Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Book Review: Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers

I recently had the chance to sit in on a workshop called “Loving Our Neighbors and Enemies: Writing toward Reconciliation,” led by the dynamic author and speaker Leslie Leyland Fields.  Her balanced approach to addressing forgiveness within the context of broken relationships gave me an enthusiasm to read her book.

Leslie is the author of the recently released Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers from Thomas Nelson Publishers, a wonderful and inspirational book for us all, presenting stories of broken relationships between parents and their children, including her own estranged relationship from her father. Each example tells the story of someone who made the arduous journey back to a difficult parent and found relief.

Leslie is one of the fortunate ones. She has escaped the generational hold of broken parents and gone on to have a successful marriage, family and career. By all appearances, she and her siblings care deeply for each other and remain bonded together. Her whole and productive life appears to be the result of her choice to forego bitterness, anger and hatred over her father and to choose the way of peace and forgiveness. She details these learned lessons and this journey throughout the book. Co-author and clinical psychologist Dr. Jill Hubbard asks: “Have you ever wondered why certain people who have horrendous life stories appear to rise above their pain, while others with comparatively milder sorrows endlessly struggle and anguish?” Leslie is the example of someone rising above her pains.

As a Christian, she introduces the idea found in the Ten Commandments that torments anyone who, both has a broken relationship with a parent, and wants to honor God: “Honor your father and mother” Exodus 20:12. How difficult it is for many sons and daughters to honor a parent who is without honor, yet her book highlights people who achieved the task.
Leslie gives an accurate and gritty picture of what it means to forgive parents who remain broken until the end of their lives. In her own case, her father never managed to say the words she longed to hear, or become the engaged parent she and her siblings hoped for all their lives. He remained broken and their relationship remained one-sided. But Leslie walked away free, knowing she had been obedient to God in this area, that she had offered forgiveness.
Dr. Hubbard offers her own perspective at the end of each chapter. Discussion questions follow, making this an excellent book for a small group study. Dr. Hubbard’s sections are helpful – and necessary – for anyone whose estranged relationship remained estranged because she introduces the idea that not all relationships end in two-sided reconciliation. When I read stories like the ones found in Leslie’s book, I always look for the nugget that resembles my story, a story with no reconciliation, but one with the peace and the fruit of forgiveness, despite my mother’s desire to never heal what broke between us. Dr. Hubbard reminds us that reconciliation is not always possible despite achieving forgiveness to a person because reconciliation involves two people – and often, boundaries remain necessary in unhealthy relationships.  
One of the strongest challenges in the book involves Leslie’s call for us all to move beyond a selfish and individual forgiveness to forgiveness that will heal the brokenness of our world. She encourages us all to practice forgiveness beyond our families, but beginning with our families: “Clearly as a nation, within our families there is much to be forgiven. If we are to thrive as human beings, if our countries and our communities are to prosper, if our families are to flourish, we will need to learn and practice ways of forgiving those who have had the greatest impact upon us: our mothers and fathers.” 
Many people reading this book will be in tough and messy situations, but forgiveness is still a possibility - and making the attempt to reconcile is worth the effort, despite the end results.  Her challenge is a hard one, her standard high. But Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers provides a much-needed message for a culture so desperately in need of healing in our relationships.  

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