Let it go

Not long ago I was observing a couple of friends interact, and was surprised by a stinging tentacle of bitterness in the words of one– a loving person whose speech is usually full of grace and forbearance. Wow, forgiveness is needed there, I thought. Why let old hurt fester into such anger?

My mind turned to another dear one, a person whose unhappiness with a family member is longstanding. A mask of shoulder-shrugging indifference covers great hurt, wounds that feel too deep to forgive. This is a committed Christian, one who listens intently for God’s voice and who has boundless compassion for people in pain. Why not let your own hurt go, I thought. Forgive. Heal. Move on.

It seemed so obvious to me.

But before I could get too far on that self-righteous train, the face of one of my own children sprang into my mind– a precious, gorgeous kid who is as stubborn and persistent as I. A kid who has challenged me day in and day out for years. I love the child, truly I do, and each morning I resolve anew to exhibit love to that child in spite of various frustrating behaviors. To hug. To smile. To gently admonish. To touch. To praise. To encourage.

But to be painfully honest, I sometimes battle my feelings. Instead of that burbling, flowing, natural mama-warmth — warmth that comes so easy with my more compliant kids — at times I feel stiff and guarded and all too quick to take offense. I have allowed unforgiveness a toehold, I realize. Much of the time only I know the struggle in my heart. But sometimes that unforgiveness leaps to the surface, in sharp words and impatient actions that I regret as soon as they escape.

I think when we have been repeatedly hurt by someone, we often feel justified in our anger. How many times can we really be expected to forgive, after all? Don’t we have a right to our indignation? When an offender has a long track record, any sane person would eventually give up on the relationship, or at least guard themselves. Right?

In some cases, maybe. But in my situation, I know darned well what I should be doing. What I am called to do. Instead of clinging to my mile-long list of grievances from this morning or last week or last year, I’m called to let it go. To rip that list to shreds and toss it to the wind.

It doesn’t mean I have to condone wrong actions. But it does mean I need to truly forgive. To offer my loved one a clean slate each day, mercy new every morning, just as Christ offers me. Only by His grace is it possible to even contemplate this, let alone carry it off with any certitude. But by His strength and for the sake of this relationship, I am resolved to attack this heart challenge, morning by morning.

What about you? Who in your life most needs your forgiveness? Towards whom are you harboring the bitterest hurt? Tell me about it here if you’d like. Or mull the question over and find the answer quietly.

Then resolve to let it go. To forgive.

Shall we begin?


  1. Oh Mary!! What timing!! I have one here as well I am in the same situation with. I talked with my older ‘counselor’ daughter and she pegged it. She told me I am expecting a negative reaction from this child, thus I’m mad/frustrated before this child even speaks! While making dinner the other night (one I knew was not a favorite of this child) I was rehearsing in my mind how I would respond to the certain, “Oh yuck. Can I fix myself something else?”
    Thank you so much for the reminder this can not be fixed without Him. I have to rely on Him to change my attitude. I do think this child has the same attitude about me, thus more prayers are needed for His healing on both sides. 🙂

  2. For me it is the “military mom” that struggles to show love to the one(s) swimming upstream. I had a dear friend listen to me unload after a particularly frustrating day of disobedience with this one child. “When will he just obey me?” I asked.

    “Probably when he feels like you care about him,” she replied so lovingly.

    I really needed to hear it. I have been harboring anger and bitterness and yet I am the adult in the situation.

    And do I really want obedience if I don’t have his heart?

    Forgiveness is so powerful. And so needed.

    Great post.

  3. Oh, I could have written this post (not as well, but the sentiments are all mine too). I know all too well about the promises to love that difficult child better tomorrow and the inability to let go of the past hurts and disappointments. I know about the sadness and unfairness of not being able to let the mama love flow freely toward all of them (although in my case there are just two). May God take that burden from both of us and our children.

  4. Here’s my comment again Mary:
    Wonderful post Mary and obviously something we can all identify with. I had one of those children too – though all of our children are grown and the nest is empty now. It is so easy to choose to run with our feelings and not so easy to choose the better part.

    Right now I’m struggling with a family member who has disassociated herself from our family for years. Our father is struggling with very serious health problems and still not even a phone call. I find myself having to fight a terrible resentment, anger and bitterness. There is even that “older brother”
    sort of feeling (as in the Prodigal Son). I am afraid I will feel resentment when this person finally decides to come back and all is forgiven. I find I have to give it to the Lord over and over again.

  5. I could so relate to your feelings regarding your daughter.. I am having some struggles with my girl… in fact every day can be such a struggle that on some level I have come to expect it.. to not try.

    Thanks for the reminder

    about a decade ago.. I hurt a dear friend. We had been estranged until recently, I apologized to him… told him how I regretted hurting him. He forgives me and to be the recipient of that forgiveness makes my heart soar.

    a good reminder to forgive often, fully & freely

  6. This is a tough one, sort of. I think there are two kinds of forgiveness–the kind that says “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings” “Thank you, let’s move on” and the kind that would require deep forgiveness.

    In my head and my heart I have a few categories of people: 1)my children, 2)the rest of my family, 3)the friends I love like family, 4) everyone else. In category #4 I have had people hurt me so badly that I do not want to forgive them and as long as it does not hold me back in my life, it will stay that way. In categories #2 and #3, I am a pretty much live and let live person. I can forgive my family and friends, but I don’t really need to. I get angry and disappointed and I get over it. It does not change my love. If they hurt me so badly that it would warrant forgiveness (abuse, theft, etc.) then they really were never my friend and I would not consider them my family (I think).

    Now, for category #1. My children. They have never done anything that warrants deep forgiveness. I have been hurt by their actions and their words–but I never believed it was directed towards me as a person but rather a lashing out because something else wasn’t going right and I was there as a safety net, or I was in the path of anger. That doesn’t mean I like it and it doesn’t mean I don’t get angry and there aren’t consequences. It means I do not take it personally.

    My mother’s friend once said to me “a child needs the most love when he is the least lovable.”

    I try to remember that, especially with my teens.

    My siblings and I get annoyed with each other and angry with each other and then we move on–just like when we were kids. I don’t understand families who expect so much from their siblings or other family members that it is never enough.

    I guess I love my family and close friends unconditionally.

  7. Thank you – I needed this today. A wife of a friend has hurt a lot of people with her selfishness & I know that I need to truly forgive. I feel in myself the exact things you mentioned – the quickness to take offense, and reading into every thing that is said, and also the tendency to say ‘I’ve had enough, I’m done.’ which is basically what I’ve been doing. Thank you for this reminder.

  8. Before we adopted our 6 year old daughter from Ethiopia, I never imagined that I could feel that kind of stiffness and resentfulness towards my own child. Every day it is a choice to let go and love my daughter the way God loves me – – unconditionally – – regardless of my disobedience or stubbornness or pouty-ness!

    And suprise, surprise….the more I’m full of grace and forgiveness, the less she disobeys and pouts. It’s then I realize that our struggles are not her fault, they are my fault. She’s the child who’s been through a life-shattering adoption. I’m the parent. And I can choose see her behavior not as a personal attack or attempt to ruin my day, but as just another way she’s trying to deal with the things that have happened in her life. When I see things in that light, it makes it much easier to pull her on my lap and love her through the difficult times.

  9. Oh Mary…thank you so much for this. Somehow I keep thinking you were talking about me. I truly needed this because I have been going through this the past couple of days…airing my dirty laundry in public, letting my big mouth get me in trouble and voicing discontent when I shouldn’t. All because of hurt in my heart and bitterness towards a family member. It all came to a head yesterday when I over stepped my bounds at work. I truly needed a good ole fashioned hynie whooping by the Lord and that’s what I got…this spoke to me plain and clear. Thank you so much!!!

  10. Pegged. Thank you for the post and readers, especially Darla and Gretchen, thanks for your responses.

    It is SO good to hear that I am not the only one on this road. I have said more than once that motherhood, especially on the adoption road, has been, by far, the most refining experience of my life. I’m thankful for that, even in the painful and frustrating moments. I am more aware of my need for Christ and my sin than ever before (a good thing). And, I’m even MORE thankful for God’s redemption of his past and the poor reactions of this mama in his present.

    Mary, your transparency is appreciated!

  11. Whitney says:

    I have been following your blog for many months, but until now I have never commented on any of your posts. This post, however, touched me at just the right moment. I have been harboring hurt and anger at my best friend/roommate for the past couple of months now. Instead of letting it go, however, I have been letting it fester. It is a very complicated situation that would take a long time to explain, so let me just say a big “Thank You!” I so appreciate your wisdom, and the honesty you have been blessed (or cursed :-D) with to share your own situation with us.

  12. This post, as so many of your other insightful words, comes to me at a time I

    need this. It’s a father in law who needs my compassion. My husband says he

    doesn’t deserve it but I would be able to give it to a total stranger if I

    didn’t know the history. Thank you for giving me your story to help me through

    my situation.

  13. Ouch. Like a disobedient child, I hate seeing the reminders of something I know I need to do but just plain don’t want to do. Can I just say that I’ve felt more prodding lately about not one but two situations? And can I confess that even with all the gentle reminders, I’m still at the stage of dragging my feet? I wonder how much longer it will be before the gentle reminders become a sledge hammer? Maybe it’s time to act like the grownup I’m supposed to be. Thanks for the nudge.

  14. the older i get, the more complicated it all seems, and the more simple. see? all mixed up. i wonder if we all don’t have that certain tension with a family member – someone we love, but with that inexplicable friction, or just a bit a disbelief in their ways, their actions…their limitations? or maybe the limitations are ours? i recently decided that i have to accept them as they are; who am I to think they are flawed? (well, they ARE…see, there I go again…and in my heart it’s there: that they are somehow flawed…) and just simply, to accept. to not behave the way THEY do, but the way I DO, regardless of what I “get” in return. I’ll get what they give, nothing more, nothing less. my challenge is to “give” to them what I’d “give” (of myself) to anyone else…and let go of the grudge.

  15. Oh, Mary…I wish I could forgive. It’s a terrible burden to carry and perhaps that makes me a bad person. I hope some day I can find it in myself to just let it go.

  16. Wow what a post!
    It was as if you were living my own experience. Being a mom has given me so much gratification and at the same time turmoil.
    If that even makes sense?!
    I have one particular child that seems to ruin everyone’s time no matter what the occasion. It can be so frustrating! We have talked with this child and prayed with this child.
    Insecurities, depression, lack of self-confidence all seem to drive this child to the point of no return.
    We love this person and want to see a bright future for them….but loving through it is so painful!
    I hurt so deeply when there is friction…..and I have snapped when I can take no more (this pushes me over the edge with sin-guilt!).
    Thanks for reminding me……in so many ways…..to let go!
    I just want to help…..not hurt!
    Sometimes it’s just so hard!

  17. Vigorous head nodding and a big thank you.

    And on a totally unrelated note, you and I went traipsing on some odd trip to some bizarre place in a dream last night. Dreams bring together the strangest, most unintelligible combinations of people and circumstances, don’t they? (Congratulations, this is your 1st appearance in my nighttime universe…) Perhaps I’m meant to “PAY ATTENTION TO MARY’S POST TODAY!!” or something? =)
    Again, thanks for such a transparent, challenging post.

  18. I really appreciate this post. I too have a child where it is often one sided and at times I want to be justified in my frustration and unforgiveness. I also have been struggling with my mother-in-law lately and was just feeling like I need to be more guarded and then I read your post. It was very timely. Thank you.


  19. Jennie S. says:

    Wow! Thanks so much for this post. After a really tough week with one child in particular, I find that this hit the nail on the head. I admitted as much to my husband- that sometimes I think I’m impatient with my kids (and one in particular) before the day has even begun. I struggle with starting with a clean slate. I realized I wasn’t giving this child over to the Lord. I was placing all the responsibility for her spiritual development and character on myself. I must daily pray that God will remove that burden from me, and when I give that over to Him (while still shepherding her), I’ll be able to be more patient and kind to her even when she pushes all our buttons. Thanks so much for sharing.

  20. Wow Mary. So insightful, inspired words. I’m headed ‘home’ (whatever that is). It’s been two years since I’ve been there. I get to face the one who molested me as a girl, who is also a family member. I have forgiven him. But, he remains bitter towards me. I am not looking forward to this, but I so much appreciate these timely words and this different perspective. Thank you so much.

  21. This was a very good post Mary. One I needed to hear and be reminded of. I am

    struggling to forgive someone right now…two someones in fact. Its a hard pill

    to swallow because like you said, we feel righteous in our indignation.

    Thanks for the reminder, friend….

  22. What Truth. I discovered the same painful bitterness taking root in my own heart last year with one of my sweet children. God was so good to carefully and purposefully craft an experience to reveal that sin to me. He helped me see that when I allow such bitterness to grow in my heart, there is not room for love to grow instead. He also showed me that because of what the Bible says about children, not only does such bitterness prevent me from experiencing the fullness of a relationship with that child, but I also miss out on the fullness of a relationship with Christ. Praise the Lord His mercies are new every morning!!