Life experiences can deeply impact our perceive things: our relationships, our future, and even our identity. In today’s post, Jen Hatmaker shares her heart on how we can live free once we’ve both accepted and extended forgiveness.

Over dinner recently, my girlfriends and I got on the topic of screwing up our kids. As their primary influence, it’s basically inevitable. We went around the table predicting what our kids would one day say to their therapists:

“My mom was wound tighter than a spool of yarn.”

“My mom loved cleaning more than her children.”

“My mom screamed like a monkey on meth.”

“My mom locked us in the backyard.”

“My mom smacked me with a fairy princess wand.”

“My mom fixated on parenting catch phrases she read in books.”

“My mom once told me to dig my own grave.”

I mean, Lord have mercy. Our kids are going to have some issues to overcome. We can all predict the inevitable question posed to them: “So let’s talk about your mother…” None of us are perfect and all of us have failed. But many of you have something more tragic to say about the home you were raised in. Things like:

“My mom was an alcoholic and looked the other way while my dad abused me.”

“My dad left us.”

“My mom’s boyfriends made my childhood a living hell.”

“My family was dirt poor and I often went hungry.”

“My dad hit when he was angry.”

“My parents were too busy to love me.”

“I was always told I was a mistake.”

You were crippled too early by abuse, neglect, abandonment, or fear. You swore you’d never create a toxic home like the one you knew. You’d never drink. You’d never hit. You’d never leave. You’d assemble the family you never had. Yet maybe you struggle with the tendencies and habits that plagued your mom, your dad, your stepparent. Perhaps words have come out of your mouth that burned your ears as a child, or maybe stress reduces you to violence – it’s what you know. You might see threads of similarities rising up that scare the tarnation out of you.

A liar, a schemer, a victim, a prostitute, an adulterer, a murderer, a manipulator, an idolater, a rebel, a nobody…these were the members of Jesus’ family tree. Girls, this is his heritage. He came from a long line of scoundrels and abusers. His ancestors were motley at best, scandalous at worst. And from this roll call of the troubled came the Savior of the Universe, the Star of Bethlehem and the Rescue for Sinners.

Dear One, You are not bound to the failures of the generations before you. Their mistakes do not dictate your future.Click To Tweet Their mistakes do not dictate your future, and liberation is yours through Jesus. I’ve seen countless women bravely break the cycle, raising children in a loving home when all they knew was violence. The abused do not have to abuse. The neglected can refuse to neglect. The injured can be an agent of healing through the redemption of Christ. Jesus’ mother said: “His mercy is upon generation after generation toward those who fear him” (Luke 1:50). Perhaps your parents didn’t revere God, but you can become the first generation in this promise, a lighting rod for the mercy of heaven, a precursor for His grace on your children. There is no misery that Jesus cannot turn into ministry; no brokenness He cannot transform into beauty.

It is not your job to heal yourself; that is Jesus’ work. This is his best area – you can trust him. He is a powerful healer. Your responsibility is to begin the hard work of forgiveness with Jesus. You can’t break a destructive cycle when you’re still chained to it by bitterness. Unforgiveness tethers you to a sinking ship.

In Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend wrote: “When you refuse to forgive someone, you still want something from that person, and even if it is revenge that you want, it keeps you tied to him forever. . . . [Forgiveness] ends your suffering, because it ends the wish for repayment that is never forthcoming and that makes your heart sick because your hope is deferred (Prov. 13:12). . .Cut it loose, and you will be free.”

But don’t mistake forgiveness with denial. God never denies an injustice. When we hurt Him, He names it, He grieves it, He speaks His feelings about it. He doesn’t declare it “okay” or “no big deal.” Nor does He look the other way or brush it under the carpet. He deals with it, feels His feelings, and then lets it go.

Forgiveness does not necessarily lead to reconciliation. God forgave the whole world of his or her sins, but not everyone is in relationship with Him. Why? They haven’t owned their own sin yet. Forgiveness is one-sided. It has nothing to do with anyone being sorry. It happens in your heart when you release someone from the debt he owes you. You no longer condemn him. He is free from your anger.

And so are you.

Your entire lineage might be filled with scoundrels and deviants; your family history may resemble a tragic movie, like Jesus’. But you’ve been rescued. You have a fresh slate to fill with love, laughter, mercy, and hope. Though you were injured, you will be a mender. Your old label might have been “unwanted daughter” or “abused daughter”, but now it is “Daughter of God” and nothing that can remove that kind of honor. Jesus destroys the names that once defined us, and replaces them with:

Beloved.
Redeemed.
Restored.

The Mighty One has done great things for me; and holy is His name” (Luke 1: 49).


[1] Cloud, Dr. Henry and Dr. John Townsend Boundaries (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992), pages 134-5