But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.Exodus 20:6
My paternal grandmother passed away in 2014, but she remained a constant presence in my life, even after her death. More specifically, it was the unforgiveness I had for her that haunted me.
To say that my grandmother–Amah–and I had a difficult relationship is an understatement. Though I was her first grandchild, and long-awaited granddaughter, I often felt that she was disappointed in me. After all, my father was the black sheep of the family, and with my hot temper, emotional nature, and tendency to talk back, I reminded her a lot of her son. As I grew older, I would notice this more and more. Playful scolding little by little turned into disapproving lectures on whatever facet of my behavior she was displeased with that day. I grew to expect, and resent, the constant sermons, which would often escalate into arguments as I would try to defend myself from her claim that I was becoming more and more like my dad. At one point, my Amah even told my mother to be careful not to love me too much, because I might hurt her the way my father had hurt my grandmother.
Looking back, I can clearly see that these were the actions of a hurting heart, and that Amah was simply doing her best to help me and my mother. However, at the time, all I felt was rejection. My relationship with my father was also quite bad, and I was terrified of ending up like him, so it hurt every time my grandmother brought up that possibility. Her certainty felt like a vote of no confidence, and I clearly saw the distance between mother and son being mirrored in her actions towards me.
Things got a little better when I became a Christian at the age of thirteen. My grandmother was a devout follower of Christ, and had served as a missionary in refugee camps when she was younger. She had such a heart for the poor and the lost that she bought land to build into a farm, church community, and Christian retreat house called The Lord’s Garden, growing fruit and flowers there that she sold to fund the ministry. Until the end of her life, she was praying fervently for the salvation of her friends and relatives, admonishing them on her deathbed to come to Christ. Amah was passionate about the Lord, and it was her long-cherished wish that at least one of her grandchildren would carry on her legacy of faith. I remember many conversations she had with my mother where she talked giddily of her belief that one of my cousins had received the calling to serve God. Her joy at that prospect stood in stark contrast to the fear and reluctance she often seemed to have when talking about me. I have no doubt that she prayed for me often, and admit that she had good reason to–the years immediately before and after I became a Christian were turbulent ones, as God was working to tame my rebel heart. She seemed comforted somewhat by the fact that I was now actively going to church and being discipled, but then again my father himself had been a preacher in the mountains before he’d backslid.
Once I got into college, landing a scholarship to a good university and racking up academic awards–contrast from my messy high school years–Amah seemed to become less cautious when it came to her treatment of me. Around that time as well, having undergone my church’s “Victory Weekend” and constant discipleship from my spiritual family, I was also trying to make an effort to understand her better and act more loving and forgiving towards her, hoping that my emotions might follow my actions. The result of this was that we managed to make a sort-of peace before her death, even having long conversations where I spoke to her about my faith journey. She seemed satisfied that my walk with God was rooted in more than just appearances, and in the year before she passed away, she seemed almost proud of me, while I also thought that I had forgiven her.
Little did I know, I was still nurturing the hurt and bitterness in me from those years of being held at a distance, and when she died–a few months after my father, her son, had suffered a massive stroke that he struggled to recover from–all that hurt came pouring out. From a bubbly, if emotionally erratic, people-person, I suddenly found myself becoming withdrawn and depressed, prone to fits of anger, fear, panic, and sadness that seemed to come out of nowhere. It felt like my grandmother’s old predictions were coming true, as this shift in personality started to take its toll on my professional and personal life, such that I was nearly fired from my first job–where I had been and still was a star performer–because my officemates found me, emotionally, too difficult to work with. Finally, I was diagnosed in April of 2017 as having dysthymia, also known as “persistent depressive disorder.”
Living with dysthymia has been humbling, and has taught me a lot about grace. As someone who used to pride herself on being self-reliant and getting things done, I have now become someone who openly gets by due to the patience and support of a lot of people. It has also, in its own way, been eye-opening, as I’ve become more aware of the negative thoughts, feelings, fears, and mindsets that form the undercurrent of my depressive episodes. Chief among this is the fear that my worth is based entirely on “making it” and “making good,” and that failing to do so renders me unworthy of receiving love. Because of it, I have tended to push people away the moment I sense their displeasure, even going so far as to outright scream at my mother that I knew she would leave me in the end, just as Amah had left my dad.
Just as Amah had left me.
It became very obvious, then, that I still had issues about my grandmother.
Let me be clear: I believe my grandmother loved my dad as best she could. Their relationship was also very difficult, and it is not my place to expound on that, nor is it my place to speculate or judge. What I can say is that I had clearly not forgiven my grandmother for those years when she had withdrawn from me out of fear of what I might have become. That unforgiveness fueled my insecurities, which then affected the way I related to other people and lived my life. My bitterness was causing me to self-destruct.
Thankfully, God is merciful. Even in my brokenness, he still allowed me the opportunity to minister to others, and, in late 2018, in the midst of a long season of pruning, I received what I believed was my own ministry calling. While I am not yet 100% certain what that path will look like, I can say that God has already clearly started moving, such that during this year’s prayer and fasting, I had several people actively praying for and encouraging me regarding a confirmation of my calling.
Just last Christmas, I had a long talk with my mother about how I still found it difficult to forgive my grandmother, even after so much time had passed and even after understanding where she was coming from. I explained to her that I still heard Amah’s words in my head, could still feel her disapproval every time I failed or proved unstable. I admitted that on some level, I still felt condemned as her embarrassment, and wanted some form of justification to prove that was not the case. I knew these were stupid requests: my grandmother was dead, and could not be expected to apologize from beyond the grave. I was the only one left with the baggage, and so it would ultimately be my choice to let go. Still, feeling unable to do so, I decided I’d leave that up to God, asking him to help me forgive.
I did not expect the form that help would take.
On the last day of prayer and fasting, as we were praying for personal breakthrough and spiritual direction, I sensed God telling me something rather surprising: “You are your grandmother’s reward.” I had not thought about my grandmother at all throughout prayer and fasting, being focused on praying for great faith and the breakthrough that was my season of pruning. In fact, I had pretty much forgotten about asking God for help to forgive her, and yet here God was with the strangest answer: “You are your grandmother’s reward.”
The Bible is full of examples of faith as a legacy, of generations reaping the rewards of one person’s faith. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob…the list goes on. These were not perfect people, not by any means–Abraham often acted out of fear, Isaac played favorites, and Jacob was an outright deceiver–but when the time came, they responded to God in faith, and God rewarded them with the blessing of their descendants. It didn’t register at first, but soon the clarity sunk in: for all of my grandmother’s flaws, she had been a woman of great faith, and great love for God, and God was calling me her reward, designating me the fruit of her faithfulness.
Instead of being offended that “my” calling was a result of the faith of a woman who had rejected me, I was awed by God’s wisdom and moved by his grace. In giving my grandmother her reward, he honored her faith despite her mistakes. In naming me the reward, he undid the distance our fractured relationship had created, reconciling us through the bond of a shared faith. My Amah’s fondest wish had been for at least one of her grandchildren to want to take up her fight for the lost. Now, I was that grandchild, the source of her joy, my faith seen as the fruit of hers. I could feel only gratitude and wonder at how God had managed to redeem the damage done, perfectly balancing justice, mercy, and grace.
I’m sure that my battle with bitterness isn’t 100% over. Forgiveness, I know, is a daily choice, and one I honestly should have made long ago. Still, I won’t lie: this makes that choice so much easier for me. I am in awe of God’s mercy, that instead of condemning me for being bitter, he would choose to comfort me with a term such as reward, while reminding me at the same time that my grandmother really did love me as best she could, and that my faith is as much the fruit of hers, as it is a product of God’s all-consuming grace.
More than anything else, this breakthrough reflects that God really is faithful, even when we make mistakes. My grandmother was fearful. I was resentful. Yet we both held fast to the same God, and in the end that God made all things right.
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.2 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)
Written as a testimony for #ENFast2019.