Faith Talk: Forgiveness for Christmas

Faith Talk: Forgiveness for Christmas

Yesterday three gorgeous young members of our chuch took the reigns to each deliver two-minute sermons. One spoke on faith, another hope, another love. They were remarkable. I had to quell the tears (which is what I'll be doing again this Saturday watching my nieces at their ballet concert).

Oftentimes in Christian circles we get so caught up in theology and doctrine and church politics that the essence of our faith becomes clouded. Conversely, "non believers" become so self reliant, so hardened or dependent on their own resourcefulness and resolve, that they lose all those childlike qualities (fun, wonder, dependence, creativity, trust, forgiveness, hopeful anticipation) that can bring joy in life; the kind of joy that Christmas is all about. This isn't always our fault.

'Divided Lives', the cover feature in the latest The Weekend Australian Magazine, brought to the surface some of my own childhood experience. Christine Jackman painted a disturbing picture of the effects on children of post-divorce shared parenting: the anguish and anxiety felt by children whose parents can't provide for them the sort of stable upbringing other children take for granted.

No ifs, ands or buts, watching your parents go through a divorce can't not affect you, however you might rationalise it (now I get two Christmases; now I don't have to listen to them fight; now I have no discipline in my life because mum and dad want my love not my wrath – whee!). It's only now, with divorce so common amongst the Baby Boomer generation, that we are beginning to talk about its effects.

This much we know about shared parenting arrangements in Australia, writes Jackman, pointing to the Howard Government legislation that endorsed "shared parenting as the preferred outcome for children of all ages": they are unstable, they can be highly distressing, they are a developmental disaster, particularly in highly charged hostile divorce cases.

"One of my pet hates is that myth that says ‘kids are resilient’," child psychologist Jennifer McIntosh told Jackman. "We assume kids are resilient but that’s something that’s built and developed, in the right environment, over time. It’s not something they pack up and carry around with them in their overnight bag between Mum’s and Dad’s."

Of course, as Jackman notes, many parents manage well: they are civil, maintain a healthy relationship with their ex-spouse and do the best they can to provide their children with a stable, loving environment. But still more get mired in the heartache, angered by the hurt, and children do get caught in the crossfire. They can't NOT. Divorce is messy.

I'm not going to go into the details of my own parents' divorce; suffice to say that my inherited tendency towards anxiety was exacerbated by the process. I love my mum and dad: they are tops. But I do feel that perhaps they were let down by society's general permissiveness about divorce and by a lack of knowledge about the effects on children and substantive support mechanisms.

For all these reasons, I absolutely condone in-school support, such as school chaplains, World Vision's Kids' Hope program and other intermediaries; I high five any parents who cotton onto their issues early on and resolve to work through them in order to preserve their marriage (never, ever easy) for their children; and I am grateful to have witnessed first-hand what a loving, stable, happy marriage and home looks like (thanks, in-laws'!).

It takes time (and often lots of therapy) to come to an awareness and acceptance about any wrongs you've been dealt. Our parents should be the first demonstration of the sort of unconditional love and support that God wants us to express to each other. Expecting them to BE God is an unnecessary burden on them, and even in "good Christian homes" teens and young adults go astray, but without strong foundations in our formative years, our sense of identity is crippled: when your family is fractured, you look elsewhere for roots to grasp onto. Those roots aren't always healthy.

Christmas can be an anxious-making time for many families; more so for split homes. My parents have been slowly been chipping away at the old hurts between them to rekindle some sort of friendship with each other, and my sister and I have long since forgiven them for their mistakes. However, I think it's helpful to acknowledge that parents are culpable, and so too the laws and pervading societal doctrines that have let them, and their children, down.

A simple "sorry" can bring restoration to your life (as it did to thousands of Aboriginal people in this country). It starts the process of healing. But you won't always get it from the people or organisations who have wronged you. You could literally die waiting for it to come, as Annette Bening's character in Mother & Child found; her mother never mustering the words she needed to hear before passing away.

Like faith, hope and love, forgiveness is a cornerstone of Christianity. Before the three girls gave their mini-sermons on Sunday, one of the fathers performed a skit (we do stuff like that in our church), much to our amusement. He put a chain bearing weights around his neck, each one of them representing a wrong that had been committed against him or someone he loved; these long-held grudges stopped him from running the race of life. At the end of the skit, he took them off, laid them at the Cross, dusted himself off and walked away, unhindered by his hurts.

Forgiving those (parents or otherwise) who have caused us pain and heartache is extremely liberating. It can take a long time to build up trust in God when you have been let down by people, or have become conditioned for self-reliance, but returning to a childlike state of dependence on God's provision and assurance of his love can restore even the most broken relationships. Returning this love to others is the best gift of all. 

"For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins." Matthew 6: 12-15

"Faith (or trust in God) gives assurance to our hopes, and makes us certain of realities we do not see." Hebrews 11:1

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel


Laura said...

well spoken. thank you.

Anonymous said...

A beautifully written post, Erica.
As a single parent, I work hard to always be amicable with my ex-husband.
It is interesting to read your thoughts on growing up with divorced parents. My parents are not divorced and neither are my ex-husband's.
The most important thing is to ensure our child feels love, no matter where she is, what she is doing and who she is staying with.
The story in The Weekend Australian touched a nerve with me, only because I feel deep sadness for the children caught in the parental crossfire.