We live in a broken world, and that brokenness makes its way into many of our experiences and relationships. And while all broken relationships hurt, having a strained relationship with your mom is uniquely painful-particularly on Mother’s Day. For those who are estranged from their mothers, this holiday can feel like salt in a wound.
Church on Mother’s Day can be especially difficult if you don’t have a good relationship with your mother. Not only is it hard to listen to inspirational sermons and stories about maternal love if that’s not your experience, but you can also feel responsible and guilty for those broken family ties-even when it’s not your fault.
If you’re a Christian who finds yourself estranged from your mom this Mother’s Day, here are a couple of essential things to keep in mind.
Take responsibility for what you can
The opening line to Tolstoy’s amazing Anna Karenina is so true, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” There is an almost endless number of ways that dysfunction can enter into families. That’s the nature of sin and brokenness. So we have to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fix our damaged relationships.
Paul tells us, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). This means that we need to keep our side of the street clean. We’re responsible for doing what we can to ensure that reconciliation is possible.
This requires some hard work. There are a lot of situations where we feel like resolution is impossible. But we have to be aware of the fact that we’re just as susceptible to justifying grudges and holding onto bitterness. The first rule for dealing with a broken relationship is honestly and prayerfully meditating on any negative behaviors and attitudes we’re responsible for bringing into the situation.
Coming to grips with the negativity we’re bringing into a relationship is vital. Once we repent of our unhelpful perspectives and actions, we’re able to move forward with forgiveness. But we must recognize the line between offering forgiveness and maintaining healthy boundaries.
Don’t mistake forgiveness for license
The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness. There are several times when the Lord linked our forgiveness with our willingness to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15, Luke 6:37). The reason for this was because if we’ve truly been forgiven, we’ll recognize and appreciate the value of mercy.
But forgiving someone doesn’t necessarily remove the need for wise boundaries. Our forgiveness won’t cure someone else of their toxic and abusive behaviors. When we forgive, we let go of the anger that we hold against others. It’s still vital that you recognize what kind of behavior is acceptable for you and your family and what isn’t.
Even after we forgive, we still need to remember:
- You can’t fix your loved ones.
- You are allowed to say no.
- You are not responsible for other people’s feelings.
- You are not responsible for anticipating their desires or needs.
- Your own needs matter.
In a perfect world, forgiveness would lead to complete reconciliation. But that’s not always the case. We will still need to work through a lot of the relational difficulties. This means that even after you’ve forgiven your mother, you still might need to set very specific boundaries, take occasional breaks from the relationship, and in some cases, even sever contact.
Believe in the possibility of change
Some things are simply beyond our ability to fix. In fact, the impasse you feel with your mother might be impossible for either of you to resolve. Our hope doesn’t lie in our ability to fix what’s broken in our relationships; we need to trust in God. That’s why it’s necessary and appropriate for us to pray for God’s intervention in our relationship.
Our great responsibility is to hold onto the idea that God can-and does-change hearts. As we set boundaries, we need to believe that people can change. They might still need to earn our trust in a way that will enable us to move our boundaries. But we need to be wary of the idea that no one ever changes and our broken relationship is as good as it will ever get.
No matter how bad your relationship with your mother might be right now, it’s important to remember that nothing is impossible with God, and that includes our struggling and broken relationships.