God has forgiven me, but what if my child (or other person in the relationship) hasn’t forgiven me? What if they’ve hurt me as well? What can I do?
*I am not a professional counselor, and so my comments and suggestions come from personal experience alone.
By the time of my first husband’s death, my relationship with Evan was very strained. He was only 15, had so few verbal skills, and had lost so much in his lifetime. Also, puberty had taken its toll. Understandably, he was very angry. Unfortunately, so was I. Neither of us were handling the other well, and hadn’t for a while.
After my husband’s death, Evan had to be removed from our home so he could receive the care he needed at that time, and we both needed time to heal. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done, and the pain and shame of it at times crushed me. I never in my wildest dreams imagined doing such a thing.
God so graciously cared for us during this time. My first social worker later told me she hadn’t wanted to take our case, because she’d lost her brother just 5 years before, and was still healing. Yet she took our case anyway because she wanted to make certain we had a caseworker who would understand the trauma we were going through. I called her my “Angel”.
I continued to regularly see Evan, but his anger was at times unrelenting. However, with the separation, we began to heal.
As the healing progressed, and our anger began to subside, we needed to learn tools to maintain a healthy relationship – something we hadn’t had for a long while. God graciously began to teach us.
- I had to take responsibility for my part of the unhealthy relationship. Even if he wasn’t ready to take his part. That meant apologizing for things I’d done that hurt him. That took God’s grace and wisdom as to the words and timing.
- I had to set proper boundaries to protect each of us and the relationship. When emotions flared too much or when he began to get out of hand, whether through hurtful words or harmful actions, it was time to end the visit, even if we’d only been together 5-10 minutes. For a long time I had to drive a distance to see him, and to leave so soon when I’d traveled so far wasn’t easy.
- I always tried to leave with positive words affirming Evan’s importance, and the importance of our relationship, even if I didn’t feel it at the moment.
- I learned that in spite of Evan’s anger, it bothered him if I didn’t come back for a week or two after a visit where his anger had gotten out of hand. The space and distance gave him time to calm down and miss me, and also gave me time to regroup. It was and is still the only effective consequence for out of control anger.
- I had to spend much time in prayer, asking for humility, wisdom, and compassion. I also needed to constantly remember that I was representing Jesus, not only to Evan, but to his housemates and aids.
- I had to trust God to be all I needed, and not expect Evan to meet my emotional needs. Love for Evan at first had to be out of my love for God.
- God provided places of peace and respite for me in the town where Evan lived, so that if a visit went poorly, I didn’t have to drive home nearly 2 hours upset. This allowed me to pamper myself in the middle of waiting for healing.
Always assume God is working, as you walk with him and trust him to change the both of you. Never assume that things are so bad that God can’t fix it.
Let God do it his way – don’t allow yourself to try and fix it – you can’t.
Wait on the Lord and be his representative. Grow as you learn more about Jesus. Let God change your child (or other relationship).
Did things always go well? No. Did I always handle things wisely? No. However, over 8 years down the road, God is still working and healing. Because of the severity of Evan’s autism and associated disorders, we will always have challenges this side of heaven, but there has been so much progress with both of us.
What have you learned about healing relationships? I’d love to hear and share with everyone else!
With love and prayers,