There is something driving them that simply needs to take you on. But before you go there, before you take hold of the painful belief that they are seeking to hurt you, at least consider the possibility that they are simply lost . . . and flailing away in new waters . . . and in pain themselves.
Anyone near them is going to get splashed on a bit. It’s like being near someone who is drowning. You can tell they are in trouble. You even feel the water they are thrashing in sometimes splash onto you.
But you don’t take it personally. You know they are just trying to find a way to survive. With your prodigal, if you can sense this possibility, it may help you to shift from feeling pain at their attacks, to feeling compassion at their flailing.
It just may be . . . it’s not nearly as personal as it feels.
What about you?
Have you been able to take an almost disinterested stance to the rantings of your prodigal? Or does it still cut fresh every time?