Watching your dad or mom walk out the door with all of their stuff isn’t easy.
Knowing they aren’t coming back for you is an even harsher, more numbing, reality to grapple with. You’re left with questions like, Is there something wrong with me? Were we not fun to be around? Was I not enough?
When the questions subside, you’re left processing the weight of your parent’s absence and the pain of their abandonment. Birthdays pass. Holidays come and go. Resentment grows.
Seasoned anger erects concrete walls around the tender parts of our hearts and souls. We do whatever we can to ensure we’re protected from any drop of pain. But the pain of a parent’s absence is inevitable and often, unmovable.
This is when the Spirit goes to work in us that the mountain of pride building up in our hearts over the years soon comes into view, no matter how much we don’t want to look.
Anger Toward Sin Is Okay
Divorce or abandonment aren’t how God intended the family to work. God designed the family to be a beautiful picture, a spiritual mirror, for how life and love and commitment work within God’s Kingdom. Through family, we learn about God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
Through the examples of our parents, we learn about the love God the Father has for his children. We are supposed to learn that God is a good Father by the presence of our own dads. And through the beauty of marriage, we should witness the love and sacrifice that Christ has for the church, God’s very own people.
But the sins of our parents, in their humanness, sometimes shatters that beauty, staining all that God intended. Families unravel.
Parents leave. And when they do, God’s beauty has been marred by the corrosive power of brokenness and the selfish search for independence. To this end, it’s okay to feel anger at the dissolution of your family. It’s okay to feel disgusted when parents leave their children behind for their own desires.
Sin, the decomposition of God’s good creation, should anger us because it angers God. Parents shouldn’t leave their children. Fathers shouldn’t abuse their sons and their daughters. Wives shouldn’t forsake the covenant they made with their husbands.
But it happens. And sometimes, it happens to us.
Those who have suffered any hurt, loss or oppression within their family must know this: We can and should feel a righteous anger at the corrosive nature of sin on God’s creation. And that includes the sin that happens within our families.
Anger Is Never the End of Healing
As children living in the aftermath of divorce, we struggle deeply with the inability to forgive the parents that abused us, abandoned us, and alienated us. How could we forgive them? They broke their promise. They chose a life lived for themselves over a life lived with us, their children. They didn’t carry out their role to care for, provide, love, and support their own flesh and blood.
It’s easy in our anger to feel justified by withholding forgiveness from the parent that mistreated us. I certainly did. But this is where the truth of the gospel must infiltrate our hearts and our minds: being angry at the reality of divorce is one thing, withholding forgiveness from one of God’s children is a different thing altogether.
For those who have been left by their parents, we desperately need Christ to stitch up every valve that leaks hatred or disgust into our minds, souls and hearts. We must ask for a new set of spiritual eyes; eyes that look on our parents with the same affection and extravagant love that Christ does. We need a heart for our parents that resembles Christ’s heart for our parents.
This means a gracious heart. A forgiving heart. A merciful heart. A loving heart.
None of us can catalyze this change on our own, but God can. Offering this kind of forgiveness to the parents that hurt us frees us from years of slavery. Bitterness and anger are terrible masters. But more importantly, forgiveness is a glorious, powerful and more than capable liberator. When we forgive, we act in accordance with Scripture (Matthew 6:14; Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32).
Our ability to forgive shows that we understand our own sin is just as vile in God’s eyes as the sin of our parents (Romans 3:23; Ephesians 2:1-2). In fact, the wretchedness of our own actions towards God is infinitely greater than the wretchedness of our parents’ sin towards us.
Without Christ, we are all enemies of God and rebels towards Him (Romans 5:10; Colossians 1:21).
As long as our primary identity is an abandoned, abused, alienated child, it will be easy to withhold forgiveness. But as followers of Jesus, our identity changes. What was once broken is now whole. What was once dirty is now clean. What was once defiled is now pure. What was once left behind is now found.
When we wrap ourselves up in the lap of God by way of Jesus, we forsake all other identities. That means we lay down our search for justice knowing the gravest injustice of all, our own sin against God, has been justified through Christ’s blood. We have no justice to seek. The joy, hope, fullness and family that we experience as God’s children was purchased by the sacrifice of Jesus in our place.
This is why the gospel informs every aspect of our lives. Christ came and died for the ungodly, for sinners, for his very enemies. That’s you. That’s me. That’s my dad. That’s your parents, too (Romans 5:6-8).
Guilty Yet Free
How can we experience genuine joy and hope in the gospel of Jesus, knowing we have been forgiven of such grave errors and mistakes, while we withhold forgiveness from the parent that left us? Are we more righteous than God? Are we more holy than God? Not at all! For this reason, if God, the holiest and most righteous of all, did not withhold grace and mercy from wretched sinners, surely we cannot turn around and hold the sins of our parents over their heads, no matter how difficult this may be and no matter how we’ve suffered. One pastor says it this way: “Sin against us will never justify sin from us.”
For this reason, if God, the holiest and most righteous of all, did not withhold grace and mercy from wretched sinners, surely we cannot turn around and hold the sins of our parents over their heads, no matter how difficult this may be and no matter how we’ve suffered. One pastor says it this way: “Sin against us will never justify sin from us.”
This is the radical and stunning nature of the gospel. It is the only chance for complete healing and restoration. Friends, find hope that Christ came to set the captives free, to restore the ruins that have been long devastated, and to bind up the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1-4). That’s you and that’s me. That’s our families. We can find wholeness, freedom and security in Christ. No matter what has happened in our earthly families, God has adopted us into his eternal family. He’s lavished his love upon us, forgiven us, and now calls us sons and daughters (1 John 3:1). That’s reason to rejoice and reason to forgive.
No matter what has happened in our earthly families, God adopts us into his eternal family. He’s lavished his love upon us, forgiven us, and now calls us sons and daughters (1 John 3:1). That’s reason to rejoice and reason to forgive.