I’m in the process of doing a kind of indepth Bible study on who we are in Christ. There are something like 42 statements, taken from the Bible, and then various questions to answer related to these statements. I’m find it helpful, if lots of work. But that’s another story.
This week’s topic has been all about how God works everything to the good for those who love him. Good news, right? But in my head this notion is muddled with the innumerable experiences of my parents telling me - explicitly or implicitly – that I should do something because it was good for me. And those things were almost always unpleasant.
Don’t get me wrong, my parents weren’t abusive – or at least not in the traditional sense. But their (or certainly, my mother’s) expectations of me were sky-high, while the signals they sent out were mixed at best. For example, my mum clearly expected me to be popular, hard-working, love Guides, achieve good results, careful with money, and get a boyfriend at the ‘correct’ time – whenever that was. But so many of these things were either mutually exclusive, or the way mum dealt with these areas in my life sabotaged any chance I had of fulfilling her expectations.
One example would be attending Guides (for any non-UK readers, that is the female equivalent of Girl Scouts). I hated Guides. Maybe not at first, but within a year or two it soon became clear I stood little chance of ever being truly accepted there, and so I lived in dread of the weekly meeting and the occasional bullying that would occur. But, not only was I not popular at Guides, the very fact of going there had the potential to make me a social pariah at school also.
Throughout my childhood and adolescence, I did achieve very good grades at school – but I generally didn’t have to work hard to obtain them. I was then criticized (in fact, I still am now) for not working hard enough, even though I obtained the top grade regardless.
When I was about 15, I started putting posters of boys up on my walls and generally showing an interest in the opposite sex. This was swiftly disapproved of by my mum, and soon afterwards, my sexual desires mysteriously disappeared. Then, a few years later, I was scolded for not having a boyfriend.
Now, I’m not saying that parents should obey their children’s every whim, or necessarily take account of what is or isn’t the latest trend at school. But what I’m realizing is that I had so many mixed messages growing up, that it is little wonder I still find myself searching in vain for the one thing that will make me acceptable. I wonder if, in the midst of all of these confusing expectations, the one thing my parents wanted to do was keep me a child – and they did this by exerting control over me, and ignoring my very real need to be accepted – both by them and by my peers.
So, I’m back to the same idea: learning to recognize and accept my own feelings, which have lain dormant for far too long.