The first years of my faith journey were chalk-full of simultaneous emotions, each an outcome of the newfound understanding of my relationship with God. I celebrated joy, contentment, and world-transcending peace. But also, I experienced the heavy reality that many People close to me were not in a relationship with God. For many years prior, my family’s financial strife and my parents’ longstanding trust issues were catalysts for broken words, broken actions, and broken relationships within our “Christian” home. When I began my personal relationship with Jesus, I entered into a community of fellow-believers with a new spirit of transparency. It allowed me to recall and name the interactions I wished I could un-witness and words I wished I could un-hear.
This heart-aching realization that my family’s mess jaded me in some ways, led me down a path of bitterness and resentment. As a result, I wrestled angrily with God and lashed out towards my family. This became a vicious cycle–as my claimed belief in the forgiveness of a loving Father was lamentably experienced as condescending and judgmental by my parents and younger brothers. I understood how my behavior was not Christian-like, but it took me many years to shed adolescent feelings of betrayal and shame. It was far more emotionally satisfying to have tangible beings to blame than to allow the Lord to alter my perspective. I refused forgiveness to those who desperately needed to experience it.
After a few (long) years of God’s Spirit at work in me- chipping away hardened portions of my heart by way of dear friends and fierce grappling with God, I’ve learned two significant things about faith and family. First, navigating relational contention within a family unit is uniquely difficult, and, in my experience, something that many millennial Christians struggle with. For so long, I lived in the tension of innate love for my parents but painful discord in the way we lived out our spiritual beliefs. I stubbornly thought it must be one or the other: a loving, agreeably Christian family with minimal strife or a distant, divergent family to which I was distant. I prayed for the former to be true in my life. Understanding that love and brokenness coexist under the same roof was a daunting journey that required me to set aside my pride, experience pain, and forgive. This process has been (and continues to be) excruciatingly difficult at times.
Nonetheless, the second lesson Jesus has patiently taught me is this: forgiveness is the only choice. I will never forget the quiet moment when the whispering of the Spirit finally broke my rigid heart. If I continued to choose to live on the side of unforgiveness, I was choosing to allow the Enemy victory. Each day that I refused to look beyond my own heartache and see my family as God does was like a brick laid on top of another, building a wall that kept me from intimacy with Him. My faith was being hindered by the poison of bitterness and alas, I decided, the one thing I couldn’t bear was a severed relationship with my Maker.
So, forgiveness is the only choice. I choose to use the active “is” instead of “was” because forgiving is a daily, over-and-over, intentional choice. Still, there are many instances where I have to actively choose to honor healthy, emotional boundaries that I’ve defined between my parents and me. In doing so, I live in the freedom of forgiveness. It is the only choice because, as a believer in Jesus Christ’s redeeming work on the Cross, it is the only viable option. I could, technically, opt out on forgiveness, but this closes my soul’s open conversation with the Spirit and ultimately, keeps me from an abundant life with Jesus. Repeatedly I am called to ‘forgive, because He forgave first,’ and this discipline is teaching me more about the Father’s heart for the world and His unrelenting love.
Because of Jesus, the battle to love my family ends in victory. I know Him more because of the way He has called me to love in the middle of brokenness.