I could practically hear her tears on the other side of the phone. Her voice was heavy and constricted, trying to hold them back. “We’re having problems. I just don’t know what to do anymore… I need help.”
My response was instinctive and empathetic. “Tell me about it; what’s going on?”
I have had this same conversation with so many people, be it friends of mine, my family or my soldiers. Sometimes I am the one needing counsel, and sometimes I am the one giving it. It seems to be one of the constant themes in life — the struggle of relationships.
We’ve All Been There
“We fight all the time.”
“My kids hate me, and I, quite frankly, am struggling to like them.”
“He’s an alcoholic.”
“She’s interested in anything but me.”
“We’re angry all the time.”
“He just doesn’t listen to me.”
“She’s trying to control me.”
“He’s not the spiritual leader.”
“I’ve been betrayed.” And the conversation continues.
We try everything we know how to — praying, pleading and even demanding. The road is tough. Different personalities, beliefs, goals, backgrounds and ambitions clash over time. Stubborn wills, the need to be right, the desire to have it our way or make people treat us acceptably can disintegrate even the closest relationships.
In one of the most painful relationships I’ve ever had, I was the cause of the pain. It was my teenaged relationship with my mother.
Growing up was difficult for me. As the oldest of four in a single-parent household, I wasn’t exactly the squeaky clean, type-A, firstborn you may imagine. A victim of childhood abuse as well as the object of much bullying from classmates, I had a hard time understanding my worth as a person and a young woman. I struggled with identity, which led to my seeking approval from the people around me. I wanted to fit in; I wanted to excel and I wanted their admiration, but I didn’t know how to do that.
Throughout high school and even into the Army, I tirelessly continued to try and fit in with the “crowd of the moment.” One week it was my basketball team, the next it’d be the partyers. As I grew, it became my fellow soldiers or even those people in my life who were supposed to be my friends. My lack of identity and self-worth caused me to sell myself way too short. I allowed people who had never earned the right to be in my heart to trample it. Flimsy and flailing like a leaf in the wind, I was anchored to nothing.
Her Wits End
My mom struggled to know what to do. At the height of my teenage rebellion, when I was stealing, lying and a few dangerous choices away from complete self-destruction, she sought counsel to know what to do. And the answer was “tough love.” I was hard-headed and extremely difficult to get along with. She knew what her mandates would cause. And so the declaration was issued, “You abide by my rule, or you move out of the house.” I chose to move out at 17.
As crushed and frail as my mom was, she stood firm in her decision. The ramifications of my selfish decisions and careless actions are something I still live with to this day. My mom succumbed to an emotional breakdown and never fully recovered. My siblings were left to deal with the aftermath of my behavior and the effect it had on my mom. But the joy in this lies here — even with all the damage left in my wake, God still moved. I look back on those tough days now and see that I am 100% the product of a praying mama. Even in her tough love, the tragic guilt she felt as I slammed the door one final time and the tears she cried each night, God was at work in powerful ways.
She covered me in her prayers. She longed for us to really know Jesus as she was growing to know Him. She wanted us to have more in life, to be able to live it to the fullest. But as much as she approached me with the truth, disciplined me or put her foot down, she knew that she couldn’t force me or convince me to see. Despite her best efforts to change me, she knew that her only option was to trust her oldest daughter to the Lord. It was her only choice, and I’m so thankful she let Him have me.
Answers to Prayers
And of course, God answered. It looked different than she probably envisioned, but nonetheless He answered first with the Army. My time in the Army taught me discipline, honor, integrity, courage, strength and incredible endurance. He answered by making me a pilot. My time as a pilot gave me future connections that He knew I would one day need. Then He answered even further by taking the Army and the Apache helicopters I flew away. He knew that I had replaced my identity yet again with something less than Him. God showed up by taking away my physical health. He taught me my strength came from Him. God answered by giving me relationships. He showed me that in all relationships, in everything really, that He is the only One who can satisfy me. He is the only One I need to put my trust in. God even answered some of my prayers through silence — teaching me to walk by faith, rest in Him, be patient and still, and know that He is God.
Because of my mom’s prayers and eventually my prayers, God pursued me. God arranged all of my life’s circumstances to work together for His good. He made every aspect of my life come together for His glory. I’ve learned that God is the only One who can change a heart, and I am so thankful that He changed and continues to change mine.
Learning to trust Him fully to work in hearts is a beautiful process that required me to be in a relationship with Him. In that relationship, He ended up refining me to reflect Him better to those I am in relationships with. My prayer is that His unconditional love, grace, mercy, forgiveness and gentle spirit will be evident in my dealings with other people, and maybe I can help share a little bit of God with them.
But relationships are hard and will always be so. As a grownup and as a mama, I more fully understand the struggles my own mama had. Even more so, I understand more fully that our relationships are not about us. They are about God. In every relationship I currently nurture — my marriage, my strong-willed son and determined daughter, my friendships and professional relationships — I have learned the incredible peace that comes with trusting God. And I pray that I can continue to trust God, do what He tells me to do and that my children will, in turn, do the same.
The next time I pick up the phone, it may not be a friend calling to explain she is having problems. It will probably be me, seeking counsel and needing encouragement. I often need comfort and wisdom, an outside perspective and prayer when it comes to my relationships. I’ll never have it completely and forever figured out. On the verge of throwing my hands up in the air, giving up and lashing out, I’ll call a wise friend. “Help,” I’ll say. My friend will point me to truth, discuss some practical solutions and pray with me. In these sweet moments, I think back to my mom’s endless prayers for me and feel thankful for a God I can trust and who always comes through.