Sarah Mae is a nationally known speaker and the host of The Complicated Heart Podcast. She co-authored “Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe” with Sally Clarkson, and her most recent book is titled “The Complicated Heart.” Mae lives in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, with her husband and three children.
Why is forgiveness so complicated?
When Mae was 14, she moved in with her mom and her mom’s 20-year-old boyfriend.
She watched her mom battle alcohol addiction and sink into despair over the years.
After her mom died, Mae found her journal and read it.
“I immediately thought, ‘She has such a complicated heart,’” Mae said. “It’s another term for sinful, yes, but it was more than that. She claimed to follow Jesus and in all of her writings she talked about Him, but she lived this completely different life. In general, with relationships, there are so many complicated aspects.”
How do you forgive someone who hurts you deeply?
Working through our feelings and finding the freedom of forgiveness is difficult.
“The people closest to us wound us the most,” Mae said. “The question is, ‘How do you forgive when the wound is still open?’ Because when you’re around somebody who has hurt you or continues to hurt you, it’s very difficult to forgive. We often look at forgiveness like black and white, and you just forgive, but it’s actually a process.”
We must try to relate to the person who has hurt us because we’re more like them than we think, our sin is just packaged in subtler ways.
“I am like my mom,” Mae added. “There are a lot of ways I’m like her. There’s good there, too. My mom was a writer, a poet and funny. I have those things. Alcohol was never my issue, but I had other things that I used to escape.”
Knowing another person’s story helps us to understand and sympathize in their season of struggle.
“Understanding my mom’s story just made me want to love people even more,” she said. “I thought, ‘I wonder how many people are walking around with these wounds, histories and stories that we don’t even know, and what if we loved people the best that we could even when they’re offensive, reek of alcohol or whatever issue they have. What if we could separate our personal stuff and expectations, be kind and love them anyway?’ It’s not an excuse for their behavior, but it will help you have more compassion on them.”
Why are boundaries important?
Mae separated herself from her mom’s behavior, but never closed that door completely.
“The boundary allows you to love and forgive a person because you’re saying to them, ‘This is what I will and will not tolerate in my life because I want to love you,’” Mae said. “In the book, ‘Boundaries,’ the authors say boundaries are not a wall. When we get hurt, we tend to wall up. The problem with a wall is we protect ourselves from the bad, but you also don’t let the good in. So boundaries are like gates, which allow us to open and close them.”
How should we deal with emotional pain?
Mae said pain will always be inside you, no matter how much you convince yourself it is not affecting how you feel.
“It’s going to leak out on our kids, spouses and other people if we don’t deal with it,” Mae said. “So pain is actually a kindness because it’s actually letting us know something is wrong. Take a look at it and work on it together with Jesus.”
Mae said not letting go of pain leads to a lack of present love.
“In order to really love, God has got to continue to set us free and heal the wounded places of our hearts because otherwise we wall up, self-protect and sin in our anger, depression and anxiety because we’re not willing to face all of those things that are like red lights on the dashboard of a car,” Mae added. “When we’re trying to look at the lies we’re believing, a great way to do that is to ask, ‘What triggers me?’ It’s like somebody stepping on a landmine in your heart.”
How do you know when you’re on the other side of forgiveness?
Just when we think we have forgiven someone, a small comment or situation can trigger anger or resentment in our hearts again.
Mae said we must run forward, not ruminate on the past.
“The honest answer is, I don’t know if you ever get to the other side of it,” Mae said. “I know for me there are people I’ve forgiven, but if I start ruminating on what they did, I literally have to forgive them again. It does get easier over time. Time isn’t what makes it easier—it’s that I continue to submit to the Lord.”