Forgiving when you want to burn the world down

forgiving your mother

We live in a world that is based on relationships. Not many of us are called to live the life of a hermit, and that means that we interact with people on a daily basis. Most of those interactions are favorable and bring us nothing but joy and good feelings. Other interactions are more transactional and neutral. 

But then there are those interactions that set your blood boiling and have you seeing red. It’s one thing when the relationship that causes emotional distress is limited; it’s an entirely different experience when the ire-producing person is someone in your own family.

The relationship I had with my mother when I was in my early 20s was challenging, to say the least. Resentment was at the core of my being, mostly because I did not take the time to see things from her perspective. I was a latchkey kid, responsible for making sure that my brothers and I were taken care of when she was not around. She was a single mom, raising three kids on her own, on a limited government salary. She worked odd jobs in addition to her support role with the U.S. Military, and when she did have “free time,” she spent it with friends. 

I grew up feeling rejected and thinking that I meant nothing to her. That she was selfish and narcissistic and only cared about herself. That she regretted having kids and wanted to live that “single life” rather than be a doting mother who had homemade cookies waiting on the table when we got home from school.  

It’s easy to say that it took my becoming a parent to fully understand the challenges that my mother was facing. 

The fear of not being able to feed your family. 

The fear of being all alone. 

The fear of having to do it all but not knowing how. 

However, it took more than a better understanding of the pieces of parenting she tried to keep hidden: it took my forgiving her in my heart, when she didn’t ask and she didn’t know. It was the gift of forgiveness that I gave to her that truly mended our relationship—a gift that I was even more grateful for when she passed away unexpectedly, fewer than 10 years later.

Taking the steps to forgive someone is hard. It’s even harder when you are forgiving someone who hasn’t even asked for your forgiveness. 

Our hearts are made for justice and are quick to recognize when some wrong has been committed. We may find ourselves waiting for the day the other person wakes up and sees how they have hurt us, and when that day comes we will be there to graciously grant them our forgiveness. However, forgiveness is not like that. It’s not a quid pro quo transaction. 

Forgiveness is a lot like grace. It is a gift that is freely given. Unlike grace, which can only come from God the Father, forgiveness is a gift that I can freely give, even when it is not asked of me.

As a gift, forgiveness is never an excuse or a reason to accept the action or behavior. We are not excusing the behavior of others when we seek to forgive, nor are we pretending that the wrongs never happened. What we are doing, when we forgive, is acknowledging the person before us: flawed, imperfect, unique, human, and worthy of a relationship. 

When I find myself struggling to forgive, I think about Christ and his cousin St. John the Baptist. When news arrived that St. John the Baptist was beheaded, I am sure that Jesus was overwhelmed by emotion. I am sure that there was a part of Him who wanted revenge against Herod for his inaction in allowing St. John the Baptist to be beheaded by special request of a young girl. And yet the words of Jesus remind us how we are to forgive one another: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).

Jesus was the last person in need of forgiving, yet He became our model for being able to forgive those who never asked for forgiveness: Jesus forgave over and over and over again.

Forgiveness is not about feeling better about ourselves, or about being the bigger person, or about being the holier person. Forgiveness is about reconciling and seeking what could be and seeing the image of God in your midst. Forgiveness frees our hearts and minds from the pain, the darkness, and the fear that keeps us from reaching out and connecting. It smooths the paths for relationship and connection with four simple words: “I forgive [Name] for…” 

Forgiving someone is never easy. Acknowledging the pain in your past or in your family of origin hurts. But forgiveness, freely given, is one small step toward freedom of self.

Karianna Frey is a Catholic wife and mother, and an educator, author and speaker, based out of Minnesota. Growing up Baptist, she developed a deep love for the Lord, which grew as she learned more about the Catholic Church and the gift of her Sacraments.  She enjoys sharing about her journey into the Catholic Church, how our values help refine who we are, the power prayer can have on your life, and how each and every person is created in the image and likeness of God with a specific role in His Church. She is the author of Serviam Non Serviam, The Virtuous Path, The 90-Day Morning Devotional, and The Catholic Devotional for First-Time Moms all available on Amazon. She is the editor of We are Beloved: 30 Days with Thea Bowman, and a contributing author of The Ave Prayer Book for Catholic Mothers both available from Ave Maria Press. Connect with Karianna on Instagram at @kariannafrey or by visiting

This week’s sponsor of Mothering Spirit is Brazos Press, publisher of Choosing Us by Gail Song Bantum and Brian Bantum. In Choosing Us, Gail Song Bantum and Brian Bantum, a multiracial Christian couple, reveal the lessons, mistakes, and secrets that have helped them navigate race, family history, and gender dynamics to inspire other couples to pursue mutual flourishing in their marriage partnership.

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