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When We Don't Feel Accepted by Our Loved Ones: Handling Relational Pain with Courage

By Cynthia Cavanaugh

Brave Women Series - Cynthia's Story


Walking in the door with my sister and my aunt after a long flight, I saw my mother in a chair, frail and weak, wrapped in a blanket. She looked straight at me; her eyes seemingly boring into my soul. In a harsh tone, she asked me, “Why have you come? Your behavior will have consequences.”

As she continued to lock her gaze on me, I replied, “Mom, I came to be near you and spend time with you.” Nothing had changed, and I felt like a small child being scolded just because I wanted to be near my mom—my dying mother.

Reeling from shock at her greeting, I stumbled into the bathroom. In the safety of that small room in my parents' house, I began to weep. I cried out to God, doubting there would ever be any reconciliation with my mother and desperate for at least a scrap of acceptance from her.


 

"I cried out to God, doubting there would ever be any reconciliation with my mother and desperate for at least a scrap of acceptance from her."

 

It was difficult watching the days go by during our visit, the house bustling with hospice nurses and friends stopping by. My dad often sat outside on the porch, sad and lonely and trying to grab as many moments with his bride as possible. Often, he was swept away by caregivers and nurses as they tried to make my mom as comfortable as possible.


I longed for a few minutes to be with her alone, but since her hospital bed was set up downstairs in the family room in the center of their small A-frame home, it was next to impossible. But one day, a few days before we left, the house was quiet and relatively empty.

This is my chance to talk with Mom alone, I thought. I read her a chapter from my new book that was days away from being released. With tears streaming down her face, she said, “This is good, really good.” And then she said, “I am so proud of you.”

Now she is finally telling me how proud she is of me? I couldn’t even respond.

I knew she loved me in her way, but I also understood my mom was broken. She spent most of her childhood during the Second World War in Europe and at one point lived in a refugee camp. Because of this, I had learned to accept that, for whatever reason, she was incapable of giving me what I thought I needed as a daughter.

“You do know I am proud of you, right?” she said when I didn’t answer. I knew that I had to be brave and speak the truth to her gently. “No, Mom, I don’t know.”


 

“You do know I am proud of you, right?” she said when I didn’t answer. I knew that I had to be brave and speak the truth to her gently. “No, Mom, I don’t know.”

 

Tears started to roll down the side of her face again as she locked eyes with me again. This time I looked into eyes filled with kindness and regret.

Through my tears, I gently said, “Mom, I forgive you.”

We didn’t unpack all our relational pain and frustration, but this was enough. Enough for now.

God gave me this small gift on her deathbed, and I embraced her kind words. They didn’t erase all the unresolved pain and manipulation over the years, but this still was a gift of grace.


 

"God gave me this small gift on her deathbed, and I embraced her kind words. They didn’t erase all the unresolved pain and manipulation over the years, but this still was a gift of grace."

 

Harsh words remind me of the story in Genesis 16 of two women, Sarah and Hagar. Sarah couldn’t conceive a child. God promised her and her husband Abraham that they would have a child, but Sarah became impatient. To speed things up, she decided she would have a son through her servant Hagar, as was the custom in ancient times. When Hagar got pregnant, Sarah complained, “She looked on me with contempt” (Genesis 16:5 ESV). She was harshly treated by Sarah and fled alone into the desert. God sent Hagar an angel who gave her a promise and told her she would have a son, and he would be a great man. In reply, Hagar said, “You are a God of seeing.” She added, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Genesis 16:13 ESV).

When we are treated harshly by those we love and especially our parents, we can spend our whole lives looking for acceptance.

But God sees.


 

"When we are treated harshly by those we love and especially our parents, we can spend our whole lives looking for acceptance. But God sees."

 

By definition, verbal abuse can be seen as a chronic stream of words that can wash over a person’s soul and leave deep wounds and scars.

But God sees.

We can find ourselves like Hagar alone in the desert and running away from life.

But God sees.

Despite my mom’s inability to embrace her daughter, after she died, we found reams of her written prayers for her family. One consolation for me in reading her prayer journal was hearing her tender prayers for my family and me.

No human being, no matter how close or intimate, can take the place of God in my life.


 

"No human being, no matter how close or intimate, can take the place of God in my life."


 

She would often tell me, “God is enough for me. It doesn’t matter if people don’t understand me.” I was always puzzled by this because I attributed it to a lack of empathy, and her stubborn refusal to resolve her relationship issues.

But it became clear in her death. My mom knew what Jesus had done for her, and it was enough.

And despite the grief of what I wished could have happened, I am grateful God has helped me understand. In this life, there is nothing more precious and holy than the phrase, “God is enough.”


 

"In this life, there is nothing more precious and holy than the phrase, “God is enough.”"

 

 

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Make sure to check back next week as another courageous Sister shares her story. And by the way...


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About Cynthia