A Time to Forgive Ourselves, Cut the Straps, and Be Free

My teenage son remembers the day his dad and I got divorced. Or so he thinks. 

He would have been about 4 at the time, and he says he was standing in between us and we were yelling each other. His dad had the car keys and said “I’m going to Wal-Mart!” And then I yelled “give me the keys! I’M going to Wal-Mart!”

“NO, I’M going to Wal-Mart!”

And so on. Apparently, our vocabulary range at that time was not awesome.

My son remembers looking at me, and then at his dad, and back at me again.

Of course our actual breakup wasn’t about car keys or Wal-Mart, or who got to leave. But if that’s what my son remembers, do our actual reasons for divorce really matter here? 

Do the details mean anything at all if my child was frozen in a front row seat he never asked for, caught in between the two people he loves most in the whole world, watching them fall apart?

When my son told this story, he was casual about it. I, however, went to my room and broke down sobbing. I think my grief was kickstarted right there: the true, get-down-to-gut-levels-of-REAL kind of grief. The grief that feels like your heart might actually burn a hole through your chest because it’s so broken and anguished that it doesn’t even want to be in your body anymore. When your own heart wants to run away, you know it’s bad. I thought I deserved to die in that moment. I beat myself up for years afterwards.

He might not have realized it at the time, but when my son recited this memory, he was describing trauma. 

And I was the one the one who had traumatized him.

To believe that you have directly shattered the future of your own child is to strap boulders onto your back and drag them around behind you as you navigate the forests of your grief. The straps dig in and leave welts, but it feels deserved, even necessary. A heinous thing has been done. Those welts are the least of your penance.

I am FOR marriage. I am for healthy marriage. I am for children, growing up in a home where they feel seen and heard and safe and whole and loved. I wish I could have given that gift to my children. 

But sometimes things don’t happen that way. It didn’t happen that way with me. I chose this. That’s what I have to work with. And God meets us and works with us where we’re at. 

Abraham, because of his fear, handed his wife over to another man. He had at least 40 years of up-and-downs in his life. Sometimes he believed in God and other times he questioned God and needed reassurance. He wasn’t the only one who has felt that way.

God still worked with Abraham and met him where he was at. He still blessed him. Even Ishmael, who was sent away, was blessed and protected by God. None of this was because of the perfect lives they led.

No one is too far gone, unforgivable, “less-than.” God doesn’t bless and love us because of who we are. He does it, He meets us where we’re at, because of who HE is.

Sometimes we don’t understand the messes we make until they’re behind us because we feel like walking welts and boils and blood, and our life is raining vinegar onto us. We just want to get out of the rain because it feels like we’re burning away into nothingness.

We generally don’t want to cause others pain. We mostly just want our own to stop. 

There are things I cannot change, and the past is one of those things. And in carrying those boulders, in continuing to blame and shame and beat my own self up over things I cannot erase or make different, I have set up residence in the land of grief instead of journeying through it. 

It’s ok, even good, to rest at times in the middle of our grief. 

It’s normal and ok to feel pain. It’s ok to feel like you’re being swallowed whole in grief at times. Jesus WEPT. He GRIEVED. He FELT. 

Resting in our grief, however, is not the same thing as living in a state of regret.

When I choose to live in regret and focus on my past divorce, I am gifting the boulders I carry to my children, and asking them to carry them along with me. 

Kids are sponges. They are the best monkey-see-monkey-doers of all. When they see us holding onto our pain like a lifeline, carrying it around and wearing it as our comfort zone, they want to save us from it. They learn to help ease our burdens. They become our rocks and our safe places instead of us being theirs, instead of God being ours.

When I choose to beat myself up for my past, I am looking at my future through a lens of fear. It’s hard, because none of us wants to repeat our own mistakes. We don’t want to feel the same pain again, or inflict it on others. And so we wear it as our lens, to remind ourselves. We are careful to avoid any streets we have been beaten up in before. Sometimes, we are careful to avoid the whole neighborhood. 

How can we walk in love with others if we refuse to forgive ourselves for our own past mistakes?

How can I leave a legacy of freedom when I have built my own cage and locked myself in it?

Shalom is a term used in the Bible. It means wholeness, completeness, well-being. It is peace, which is more than just a lack of conflict. It is healthy relationships – including the one we have with ourselves.

Mark 12:31 says to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Sometimes we forget the “as yourself” part of the equation.

When we forgive ourselves, we are cutting the straps attached to the boulders we drag around. We are telling them “you have no power.” We are handing them, in faith, to God. We are opening our hands so we can hold onto God with all we’ve got, instead of looking at Him and saying “Sorry God, can’t. Got these boulders.”

When we forgive ourselves, we are choosing to unlock our cages and walk free. 

When we forgive ourselves, we are allowing authenticity. We are accepting the grace that God has offered us.

When we forgive ourselves, we are choosing to leave legacies of joy in our wake.

When we forgive ourselves, we are moving one step closer to whole and healthy relationships, to Shalom.

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