I’m a college student who lives at home. I’ll be leaving in the summer for work; then I will move to another college away from home to finish my degree. I can’t wait to move out, not because of the freedoms I will have but because of my parents, especially my mom.
I don’t hate my parents. I love them. They have given me everything. I know that they are both Christians, and I was raised in a Christian home. Yet their relationship is very broken. They don’t trust each other, nor do they even sleep in the same bed. I’m convinced that the only reason my mother is even still in the house is because of my brother and me.
How do I deal with her? She tells me to never trust men and that I’m better off never getting married. She calls men pigs and other awful words. She is always telling me awful things about my dad that I would rather not hear. I understand that I can’t be naive about these things, but I don’t think she should be pilling all of those things on me.
I understand that she’s been hurt, but I have a deep desire to get married. Although my parents’ marriage may not be something to model my own on, I have watched other older Christian adults’ marriages. I know that they can succeed. Those are the ones I want to follow.
I’m not dating right now, but with the way my mom acts I’m afraid that if I do, my mom will always be whispering in my ear that I can’t trust him. I don’t know how to talk to her about this. She doesn’t know it, but she pushes me away when she talks about men in such awful ways. Just because her relationships (she was married twice before my dad) never worked doesn’t mean mine can’t.
I want so desperately to tell her not to say the things she does to me, but I’m afraid she’ll be hurt. And when she gets hurt, she starts blaming and guilt-tripping. And when that happens, it’s all I can do to not run out of the house and say I’m never coming back. I just want her to understand what I want: that I don’t like hearing those awful things and that I want to get married. She tells me she prays that I never marry. It breaks my heart.
Please help. It drives me crazy. Even now I’m starting to tear up thinking of the things she says.
Dear reader, thank you for writing. I’m humbled by this opportunity to answer your question and pray that what I write will encourage you and help you, even as it challenges you to think differently about your mom.
Your situation is certainly a painful and unenviable one, though not uncommon. It’s understandable why your mom would feel the way she does, not only because of her own relationship failures, but also because we live in a culture that encourages just the sort of male bashing your mom practices. Books, movies and more have been written to justify and even encourage anger toward men who mess up (I’m not talking abuse here, but the sort of day-to-day irritations that come from being a fallen human and failing to meet expectations). They paint older women as victims, men as perpetrators and young women as yet unspoiled. The message to daughters like you is clear: “Don’t let a man do to you what your father did to me.”
You know intuitively that there’s something wrong with all this. The bitterness and venom you’ve absorbed from your mom feels wrong. And you see the damage it does to your dad and your own perspective of men. But those are symptoms, not the core problem.
The problem with this way of looking at relationship chaos is that it denies sin. Men, in their fallen state, are jerks. But then, so are we women. It wasn’t just Adam who sinned in the garden (1 Timothy 2:14). We’re all fallen (Romans 3:23) and we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). It’s essential to Christian marriage to understand this. It’s only when we’re aware of our own infinite offense against God, our utter inability to approach Him apart from the saving blood of Christ, that we can begin to have the grace to forgive a spouse (Luke 7:47, Colossians 3:12-13). Christian husbands and wives can forgive much because they’ve been forgiven much (and in a lifetime of marriage between two fallen people, there will be much to forgive). They can love because they’ve been loved. In fact it’s such love that is one evidence of salvation. Jesus said,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).
As children of God we are His dearly loved children (Ephesians 5:1). We are only able to love others — especially in the face of being wronged — out of the overflow of the Father’s love for us. Such love and forgiveness is not something we can conjure up in our own strength. When we are convinced of our need for salvation — that we are guilty of rebelling against our Creator and in need of the forgiveness that flows from His work on the cross — then we can extend grace to others.
All of this flows exclusively from our status as children of God. And here is where I think you’re missing some vital clues about your mom. You opened your letter saying “[I] know that they [your mom and dad] are both Christians and I was raised in a Christian home.” I wonder what evidence you have that this is true. Though they may call themselves Christians and may even attend church religiously, titles and membership cards aren’t proof. What matters is the fruit they’re bearing in their lives.
You’ve said very little about your dad, so I’ll focus where you’ve shared the most, on your mom. Scripture is clear that the Lord judges the hearts of men, but we’re also told that we should judge with right judgment. Christ alone will judge on the final day who will enter His kingdom (John 5:22), but He tells us to judge with right judgment (John 7:24) paying attention to whether the fruit of someone’s life is good or bad (Matthew 7:15-20).
And why is this distinction necessary? Because we’re called to relate to believers in certain ways, even as we’re called to evangelize those who aren’t convinced of the truth of the Gospel. We need discernment to know if we’re dealing with someone who needs to be restored in love (Galatians 6:1-10) or someone who is still dead in their sins (Ephesians 2:1-5).
It’s unhelpful to relate to people as if they’re saved if all they have as evidence is a title they claim, especially if their life suggests they are in need of salvation and the change of heart, attitude and behavior that true conversion brings. If it’s true that your mom is as yet unsaved, how much better for her that you pray for her as an unbeliever and look for opportunities to share the Gospel with her. I don’t mean to suggest that you disrespect her or accuse her of unbelief, but rather that you look at these contentious conversations you’re having with her as opportunities to point her to Christ.
What might this look like? Here’s one hypothetical conversation:
Mom, “You won’t believe what your father did to me today. I hate it when he [fill in the blank].”
You, “I can understand why it’s hurtful to you when he does that. Have you told him that it hurts?”
Mom, “Ha! Tell him? He’s so dense. He’s been living this way with me for 20 years. He’s hopeless.”
You, “I can relate to hopeless! I feel like a failure every time I sin against God. It’s amazing to me that His forgiveness never runs out. I guess that’s what makes it possible for me to keep forgiving others when they hurt me. I’m so aware of His grace toward me and how undeserving I am that I can’t help but give grace to others.”
If she’s a true believer, the Holy Spirit can use Gospel-centered conversations like this one to pierce her conscience and convict her of her own sin. Maybe she received the Gospel long ago, and like the seed that fell on the path, the rocky soil or among thorns (Matthew 13:1-23), persecution, the cares of the world, or the evil one have choked out that wisp of spiritual life. Or maybe she never received it and is as yet unregenerate. The Spirit may use such a conversation to bring her back to life.
Either way, applying the Gospel to your conversations is the key to your relationship with her, whether what she needs is conversion or restoration. And God knows which is needed. But it’s also the key to your sanity and sanctification. God can work through this trial to grow your faith and strengthen your resolve to follow Him. This is an opportunity to thank Him for opening your eyes to the wretched harvest that results when you sow seeds of bitterness. And to ask Him to protect you from it. It’s also an opportunity to recognize that He alone is your source of strength and provision and joy. He holds your life together by the power of His Word, and every good gift is from Him.
The Father delights to give good gifts to His children: If it’s marriage you desire, ask Him for it. You can rest assured that even if your mom truly is praying against your future marriage (such talk sounds like empty threats more than reports of heart-felt prayers to God) such petitions would be hostile to God and opposed to His revealed will. And we know that prayers are answered when they are spoken in faith (Matthew 21:22) and align with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15). He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. You need not fear her in this regard. She is powerless to thwart God’s sovereign plan for your life. Nothing happens to you apart from His will (Luke 12:4-7). By all means, pray for a husband. And pray for the salvation of your mom.
I am thankful that your time living at home is temporary and will pray that God gives you the grace to be a faithful witness to His truth while you are there. Suffering is not in vain. Offer it up to Him and ask Him to bless you in it and use it to produce a harvest of righteousness, both in your own heart and in your mom’s.
By His grace and for His glory,
Copyright 2012 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.