We were on vacation with my parents at the beach and enjoying a seafood meal in a nice restaurant. My parents were all about the fine dining, and when we were with them, we ate well! Unfortunately, these meals sometimes turned into unpleasant arguments about the past. I admit that most of the time it was my fault. I wanted my folks to know about the pain they had caused me, and I would bring things up. These stories, in my mind, proved how wrong and hurtful they had been. Of course, it never turned out as I had hoped. Our versions of the stories rarely lined up and they became defensive and shifted the blame back onto me. Apparently I wasn’t the easiest child…or teenager…or young adult!
One time, we were discussing an incident from my high school days. I was the 17-year-old accompanist for our high school choir and the director was also my piano teacher. He assigned a very difficult piece for me to play at our spring concert. I had months to work on it, and it took that long to master. It was challenging both for the choir and for me as the accompanist. My parents knew how hard I had worked, as they heard me practicing at home every day.
Finally, the night of the concert arrived and we were all so nervous! But, thank the Lord, everyone performed perfectly. It was a real triumph and the director accepted the crowd’s applause. He then acknowledged me and I took a bow, also garnering the crowd’s applause. But then, and what meant the most to me, was that the entire choir burst into applause as a compliment to my efforts! As someone who wasn’t used to affirmation, it made my heart soar to have their approval. I was on top of the world that night and after the concert, several others came up to congratulate me.
And then I met up with my parents. My mother said something polite and proper as she always did, but my father criticized me. He said that as I accepted the applause, my bow looked awkward. He said, “You need to work on your stage presence.” I asked, “Didn’t you think the music was good?” and he said yes. But he said as little as possible and I found myself fuming. Why couldn’t he compliment me? Would it hurt him to be nice? Why does he always have to make me feel like a loser? My triumph ended in anger.
So here we were, 17 years later at the seafood restaurant, and my 34-year-old self brought up this story. I asked my father, “Why couldn’t you compliment me that night? That was so hurtful, you made me so mad!” His response? He said he was so proud of me that night that he felt like he would burst open. He said “I was the proudest father in that room, and I couldn’t say anything, I was so choked up.” My jaw dropped, I couldn’t believe it. He was proud of me? I snarled, “It would have meant a lot to that 17-year-old girl to know that! Why couldn’t you have told me?” And he said that he didn’t want me to “get a big head.” I said sarcastically, “You certainly accomplished that goal! Job well done!” Apparently, he thought I’d had too much praise that evening and didn’t think he should add to it.
I wish I had known then what I have since learned…
Something I wish I could have told my 34-year-old self: dredging up the past is never helpful. I was hoping that my parents would admit their mistakes or apologize, and that never happened. Not once. It only made them defensive and caused more arguments. I would have been better off just loving my parents as they were. I could have tried to build a better relationship; to create new, happy memories. But that would have required forgiving them and moving on, forgetting the past. I was not ready to do so at that point and I caused them and myself more pain with my actions.
Another thing is we can never know what’s happening inside someone’s heart or why they react the way they do. We cannot accurately judge someone else’s motives. In the years before he died, I came to see that my father did love me and was proud of me. One of the last conversations I had with him the summer he passed away was about the new job I had just started. I told him how much I had to learn and that I was a bit nervous and overwhelmed. He warned me that after I became the expert I shouldn’t become too arrogant! He was confident that I would become an expert on everything. And when I said “I love you” that year, he said it back a few times. I doubt he would have initiated it, but he responded. I believe he was just never comfortable expressing his feelings.
And lastly, I wish I had known then the power of gratitude and a transformed mind. Instead of complaining to my parents on our vacations, I wish I had been more thankful for their kindness. We stayed for free at a beautiful condo directly on the beach for many years. They let us vacation with them and often paid for our nice meals out. How different would our interactions have been if I had showered them with thanks? Our time with them would have been more pleasant for everyone. I know now that even my own enjoyment would have increased if I had looked for ways to bless them on those vacations. Instead I made everyone miserable.
I said earlier that I wasn’t ready at that point (age 34) to forgive my parents and move on. It took several more years of the Lord working in my heart to get me to that point. I wish I had gotten there sooner, that I had saved us all a ton of grief! But that’s not the way my story unfolded and I need to trust that God’s timing was and still is perfect. We profit when we learn wisdom from our mistakes. My hope is that others will learn from my mistakes and not have to repeat them!
Psalm 90:12 Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (NIV)