Growing up, I was taught about the kind of love God the Father has for his children; it was called "agape love." I understood it as the kind of love that allows a parent to forgive their children for wrongdoing, and the sort of love that allows God to forgive humankind for sin. It was something to take comfort in. The message that we had "fallen short" was pounded into my head, and God's love had to be extremely powerful to overlook how unclean and unworthy I was. Everyone cried and wailed around me, thanking God for forgiving them, feeling lucky and grateful their depravity was being overlooked by a loving Father.

Also, as a child, I dealt with a step-father who was abusive in many ways... although also constantly begging for forgiveness. This man had been abused himself, and dealt with many demons of his own. He constantly ebbed and flowed between a hair-trigger temper and a desperate contrition. He wasn't insincere when he pleaded, on literal bended knee with a tear-soaked face, for us to forgive him. And we did. Over and over, we forgave him. My mother forgave him. My brothers forgave him. I forgave him. 26 years into his marriage with my mother, he's finally matured into a fairly mellow human being.

When I was 23, I began building a relationship with my real father. He left before I was born, and left a trail of abandoned children behind him. He was a heart-breaker most of his life. When I decided I needed to know this man, he was reeling from being divorced by the one woman who had a grip on his heart. Because I hadn't known him my entire life, it was easier to forgive him than if he'd left while I was a child. He answered a lot of questions about myself just by being himself. Now, 30 years later, he has a lot of regrets. He's moving forward by building relationships with his children, but not all of them have found it within themselves to let it go. I have.

I've more than forgiven him, actually. I love him deeply, and there's not really anything he can do to shake my love... and I have been shaken. I see all that he's done to my mother, to other women, to my siblings... I still love him. I'll always love him. Maybe my step-father is unworthy; maybe my real father is unworthy... but I love them. I have agape love for my fathers.

The lesson I learned recently, while talking to my mother, is that it's actually up to children to forgive their parents. A parent is far more capable of sinning against their children than the other way around. We depend on them to be our safe place... to be our teachers, our kindest critics, our heroes, our mentors, our home. They're all just human, and they will inevitably fail us in some way or another. They will literally fall on their knees and beg us for forgiveness. Depending on the grievance, we might find it in our hearts to do so. Not everyone can forgive their parents; not everyone should. But a parent who's wronged their child should be grateful when their children are able to forgive them, and love them, despite their "sin".

This is one of the main things wrong with the idea of Christianity; with the idea that humans should ask their Heavenly Father for forgiveness. This god, who created the universe with so many flaws, and so many traps, and so many temptations; who created us with so many flaws, and so many weaknesses, and so little help... should be pleading for our forgiveness. He is the one, should he exist, who is unworthy of it. Christianity, or any religion, would make so much more sense if the Creator was the one assuming responsibility and repenting of his sin against all of creation.

I know what it's like to forgive a parent (or three). I know what it's like to love them in spite of all the hurt they caused, their character flaws, their imperfection... and it's most profound when that kind of agape loves flows from the child back to the parent. It's a given a parent loves and will forgive their children; they can't help it. It isn't a given for a child to forgive a parent.

Dear Christians: your message is wrong. God should be begging his creation for forgiveness for all the ways in which he's failed us. If only he existed.

Views: 715

Tags: agape, children, father, forgive, forgiveness, love, parents, sin

Comment by Reg The Fronkey Farmer on July 2, 2013 at 10:12am

Hi Cara - I think Strega hit the nub of the issue above. She needs to keep her belief in God intact. It has supported her throughout her life insofar as it has allowed her to justify what happen to her and her family. So it is not that you don’t believe in God that is the problem but what it would imply if you are correct.  

You don’t need to use the word Atheist. That is because once you tell someone you have known a long time that you do not believe what they belief you compel them to consider why you don’t. This creates doubt (Doubt) in their mind and the monsters of reality start to come to the foreground. This is scary for most people especially those that have invested so much into their faith. So maybe your mother is trying to get you to “return to the fold” so that it will give meaning to her own faith.

If you don’t confirm the bias for her beliefs then she can sense the pillars of her reality, those coping structures she has built up over the years, start to crumble. That means she will be left to face the stark realities of her life. She will have to come to terms with all of the stuff you have already sorted out for and by yourself.

So you could ask her to stop with the bullying tactics as with the letter writing. If she does have her own crisis of faith then maybe you will be the one that can help her make sense of it. You can show her how better her life could be without religion and help her to map out her path to becoming an empowered woman like you are. That might be the only way for you both to have a meaningful relationship. If not you will have to be assertive and  insist that if she will not try to see your point of view and respect your wishes then you are not prepared to continue with the current status quo.

Comment by Emperor Milos on July 2, 2013 at 10:39am

@Cara Coleen,

In reply to your post about your mother.

don't have a right to be angry? She liked me better as a shy, timid, and cowering girl? She liked me better when I was afraid of and hated men? She liked me better when I was beaten into submission? Fantastic. And I keep telling her... I don't NOT believe there's a god out of rebellion. Really, I don't. Despite the shit in my past, I stopped believing in the supernatural AFTER I'd worked through most of my issues.

But she keeps ripping the scabs off. And she keeps telling me how sad she is... as if I should give a fuck. As if she didn't give up her right to give advice 25 years ago when she decided to stay with a man who abused her children.

I haven't read all of your blogs or posts on TA, so I most likely don't know the whole story, but have you told her these things?

From my experience with people that sound like your mom, there is a point at which the best option is a "fuck you". When a relationship is abusive, emotionally or physically, it is best to remove oneself from the harmful situation. Tell her you will not read or reply to anything she has to say to you unless the next words from her are "I'm sorry, I won't mention X, Y, Z ever again."

Comment by archaeopteryx on July 2, 2013 at 11:32am

Sounds like it's all about control, Cara - the "shy, timid, and cowering girl" was controllable.

Comment by Unseen on July 2, 2013 at 12:55pm

Until you become a parent, it's hard to understand agape (I always think of the slackjawed, open-mouthed, stunned definition of the word, and wonder if there might be some etymological relationship between the homonyms). 

I always say that romantic love isn't real love (think of all the romances that end up being a news story about murder or murder-suicide). The only two kinds of real love are parental love and the love of a true friend. It's true that not all parents feel this love. Your birth father being a prime example. But when it happens, it's irrational, deep, and unshakeable. Witness the mothers of serial killers who continue to love a person who in all respects is detestable. Then you have the friend who sticks with someone through thick and thin. If you marry someone like this, it's way beyond romantic love which can evaporate in a moment. 

Agape is one of the few things that makes human beings worthwhile.

Comment by Belle Rose on July 2, 2013 at 1:05pm

My perspective Cara is that your mother does love you. She probably does think that she’s acting out of love. Perhaps she is even following the advice of a friend or her pastor in writing you that letter because she thinks it will, “allow the holy spirit to speak to you” or something to that effect. Perhaps she believes she’s doing what’s right.

What she will not see, because the gloss of religion is layered thick over her eyes, is that what she has done is crossed a boundary and disrespected you as a person, and as her daughter. She would insist otherwise I’m sure. She would say she is trying to protect you.

Here’s the hard lesson Cara. You have to detach from her. Other people have already said it but in a different way. When a woman says to another woman, “fuck you” it doesn’t mean you get angry. It doesn’t mean you stop loving her. It doesn’t mean that you never see her again. But it means that your relationship with her is forever changed.

I have had to do the same thing with my mother and I am in the process of doing this very thing. I understand what it is like to be a woman in this world without a mother. In my own case I can even say that I know what it’s like to have an emotionally and mentally unstable mother. One who still looks at life with an unhealthy outlook on life. A mother who disrespects me. Who doesn’t truly care what I think or feel. My mother has even defended my ex-husband on a number of occasions and made excuses for his abuse. I’m sure your mother has probably done the same with your step dad/dad? The problem with women who have been abused for any length of time and who have come to accept it and tolerate it is that they cannot see through the trees, and they have no desire to be set free. They are too busy surviving. They could care less whether they are empowered, and would rather be a doormat and allow men to control them because it allows them to continue to be comfortable, taken care of, and they can deal with their own misery by submitting to God and surrendering everything they have to him so that HE can take away their sins…which is the cause of it all right? No, NO NO!!! FUCK NO!!! Too  many women fall into this trap.

YOU Care are NOT going to “get through” to your mother. You can try until you are blue in the face. Mothers don’t respect their daughters (at least mine doesn’t) and when that happens, you have to say, “I AM GOING TO PROTECT MYSELF.” What this means for you may be different than what people are suggesting. You may not need to say, “Fuck you,” but you may need to write her back and say, “I have come to the conclusion that we see things differently.  You have overstepped your boundaries and I feel that the only way to protect myself and my emotions is the have no contact with you for a while. I love you mom, but I cannot allow you to continue to make me feel guilty for being an authentic, empowered, free woman. Do not write me any more letters. I will not read them. I’ll see you at Thanksgiving…” sort of thing….I don’t know…

My point is that you need to allow yourself..Yes GIVE YOURSELF permission WITHOUT GUILT…that it’s OK to stop having contact with your mother for a while. She will only hurt you and drag you down. You have done nothing wrong. It’s not your fault. Your feelings are valid. You need to treat this like you would in detaching from any other kind of abusive relationship. Even though it is your mother, that’s all the more reason to back away.  Our mothers are the people in this world who can hurt us the most. We don’t have to take it. YOU don’t have to take it. There is another way. A better way. She may always believe in God, but you can teach her over time that if she wants to have anything to do with you, she cannot overstep her boundaries. It will be a hard lesson for her to learn, but a good one. A lesson that many women unfortunately fail to learn when they are raveled in the clutches of religion.

Comment by archaeopteryx on July 2, 2013 at 1:43pm

RE: "Agape is one of the few things that makes human beings worthwhile." - isn't that what they use to make Tequila? Oh, wait - that's agave - agave love ain't half bad either --

@Cara - rather than return the letters unread, as was suggested, you never know when one may contain a grain of concession. Don't pass up that one-in-a-million chance, read them all, and return the ones that don't - with, or without, margin notes. Your mom could have (is there such a word?) an "anti-epiphany" --

Comment by archaeopteryx on July 2, 2013 at 1:52pm

RE: "they have no desire to be set free. They are too busy surviving." - I nearly always try to see through the other person's eyes, and I can't help wondering if some less secure women (and men) don't stay in abusive or otherwise unsatisfactory relationships simply because they feel they can't handle being alone, and, and in their minds believe that this may well be the last man (or woman) who will ever want anything to do with them.

Comment by Belle Rose on July 2, 2013 at 2:13pm
@Arch: the crux of why anyone doesn't leave an abusive marriage is because one cannot see that life is possible any other way. It takes a lot for a woman to be extracted from such an environment and to be able to stand on her own two feet.

Religion worsens the matter. It constantly say to you, "Woman: submit to your husband, and look at the log in your eye FIRST because YOU must be doing something wrong." A woman's self esteen is then bogged down by guilt. Escaping with that mentality is out of rthe question and doesn't happen.
Comment by Dr. Bob on July 2, 2013 at 2:27pm

Very thoughtful prose, @Cara, and very wise. 

Be patient with your mom.  Most parents in loving their children and wanting the best for them also want them to follow in their footsteps.  Take over the family business, adopt their worldview, enjoy the same hobbies, live in the same town.   I suppose it is selfish in some ways, and it certainly feels that way to us as children.   At the same time, it's really just an expression of love, of wanting the best.  What our parents know is their life and choices.  Other careers, other worldviews are in some way unknown to them, and the unknown is always scary.  Parents don't want their kids to be somewhere that is scary to them.

So much as you did with your father, you might come to the same understanding with your mother.  She is who she is, you are who you are.  Recognize that she loves you and worries about you, and take that as just being her, rather than as a commentary on you.  It's really hard, because parents can push our buttons and we want their approval.  She also wants your approval, though.  You can model loving her for who she is, and in time she may come around and do the same.

For what it's worth from someone who is still a practicing Christian, you have the right of it.  The path you're on is the right one for you, at least as far as an old fellow at the end of a digital connection can discern.

Comment by archaeopteryx on July 2, 2013 at 2:32pm

RE: "What our parents know is their life and choices." - granted, but all too often, a parent will view a son or daughter's decision to choose otherwise, as a rejection of their own life values, and a capitulation, as a vindication of them.

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