It’s 3:30am. I couldn’t stand laying there staring at the ceiling any longer – after 2 hours of being surrounded by darkness and listening to the rain outside, laying still, cuddling my sweet pup, and trying to shut my brain off, I gave up. Time to roll out of bed and try a different tactic.
I played with Rachi for a few minutes – lazily tossing a toy halfway across the living room and watching her, limbs still stiff with sleep, pounce halfheartedly across the room to retrieve it. She gave up and just sat there staring at me after a few throws.
So, I reheated yesterdays coffee and sat down at my kitchen table to open up my prayer journal and my devotionals. The slightly stale but, nevertheless, warm and comforting coffee slipped across my lips and trickled through my body – warming my heart and easing my mind almost immediately.
This sweet side effect that coffee seems to magically possess was immediately undone by the words I read on the page in front of me which made my mind go icy and my arms feel chilled and numb. I set my coffee down and read the words again. And then again. And then again.
“Your sister would like me to remind you that she needs grace. Just like you need forgiveness, so does she. There comes a time in every relationship when it’s damaging to seek justice, when settling the score only stirs the fire.”
– Max Lucado, Grace for the Moment
I fought back tears and I also fought back the urge to hurl the book across the room, rip that page out and tear it to shreds.
How dare this page in this book tell me that I should hand out grace like cotton candy at an amusement park? How dare this page suggest that it knows all I’ve been through? With MY sister…this book doesn’t know my sister.
And how on earth did this happen to fall in the sequence of devotional readings EXACTLY where/when I needed to read it? Why was I woken up at a ridiculous hour, with the entire day spread ahead of me, and placed before these words that I so desperately tried to refuse that I needed?
Okay God, I get it. Very funny.
My therapist and I have recently been working through some past situations and issues regarding my family – my sister in particular. It’s brought up a LOT of hurt and a LOT of emotions that I thought I had dealt with, but clearly haven’t judging by the impact that talking about them has had on me. I have realized how angry I still am, even after many years, over how my sister treated me – the things she said to me, the threats, the accusations, the downright cruel words. I am angry that I missed out on a typical sister relationship growing up because of everything that went on. I’m bitter that no one defended me or kept me safe during all of the uproar and commotion that persisted throughout my entire childhood. There’s a lot of pain still to be processed.
I’m traveling back home in a couple of weeks to visit my parents and do a performance. Although I ADORE my parents and I LOVE spending time with them, the idea of potential family conflict makes me sick to my stomach. It feels daunting to travel back to that environment where mishaps and confrontation are almost inevitable. And I still carry the burden of feeling like it’s all my fault. There are even days when that feeling of, “This wouldn’t be happening if I didn’t exist.” come flooding back to me and I’ve realized the huge toll that has taken on me emotionally and mentally, but also the way that it has manifested physically. I jump 10 feet off the ground when a door gets slammed. I shudder and shake when people raise their voices. My breath quickens and my muscles tighten when people seem to negatively react to me or to things I say. When certain people walk into the room, words and memories come flooding back and I want to run and hide or throw up or disappear completely. This terror that I feel when placed in certain situations is not based on your typical “every family’s got something” type of drama. It stems from years of hurt and unresolved anger.
All of that to say, I’m finally healing. I’m finally growing and learning. One thing I’ve realized is that, although my sister hurt me in ways that words can’t describe, it is my job to offer her grace. She may never apologize to me for the years of fear and hurt and uncertainty. But that doesn’t mean I can’t offer her grace. In order for me to heal – to really, fully, heal – I need to offer her the very things I so badly long for her to offer me: forgiveness and grace and love.
Something else: I know a lot of things now that I didn’t know then. I know that my sister was not living her life with the intention of destroying mine. I know now that she was acting out in the only way that she knew how. She was trying to lash out in order to receive what she felt like she needed and in order to take care of herself. In a way, it’s very similar to my struggle with anorexia – I was coping in the only way that I knew how, the only way that offered me comfort in the moment and I didn’t realize the impact it was having on my health long term because it offered me immediate gratification. I think that my sister’s behavior was very much the same – it was the only way she felt like she could survive and exist.
Saying all of that doesn’t make it alright. It doesn’t fix it. It doesn’t even really make my healing process any easier aside from maybe aiding me in the acceptance of the entire thing. I didn’t do the damage, but it’s still my job to take the initiative to heal from it. I don’t want to live a life stuck in former family patterns that have been passed down generation to generation and I’m proud to say that I can see my parents and myself slowly but surely changing the way things are done and handled around us and between us.
Even though I’m still working on processing all this hurt and this immense amount of pain, I think today’s devotional was spot on when it stated, “There comes a time in every relationship when it’s damaging to seek justice, when settling the score only stirs the fire.” And that’s exactly what I needed to read and comprehend. I can’t heal myself if I’m still seeking justice. If I’m so focused on seeking out retribution, an apology, or making others “pay” for the wrongs they did that impacted me, then I have no space in my heart and in my life to heal. All of that is what keeps detrimental patterns going in family systems – those harmful behaviors THRIVE on the act of seeking justice.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. Repaying a wrong with a wrong won’t make my life right or better. Repaying a wrong with forgiveness is what will free space in my heart to heal and to truly THRIVE in the ways I desire and in the ways that God has planned for me.
Life isn’t perfect. Families are never perfect. Relationships can’t even come close to being perfect. There will always be some sort of conflict, some sort of something that will result in pain. Regardless of what extent this may show itself in your own family system or in a relationship in your life, please know that it’s possible to be free from the chains that seeking out justice will hold you in. I truly believe that freedom from past traumas is possible. I’m not 100% there yet, but I’m getting there.
Day by day.
Moment by moment.
Sweet reminder from God after sweet reminder from God.
Thank you, Jesus, for reminding me that we are all strugglers in need of strength. Pain will persist if we are seeking justice instead of forgiveness. Grace is not something that we ourselves have earned so who are we to expect others to earn it from us.
Turn to your brothers and your sisters (both biological and non biological) and offer then love, forgiveness, and grace. In the end, that’s the only way to truly heal the pain that someone may have caused you. And in the midst of all that, if you are able, offer them empathy and understanding – you don’t have to condone their behavior or their words, but you can simply try to understand why they behaved the way that they did. We are all just trying to make it through this tough life. We are all doing the best that we can with what we have in the moment – but grace is a necessity.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brené Brown
“The same sun that rises over castles and welcomes the day
Spills over buildings into the streets where orphans play
And only You can see the good in broken things
You took my heart of stone, and You made it home
And set this prisoner free”
― Bethany Dillon