Making peace with my Tiger Mum
Joanne Chim // May 10, 2019, 6:03 pm
I never thought I’d be able to celebrate Mother’s Day with my mother because our relationship was estranged for a good 16 years. Little did I know that this same brokenness was what God would use and is still using for our continuous breakthrough.
If you see my mum and I interacting today, there’ll be hardly any reason to suspect how damaged our relationship once was. It’s testament to how God is able to do more than we can imagine, even in this lifetime.
Growing up, my mother ruled my family with an iron fist. In hindsight, this is understandable because she grew up in a family that was even more authoritative and traditional. But in the process of repeating this pattern of harshness, it had detrimental effects on me.
It was even more severe because of how contrasting our personalities were, which made communication even harder. I was free-spirited and creative. My mum, on the other hand, was extra conscientious and structured. She was what people called book smart, and naturally, she was a high flyer in life.
These high standards that she had for herself were unconsciously passed down to me, and because of that, she would want everything I did to be perfect the first time round. Under such conditions, I developed a distorted perception of what love and discipline was and I grew up hating yet fearing authority at the same time.
On so many occasions, I felt like running away or not living altogether but somehow, every time I came close to ending my own life, I hesitated.
Before I came to know of God as a loving father, I thought – based on how my parents projected parenthood to be – that He was either an overly harsh or silent, apathetic figure. As a result of not having a strong relationship with God and my parents, I sought love from all the wrong people.
Having been raised in a troubled environment till I was 18, there was this phobia specifically against my mum. All these painful experiences honed me to excel in putting on a facade. In fact, I was almost a different person in every social situation. This reflex of splitting personalities was probably a coping mechanism to deal with the unpredictable and painful experiences in life.
Despite growing up in church, I rejected the idea of having another family in God. A part of me feared that if I believed in love, it’ll be short-lived and taken away. Because I struggled greatly with abandonment issues, it was hard to accept the idea that other people would actually care for me.
Even though I had warped perceptions of God as a Father, I came to Him anyway because I felt like I had nothing to lose and He was my last hope.
This pattern of living continued until I hit rock bottom and even encountered spiritual attack. I started to hear things I wouldn’t want to hear in the middle of the night, and when something this scary hits you, the only thing you can do is pray and hope that by grace and divine intervention, things will be ok. This marked my turning point.
Childhood trauma. Emotional, mental and spiritual breakdown. Little did I realise how all these things were readying me towards experiencing a breakthrough I never had before. Honestly, in my lowest moments, I was just desperate to find a cure – a solution that could take away the pain and fear. Anything else like experiencing love and peace would be a bonus.
The only person I knew who was bigger than anything I was experiencing was God Himself. Even though I had warped perceptions of God as a Father, I came to Him anyway because I felt like I had nothing to lose and He was my last hope.
The day I sat in my chair, verbalising my thoughts to God, was the same day He revealed His love for me. I told Him in tears that I couldn’t help myself anymore and that He needed to save me, because I was dead inside and had nothing left.
After this prayer, there was this sense of overwhelming, rich love and compassion that poured into my heart. Just when I thought I’d hardened my heart enough to be numb for a lifetime, God’s gentleness was so strong that it made me want to know more about Him as a person. This led my heart to yearn for Him more, the way little babies yearned for pure milk (1 Peter 2:2).
I just wanted to be around God more because He cared so much. I’d never experience a love like that. He revealed through my quiet times that He had never left me (Hebrews 13:5) and that everything that happened wasn’t by accident (Matthew 10:29-33). He was completely aware of what was going on.
Just when I thought I’d hardened my heart enough to be numb for a lifetime, God’s gentleness was so strong that it made me want to know more about Him as a person.
Regardless of how tragic things might have seemed, God showed me that He uses everything for greater purposes (Romans 8:28). Promises like these gave me hope and joy in spite of the pain (2 Corinthians 6:10).
Slowly, by constantly spending time with God, He softened my heart towards my mum and helped me give her grace. The best part was how He was doing a new work in her too (Isaiah 43:18-19). There were so many times my mum could have reacted aggressively towards me, but I saw how she chose to control herself.
Gradually, her heart became more tender and my fear of being around her dissipated. In spite of these victories won, restoration wasn’t a smooth road. There were still arguments but through it all, we learned to compromise and show compassion towards the other party.
Though my mother and I didn’t have the best relationship at the start, it’s still something I’m grateful for, because even though it seemed like our relationship was going downhill, I can see now how God meant it for good (Genesis 50:20).
I had the opportunity to experience the beauty and heart-gripping joy of being reconciled to a mother I once feared. I also got to experience the overwhelming sense of peace (Philippians 4:6-7) and joy as I learnt to surrender my hurt to God (Matthew 11:28-30).
But most importantly, this renewed relationship with my mum pointed towards the ultimate heart of God. Being able to see His loving heart so clearly has been the most precious thing I’ve ever experienced in life. I saw how God is a God of love (1 John 4:8) and reunion (Ephesian 1:10). I saw how He died for Mum and I, so that we wouldn’t be deprived of experiencing the joy of being whole as a family in Him.
I’m so grateful that my mum and I have come to a place where we can stay up late to chat about life, hug things out and poke fun at each other without triggering any animosity.
There have been times when the past comes back to antagonise my family and I, but through constant prayer, the continuous choice to love each other (1 Peter 4:8) and bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:12), God has united us even more.
Celebrating Mother’s Day reminds me of what God has done for my mum and I – of how He took a broken relationship between two broken people and mended it to bring restoration, reconciliation and rest in Him beyond what we could ever hope for (Ephesians 3: 20-21).
THINK + TALK
- How was your relationship with your mother growing up?
- How did God work in that relationship over the years?
- What other relationships need mending in your life?
- How can you take the first step towards healing with regard to them?