Cissy Brady-Rogers
Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers Cissy Brady-Rogers

Tag: forgiveness

My mom taught me from an early age about loving the unlovable: “I may not like what you do, but I will always love you.”

Usually stated after she’d blown her top in anger while trying to contain and appropriately discipline the wild child energies of my brother and I, the message “No matter what you do, you are loved” went deep into my heart and mind.

Like teenagers throughout history, while working through my adolescent differentiation process, I was convinced my mom didn’t love me. “If you really loved me…” followed by a litany of parental errors filled my mind much of the time.

– “If you really loved me, you would let me do what I want.”

– “If you really loved me, you would give me what I ask for.”

– “If you really loved me, you wouldn’t be depressed and crazy.”

– “If you really loved me, you would make the pain go away.”

– “If you really loved me, you and dad wouldn’t have divorced.”

Volatile arguments with mom marked my teen years. At times I hated her. At other times I felt deep compassion for her suffering. Most of the time I was too busy avoiding and denying the painful reality of her depression, addictions and suicidality to feel anything but indifference.

In her better moments, she did her best to guide my emerging wild feminine nature. Yet as strong willed as she was, her depressed middle-aged energy was no match for my angry adolescent intensity. Her attempts to set boundaries around my choice of friends, where I went and what I did, were sadly ineffective. I’d tell her where I was going and what I was planning to do–sometimes truthfully but most often not. She’d extend some parental guidance in an effort to do her job: “Be sure to call if your plans change.” I’d verbally assent to the plan while knowing all along she’d be out cold by the time I came home and it wouldn’t matter anyway.

As her disease progressed and I became increasingly frightened and resentful of her weakness and ineffectiveness, I acted out my own insecurities in a show of hostility. I responded with outright disrespect and at times, even contempt. I’d laugh at her and dare her to “try and make me” come home at a certain hour.  Sometimes she’d fight back with further attempts to assert her authority, but I’d respond with more venomous words. I have more memories than I’d like of calling her a “fuckin’ bitch” or other hateful things.

And yet, through it all, she’d faithfully call me back to love. Often initiating a conversation about “a new beginning” when our relationship was in more a emotionally stable place. She’d apologize for her “craziness.” I’d cry and admit I loved her and didn’t mean what I’d said. We’d forgive each other and carry on–for a few days, a week or two, sometimes longer, until our next upheaval. The message that I heard time and again:

“No matter how badly you behave, I will always love you.”

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 - Remarkable & Silly Mother

Me & Mom in a Box 1984 – Remarkable & Silly Mother

Ours was never the cozy, intimate, “best friends” kind of mother-daughter relationship. We enjoyed each other at times, laughed and had fun. But it wasn’t a sweet or easy love. Even to her dying days we struggled to love each other well through our words and actions. Yet, in the depths of my innermost being, I knew I was her beloved and precious only daughter. She loved me fiercely, deeply and strongly. She taught me to love and forgive the unlovable in myself and others.

Reflecting on our relationship, I’m grateful she died when I was only 30. Her physical passing put an end to my struggle to love the parts of her I didn’t like, to forgive the things she did that hurt me. Her limited, broken, imperfect human self no longer inhibiting her capacity to love, her goodness lives on in and through me. I see her charm, her wit, her ability to stand up among a group of strangers and speak boldly and clearly–when I engage in those ways. I see her in my mannerisms and the ways I’m physically aging.

I know she’s proud of the women I’ve become and that I’m still working on loving the unlovable in myself and others. And I am forever grateful and proud to be the daughter of Moira Deidre Ford! May she rest in peace.

I’m blessed to participate in a blogroll with a writing group. Please check out Staci’s blog for more on loving the unlovable. 

 

I am alive and relatively well of body, mind and spirit today because of the grace and truth I’ve come to know through my relationship with Jesus Christ. The forgiveness I know in Christ enables me to practice self-forgiveness each time I “do the very thing I hate” and am not the woman I aspire to be.

For me, the divine compassion expressed in Jesus–suffering with the blind, paralyzed, lepers, widows and other alienated ones of his day–makes it possible for me to work with my brokenness, to relate to the parts of me that I’d rather ignore and suppress. I practice gracious awareness with my shadow side–the blind, deaf, grieving and diseased parts of my psyche–because the life of Christ shows me that the path to abundant life comes not from transcending my weakness and frailty but by relating to it with compassion.

Henri Nouwen writes that the compassion of Christ “transforms our broken human condition from a cause of despair into a source of hope.” Some other wise one (whose name escapes me) has said that the cracks are where the light gets in! The apostle Paul wrote that we have the treasure of the glory of God in cracked vessels to remind us that the power of transformation comes from God, not from us.

I notice that when I blog about my personal struggles, as in my last blog about my misuse and abuse of alcohol, my readers are more apt to comment, send a personal email, or “like” my post on Facebook. That reminds me of Frederick Beuchner’s biography Telling Secrets. After sharing his story of his father’s suicide when he was a boy, he said that telling our stories is important because it makes us more human and more able to relate to one another.

What story from your life do you need to practice telling with gracious awareness instead of shame and disgrace? How might you enter into the dark places in your life with the compassion of Christ?

May we be full of grace and truth. May be compassionate. May we love ourselves as God loves us.

Studies in attachment reveal that it’s the repair of breaks in attachment, not their absence, that builds security and solidifies a child’s sense of being loved and lovable. Rupture and repair is an expected and necessary feature of all enduring relationships. In fact, even people like myself, who grew up with an insecure attachment pattern, can go on to form lasting love bonds by making sense of our painful developmental years.

Similarly, it isn’t the absence of sin that deepens our capacity for love, but sin itself is the way God’s love enters our hearts. In our brokenness we cry out for help, we open our hearts to God’s love so that as we are forgiven, we can also forgive ourselves and extend forgiveness to others. Sin is a rupture in relationship–with God, with ourselves, with each other.  Forgiveness is the way love repairs the rupture.

Sin teaches us about love.

There’s a story about a female “sinner” massaging Jesus’ feet with oil, crying tears of love over him and breaking all the rules of polite dinner parties. Jesus welcomes her affection and even turns it into a lesson on love and forgiveness. Speaking to the well respected host who isn’t  identified as a sinner in the story, Jesus says:

“Her sins, which are many, are forgiven for she loved much, but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In my teenage and young adult years I strongly identified with this woman. While the more respectable church goers didn’t reveal blatant struggles with sin, I regularly showed up requesting prayer for my struggles with substance use, misuse and abuse. Like the apostle Paul,who didn’t understand himself because he didn’t do the good he wanted but did the very thing he hated, I too felt like the chief sinner amongst my peers.

During the years when sin obscured my capacity to behave in a  respectable, church going, lady like manner, I still knew that God loved me. I knew that there was nothing I could do to make God love me more and nothing I could do to make God love me less. Each fall into sin became an opportunity to open to love.

Learning to receive forgiveness for the behavioral sins of my early years prepared me to work with myself and others on the more complex and entrenched character defects, deficits and defenses that “respectable” people struggle with: greed, self-righteousness, insecurity, fear, envy, jealousy, carelessness with words and humor, procrastination…to name a few.

I’m pretty sure that my musings on sin, love and forgiveness don’t line up very well with what the Catholic Church taught me or what I learned in seminary. But it’s the way I’ve made sense of what I read in the Bible in light of my personal experience, research &  training and work with others.

I’m hopeful that my story will help you access compassion for your “failures” and the “failures” of others. I’m hopeful that it will help you make sense of your struggles with sin.  I’m hopeful that it will help you open your heart more widely to God’s forgiveness so that you will become a great lover of God, yourself and your neighbors.

She who is forgiven much, loves much.

May it be so.