By Heidi Hess Saxton
As a parent of two teenagers, today’s first reading really resonates with me. One of the hardest parts of parenting is keeping perspective when their shenanigans drive us around the bend, fulfilling the mother’s curse: “May you have a child who is just like you!”
Now I get why she used to say that to me. Thanks, Mom.
Anyway, I was well into my thirties before I discovered the book of Sirach (Ben Sira), which is not found in Protestant Bibles. Reading it for the first time, I was struck by how familiar the words seemed, guiding me along the way of wisdom. Today’s first reading is but one example:
Could anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Could anyone refuse mercy to another like himself,
can he seek pardon for his own sins?
The Gospel account beautifully complements this reading with the parable of the angry debtor (Mt 18:21-35), which concludes:
“Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt. So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother from your heart.”
While some might find this image troubling—we don’t like to think of God as an angry master who exacts cold-hearted justice. And yet, as I often tell my kids, you can choose your actions but not the consequences. Unforgiveness builds its own prison, trapping us in anger and resentment that can often be measured not just in years, but in generations.
One adoptive mother I know is struggling to forgive her teenage daughter, whose outrageous behavior has cost them dearly. Nothing seems to help—therapy and medication, prayer, discipline and natural consequences. In the heat of battle, the girl declares that she is moving out the day she turns eighteen, to live with her birthmother. And in that moment, it’s all my friend can do not to give in to the temptation to drive her there now.
“It’s hard not to retaliate, and sometimes I find myself agreeing with her that it would be best for her to leave. But then, the storm passes and she becomes sweet and helpful, and I realize that in some respects she is like any other teenager, only more so because she has her ‘fairy birthmother’ waiting for her — someone who (in her mind) never yells, never argues, and lets her do whatever she wants. Heck, if I were a teenager again I’d want to live with that woman, too!”
As she thought about it, my friend realized how much her own resentment over the girl’s outrageous behavior has colored their relationship, something she swore would never happen with her own kids. As an adult, she remembers the tumultuous relationship she had as a teenager with her own mother, whose anger and unpredictable moods caused her children to avoid her as much as possible. Decades passed before they were fully reconciled … after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. “She’s always happy to see me now,” my friend said sadly. “For the first time in my life, I don’t worry about her criticisms, or open her letters as though a bomb might be inside. She’s not the same person she was … and that is a blessing.”
Can you relate to this, not wanting history to repeat itself or to fall into the generational anger trap, poisoning the relationship we have with our own children. There is only one guarantee for this: forgiveness. Forgiveness for our parents and our children. Forgiveness for ourselves, along with the humility to ask for the grace we need to start over.
Do you know someone who needs forgiveness today?
About the Author:
Heidi is a wife and adoptive mother, contributing writer to WINE, and author of Advent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the follow-up companion, Lent with Saint Teresa of Calcutta (Servant, released January 2017). Heidi received a graduate degree in theology from Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit in 2012, having converted to the Catholic faith in 1995 from the evangelical tradition. She met her husband, Craig, at the University of Michigan Ballroom Dance Club, and lives with her family (including two special-needs teenagers, a longsuffering Aussie shepherd and a snuggly Chiweenie) near South Bend, Indiana.