Wrestling with the Fifth Commandment

Wrestling has been a big theme in my life and in this blog. I’ve written before about how I relate to the Hebrew patriarch Jacob. How I return time and again to that scene where he wrestles with the angel of God all night and is renamed Israel in the morning because he’s struggle with God and man and overcome. What’s taken me away from you so long is the wrestling match that I’ve been locked in lately.

I haven’t been wrestling with God this time. He and I are doing pretty well. Instead, I’ve been wrestling with my mom and with myself.

Living back with my parents this wrestling match was inevitable. My mother and I are both too much alike and too different to get along entirely peaceably. Back during my senior year of high school, when we were getting along about as well as we have been lately, she said very accurately that we’d have an easier relationship when I was living elsewhere. She was right. We always get along better when I’m on my own but one reason why this was true was that there was too much distance for conflict.

While I’ve got lots of long distance relationships, with the exception of my best friend and old roommate Nichelle, I don’t keep up with any of them with any type of consistency. Sometimes we won’t talk for months and months (maybe even years), other times we’ll talk like once a week. I did the same to my mother. When I was out on my own, there were times when she wouldn’t really hear from me for nearly a semester. I avoided conflict, for the most part, by simply not letting her into what was going on in my life until later.

You should understand that a lot of our conflict is the result of her caring. She’s my mother. She loves me. She worries about me. She wants to protect me. Also, like many mother/daughters relationships, I am a sort of extension of herself. What I do, the decisions I make, the woman I’m becoming, reflect back on her. This colors how she reads and responds to my choices.

I’m also totally guilty for this struggle. I don’t find it easy to be mothered. I can only handle concern to a certain point. I struggle to accept that my choices reflect back on anyone besides me and God (as a Christian I accept that my character does say something about God and my relationship with Him). I’ve always had a hard time with that fifth commandment to honor your parents. Not that I don’t respect and appreciate them, I certainly do. I’m incredibly grateful for the parents that I have. I’d say that God matched us up pretty well. I’m just not good at the act of honoring them.

How exactly does one even show honor? I’ve never really accepted complete obedience as an appropriate answer. Not that I didn’t obey them most of the time growing up, but I also have always made choices based off my own best judgment. There have been times, there are times, when what I think is right and what my mom thinks is right are not the same. When I was a child I probably should have acquiesced to her a bit more, but as an adult should I? I don’t believe so. While I aim to be a woman that my mother can be proud of, I will undeniably be my own person. As much as she loves me, she cannot dictate what is right for me, this is something I have to discover on my own.

For years, I very much left her out of my process of discovery. Sure, I’d catch up with her on my breaks. I’d give her summaries. But I didn’t let her be very actively involved in my life. Now we live together. Maintaining that distance, which made our relationship so much easier but not necessarily stronger, is almost impossible.

Over the last year we’ve grown closer than we’ve probably ever been. Still, she is her and I am me. Inevitably, something has come up in my life that we do not see eye-to-eye on. In the past, I would’ve just withdrawn. I can’t now (especially since I now know how hurtful that was – oh, how we kids wound our parents so unintentionally sometimes). So, I’ve been wrestling to still have a relationship with her during this time when we’re in disagreement.

In our conversations, as we’ve been trying to keep these lines of communication open, she’s been asking for me to give her grace. I’m beginning to think that maybe this is the definition of honoring your parents when you’re an adult. It is offering to them the grace that you have always wanted them to offer you. Not just accepting that they are human, but making allowances for their humanity. Allowing for our differences. Allowing for our mutual imperfection. Most of all, accepting the weight of her love, even when I want to be unburdened by it, and respecting my responsibility to be cautious with my heart because it’s also a part of hers.

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