The Problem with “Letting God Handle It”

Posted: November 19, 2011 in healing, hoarding, responsibility
Tags: , ,

My mom called today.

I haven’t actually talked to my mom for a few weeks now…I was super busy taking prelims, and quite honestly I just haven’t had the patience or the energy to deal with my parents lately. I’m getting to a turning point in dealing with everything I’ve been trying to process, and that has made it necessary for me to really focus on me. Not on my parents.

But when Mom called today, I answered the phone. Because she’s still my mom.

Today, she was calling to inform me that my dad came to the conclusion, on his own, that he “doesn’t need any more tractors.”

That’s great…it’s just about 30 years too late for it to have any positive impact on me.

The damage is done. My dad’s hoarding, and my mom’s refusal to ever take a stand against it, have already destroyed my childhood. They haven’t ruined my life, but I’ve had to work really hard to get it back, and move forward, and rebuild it into something better than what it was. If I’d only lived up to my parents’ expectations, I’d still be stuck in California.

And by stuck, I mean miserable.

But I got out, and by being out and gaining some new perspective on life, I’ve (temporarily?) lost the ability to deal with my parents. Because their logic just really doesn’t add up anymore.

In telling me about how my dad isn’t going to buy anymore tractors (which I don’t believe), Mom reminded me that her strategy for dealing with Dad has been to “pray, and let God deal with it.” According to her, this is the answer to her prayers. According to me, this is ridiculous.

My mom has long lived by a “don’t ask too many questions” and “let God deal with it” mantra. She never pushed my dad, by questioning his purchases, or attitude, or behavior, because she didn’t like being in the uncomfortable position of being the “bad guy.” The problem is, sometimes as an adult, you have to be the “bad guy.” That comes with responsibility. Sometimes, being responsible means standing up for what is right, even when it’s not fun, or comfortable, or clear-cut.

My mom refused to be the bad guy. She was far better at being the victim, and she fashioned that role for herself expertly. My dad “didn’t listen” to her (usually very subtle) pleas for things to change. To quote her, she “doesn’t demand: she drops hints.”

The problem with this response is that by refusing to stand up to my dad, and by refusing to be the bad guy in situations when things needed to change, my mom sent him a message that his behavior was okay. That nothing needed to change. So he, like a little kid, kept doing what he wanted to do (buying tractors), instead of what he needed to do to take care of his family (buying Mom a safe car; repairing the house). Because of this, all of us suffered (even my dad, though he’s probably never going to understand it).

Also wrong with this situation: by not taking responsibility for our living conditions, and my dad’s role in creating them, my mom put me and my brother in the position of having to play the “bad guys.” I refer to this situation as “playing parent” – me and my brother had to do this often. When the stove broke, or the refrigerator died, or there was no water, or the septic tank was leaking raw sewage down our driveway, or the roof was collapsing, or there were dozens of mice infesting the house, it was me and my brother who had to take action if anything was going to change. We were just kids. That wasn’t fair to us.

I’m struggling through a transition right now. My therapist says that the first part of this process, of learning how to be a healthy, independent adult, involved learning that I am justified in being angry about the list of things in that last paragraph. I’m justified in being angry that I had to be responsible for my parents irresponsibility. I didn’t know that when I started therapy. Now I understand it, and the next step is moving on to acceptance. I’m a little stuck there right now. But I’m working on it.

There’s another giant flaw in Mom’s logic that has always bothered me: the “pray, and let God handle it” argument. I’m all for praying about things. I don’t believe that I need to go to church every Sunday in order to have a relationship with God, and I think prayer can be a powerful thing. But I don’t think God intended prayer to be a replacement for responsibility.

The problem with my Mom’s logic is that she prayed for something to change, but she didn’t take any action. “Praying about it” isn’t a substitute for making hard decisions, and taking responsibility for situations that impact your own life, and the lives of others. “Pray about it” doesn’t mean “let God do all the work and deal with the situation for you.”

Mom started to shut down at that point, and I was reminded (again) that I’m at a much different place in understanding this than my parents are ever likely to be. Mom is going to keep “praying about it,” and I’m going to keep being frustrated that nothing is changing. They’re going to continue to look for ways they can avoid taking responsibility for their situation, and I’m going to keep searching for ways to better mine. It might not always be comfortable, and there will be times that aren’t “fun.” But at least when I look back on my life, I’ll know I didn’t just try. I did.

 

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