I grew up feeling as though nothing I did was right.
Although I don’t wish to get into the nitty-gritty details regarding the “whys” of this reality, I will say this – it honestly wasn’t until I took “Communication 101” in college that I had an epiphany: shouting matches, emotional blackmail, and verbal abuse are not ideal for resolving interpersonal disputes. Honestly. I thought the way things were done in my house was far from perfect or pleasant, but because that’s the way things were, it was “normal” for me. I naively figured it was more or less like a warzone in everybody’s house.
Upon further study, I learned too that there is a broad range of “normal,” and while my experience wasn’t quote-unquote abnormal, it certainly wasn’t super healthy. Far from it. We weren’t the kind of post-modern existentialist family who was hip enough to put the “fun” back in dysfunctional; no, we were just in a funk.
Suffice to say, armed with this new knowledge that I wasn’t crazy to want to be respected and validated and feel loved and worthy when interacting with those around me was eye-opening. It was even extraordinarily freeing, in a way. If I could learn that there was more to relationships than this mire of self-doubt and pain, I could imagine life beyond it. If I could imagine life beyond, I could seek that place out and – maybe, just maybe – go there.
I’m still seeking.
It takes a lot of hard work to unlearn what one has learned, especially when the learning has been 20+ years in the making. Major reconciliation and healing between me and my Mom about 10 years ago has helped a lot. Practicing healthy behaviors in close relationships outside my family of origin has helped, too. Prayer, Confession, the Eucharist, and sacramental life have helped more than I will probably ever know this side of the beatific vision.
But I still fall short. And it’s frustrating.
Any time I lose my cool with my kids. Any time I’m not getting through to my husband. Any time I fail to set appropriate boundaries with those who want just a little more than I can or should give. Especially any time I feel that, I’m still not good enough, no matter how hard I try, it doesn’t take much for me to brush off the passport of my youth and re-enter a dark place where no one cares, no one understands, and no one wants to.
At a retreat a couple years ago, I heard Psalm 56, verses 9-14 with new ears:
My wanderings you have noted; are my tears not stored in your vial, recorded in your book?
My foes turn back when I call on you. This I know: God is on my side.
God, I praise your promise;
in you I trust, I do not fear. What can mere mortals do to me?
I have made vows to you, God; with offerings I will fulfill them,
Once you have snatched me from death, kept my feet from stumbling, That I may walk before God in the light of the living.
I had heard all about (and taken for granted) how God knew how many hairs were on my head, but it was news to me that He also stored all my tears in a (undoubtedly mondo-sized) vial and recorded them in a book. Wow. That got me. More tears to add to the vial. It was especially comforting to hear that God has snatched me from death and kept my feet from stumbling more than they already have.
I believed then as I believe today that I really do want to walk before God in the light of the living. No more dark places. No more beating myself up. In the light of Christ’s love, I am beautiful and acceptable as I am – human frailties, flaws, and all.
Now, I might just have to burn this passport I’ve been holding on to …