It’s been an honor and a lot of fun to watch the discussion about If Only: Letting Go Of Regret travel around the web this week. Below you’ll find a wrap-up of the book-related posts – and a bonus. Yesterday, Ellen Painter Dollar shared a section of Chapter 9, entitled “When The Past Becomes The Present: Why Our History Still Tell Tales”. Visit her blog to read part one. Part two is below.
Monday: Part 1 of an excerpt from Chapter 1 at Melaniemakes.com
Tuesday: Part 2 of an excerpt from Chapter 1 at Christyrawls.com
Wednesday: A guest post (and give-away!) at Bronlea.com
Friday: An interview with Pastor Ruth Everhart at Rutheverhart.com
Saturday: Part 1 of an excerpt from Chapter 9 at Ellen Painter Dollar
From Chapter 9 of If Only: When The Past Becomes The Present
There was no magic moment in those final waning weeks of her life in which my mom came to terms with the lies she’d been told, the rejection she’d experienced, and the deep sense of loss she was unable to name. Once the secret of the cancer she’d kept hidden for more than two years was revealed, her physical condition deteriorated very rapidly.
The one thing she’d withheld from just about every person in her life was the single thing she wanted more than anything else in the waning hours of her life – forgiveness. That longing for mercy drew me to Jesus as a teen. And it was mercy I saw at work in a way I never could have imagined for all of the years since then when a hymn-singing hospice nurse prayed with my mom to receive her Savior’s forgiveness. A few days later, at age 68, she died.
Following her death, I had to come to terms with the ways in which regret – my mom’s and my own – affected my life. Many of us who experience difficult childhoods make solemn vows to ourselves that things will be different when we become parents. I know I did.
If Only’s Corollary: It’ll be different for me
With single-minded purpose from the day I first learned I was pregnant with our first child, I worked with the intensity of a tiger mom to keep my own childhood pain out of our home. I wanted my kids to know they were loved and treasured. I wanted them to know they were safe. Most of all, I wanted them to know that the mercy found in Christ was theirs. I expended tremendous amounts of energy in single-minded pursuit of those worthy goals.
Though I’d long ago forgiven my parents, I’d never really considered the lingering effect the message had on me that I was a disappointment and a failure. I just knew I had to protect my kids from it no matter what. The day-in, day-out demands of the active parenting years don’t always leave a lot of spare time for reflection.
The time came in the months after my mom died. Both of my sons left the nest during that time, and my daughter and her family, who’d moved home for a season after being out on her own, moved out again as well.
My empty nest echoed with the sound of regret.
It wasn’t just the “Sunrise, Sunset” ache at the passing of time most parents feel when they see the baby they cradled in their arms like thirteen minutes ago is all grown up. Most parents experience the challenge of watching their children leave the nest. Some don’t immediately soar into the great blue sky. Part of the letting go journey for parents means coming to terms with their own if only list as they realize how quickly the years have flown, and that there is no possibility of doing over their kids’ lives or their own.
My regrets went far beyond those. I was filled with dozens of if only’s and a heaping helping of self-recrimination when I saw my kids struggle, as many young adults do, with the tasks of building their adulthoods. If only I would have been a better mother, maybe they wouldn’t be having problems finding their respective vocational paths. If only I would have made different parenting choices, maybe they wouldn’t be struggling with their finances. If only I would have listened better to this question or that conversation during their teens, then all of their relationships now would be guaranteed to be peaceful and happy. If only I would have learned to pick my battles better, they wouldn’t be struggling to make their faith their own. If only I could have relaxed a little, then their lives wouldn’t seem so complicated. If only. If only. If only.
My if only’s scurried in circles like hamsters on wheels in my heart where regret lived. No matter how many ways I apologized to my kids and my husband for any real and/or imagined parenting failures I could remember, I never felt a sense of relief. My husband said to me on numerous occasions, “It sounds as though you’ve forgotten that I was their parent, too. We were in this together, making parenting decisions every step of the way.” It was true, but his words brought me no comfort.
I’d long labored under a yoke of responsibility that had never been mine to shoulder, beginning with the responsibility I’d always felt to try to please my deeply wounded mom. That responsibility then shifted in adulthood to include working double-overtime to keep the effects of my painful childhood far, far away from my children.
Eventually, I realized that they weren’t the ones from whom I needed to receive forgiveness. I needed to let myself off the hook – a hook on which I’d lived my entire life. While under my parents’ roof, I was wounded by my mom’s unresolved regret. As a teen, I hoped that receiving Christ’s forgiveness would magically shield me from its effects. As a young adult, I thought the spiritual thing was to bury that regret in busyness, and managed to rack up plenty of new regrets in the process.
God used the loss and transition of midlife to help me face all of it – and reconcile with my past – at last.
Taken from If Only by Michelle Van Loon, ©2014 by Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, Kansas City, MO. Used and reprinted by permission of Publisher. All rights reserved. Visit our website at www.beaconhillbooks.com to purchase this title.