It is less than twenty-four hours into my daughter’s visit and things are tense. My stomach churns as I begin to fear our next ten days together. I had high hopes for this visit. I had made plans for the museum, bike rides, time at the cottage and lazy meals just chatting about our lives.
We are actually on much better terms now than we used to be. Her growing-up years were clouded by several family tragedies. My own dysfunction only served to exasperate the problems. I sought to find life in her and her siblings, and controlled and manipulated in order to calm my own chaos. I caused damage that has taken seasons to reverse.
Over the past few years, we’ve been rebuilding a friendship based on grace and kindness. Now my grown daughter is home for a week and I’ve been excited. However, after only one day together, my hopes are dashed. I sense she is irritated with me, and so begins my immediate spiral. My tendency is to retreat to my own space and not let it hurt as she moves away in annoyance.
I am tempted to believe things are the same as always. “This will never change,” the enemy whispers. “You mess it up every time.” I join Satan’s dialogue and curse myself, agreeing that all the harm I had done in the past is unredeemable. I am stuck wasting time ruminating and fearing all our progress is lost. Then there is a shift. Something deep within me hopes in the possibility of a second chance. This hope overcomes the fear. A fierce fight rises up in me as I choose to come out from behind my self-made wall.
“Would you like to go on a walk?” I ask courageously. My daughter takes a chance and replies, “Sure.” We symbolically moved toward each other and walk through the neighborhood. Fireflies dance around us and cut through the awkwardness. I moved past the negative voice in my head and take a risk.
“You seem irritated with me,” I say. She disagrees. I share with her the things I’ve observed throughout the day and she acknowledges, “Yes, I guess I am annoyed.” She continues with the litany of irritations of the day, beginning with the wakeup call I’ve given her at 9:00 am and continuing through dinnertime. A common theme runs through the offenses as I brace myself and listen.
In my attempt to plan our day and week, I’ve offered far too many suggestions on how she should use her time. She feels I am mothering her as I would a young child. She concludes firmly, “I know how to take care of myself! I am living on my own!”
I quickly share my side of the story. Didn’t we discuss the wakeup call and plans for the day? Wasn’t I trying to help her fit everything into her vacation? As my anger rises, I respond with full retaliation. A few more bricks are added to our already solid wall.
That night, I settle in alone on our porch and reflect on our stressful conversation. I know God is up to something. I feel ashamed as I sense Him gently poking at my heart and tenderly exposing this pattern. With my frequent tendency to say you should, I’ve been unaware of my intent to control and manipulate. When she was young, this dishonored my daughter and her choices. Now it is especially demeaning. I weep.
The next day, we find ourselves together in the car. Our disconnection is palpable. Again, I take a step out from behind my wall. This time I shared about my shortcomings. I confess that I am wrong and I own the impact of hurting her. I pledge my will to change and acknowledge the shift will take some time. I tell her that I desire transformation and I know God will walk through this with me. I ask her to remind me when I am manipulative, and to please be gentle while I work on this. She seems receptive and I have hope.
One more time, I reach out from my side with uncertainty. “I could use your help to change this. Would you help me, and could you please forgive me?” A moment passes as she considers the damage and my appeal. I wait. Then she steps out from behind her own barrier and acknowledges kindly, “Yes, yes I will.” I breathe a sigh of relief and hope for a moment.
What if we are no longer upholding, but learning to dismantle the walls between us?
Maryhelen Martens is a lover of whimsy and play, beauty and depth, all of which she experiences in her relationships. She finds life in authentic conversation, walking alongside others and ultimately Jesus – who has been so kind. Each day, she draws from a larger bowl of grace for herself and others. A mom of three,she currently lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with her youngest daughter who is about to leave the nest, and Keith, her husband and co-laborer of 28 years.