Brene Brown says that when her mom went to therapy to begin working on her alcohol addiction it started a revolution in her family that continues to this day. We ARE a family just like that.
I remember when it started. I think I was in my early 30’s. We were going to a very authoritarian church where one of the leaders wives approached me and said something to me like, “You have a lot of symptoms of _______ and therefore, I’d like to meet with you for counseling.” I said okay but I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I pretty much said yes because she really did recognize the symptoms of some very awful events that took place early in my life and I did want to deal with them. At the same time, her approach was rather shame-inducing and gave me the creeps because I never really knew what symptoms actually tipped her off. I mean seriously, if I’d been as healthy as I am now, I would have recognized how out of whack it is for a counselor to approach me in this way and never agreed to it. At the same time, I am a firm believer that God does do some kind of magic in the midst of our crazy humanness and this was one of those times. It was a short season and I moved on.
Several years later, Hannah came to me after a Mother’s Day buffet dinner and opened up to me about her fear of bulimia. That set us on a path of discovery that we have never been able to depart from. First it was a dietician…then a local psychologist…then a hospital inpatient treatment team…then a residential treatment team…individual therapy for her, family therapy for us. To put it mildly, it’s been a shitstorm of emotional energy that has forced us to go deep because her life was literally on the line for months on end. We didn’t even think about withholding anything back during this process. Fast forward to the present day, however, and we find ourselves dealing with something most unexpected.
All of this hard emotional work has ushered in a total transformation of our family life that while living in Utah was much easier to handle. It was just the three of us and occasionally our son and both sets of our parents when they would visit. We didn’t have to think even once about our own siblings because we were just too intensely focused on what was in front of us. We had a very unique and wonderful support system in Logan that we didn’t even realize we had until we moved away.
Our growth over the years has required us to become brutally honest with each other. We sense dysfunction in one another very quickly and address it with equal speed. We assess much of life itself very differently now that we’ve been in the arena wrestling with our individual and corporate family demons so relentlessly. We value just about everything so differently. We have more stuff but it means a lot less. We have less time with one another but our time together is increasingly more authentic and meaningful. We are all less passive and compliant and as a result much more assertive. We are each less interested in pleasing others to keep the peace and we’re sincerely not interested in wearing a “game face” and pretending things are okay when they clearly are not. We are certainly not a perfect family, in fact we are all very aware of how much we’re just like anyone else but I guess we’re just a bit more okay with it. Tonight as I write this, I find myself just wishing we would have been warned so we could have been prepared for how all of this growth and change would impact our lives beyond ourselves and our children if we ever returned back “home”. This summer’s experiences with some of our extended family has ushered in a seismic shift that Dean and I are still trying to understand and figure out how to deal with.
As a spiritual woman, I’m often thinking about the words I spent years reading in my Bible about families and how when Jesus talked about them. It seems that what he is reported to have said was so very different from what I ever heard from Focus on the Family or at Campus Crusade for Christ’s Family Life conferences where we were gathered primarily to learn what it meant to have a Christian marriage and family. My observations are that Jesus seemed to usher in a bit of shitstorm whenever the topic of family came up. He told someone to let the dead bury their own. He told someone else that his brothers and sisters were those in the Kingdom and not necessarily related by blood. He even went so far as to say, I came to divide families. Pretty different from what we think of when we’re picturing how we will relate to one another in families, isn’t it?
What are we to do with what he said if we want to sincerely follow in his steps? I’m not sure, but I can say that if we’re really serious about becoming ruthlessly real, the odds are pretty good that we’ll experience some conflict with those biologically closest to us. We may have the same blood, may have been raised in the same home but we are simply not clones of one another. It would seem that to be most authentic, we need to acknowledge that and give one another the freedom to be who they really are without interference from us.
In the last decade I have personally had to delve deep to discover how to have a relationship with my own children in light of surreal and very unexpected circumstances. I had to realize that I cannot make either of my children into the Christian people I had envisioned they would become. Over the years it has become crystal clear to me that real faith exists in the heart and the mind of the individual where only God can actually see. We may have similar culture and church beliefs that we give assent to but they are not our own genuine faith.
As a result of what we’ve learned we live with more authentic and deeper relationships with both of our children as well as many of our friends. We’ve learned to allow others to think through their own truth and be where they want to be in just about every way without losing our love for them. At first it was very threatening to even begin to think and act on this reality but as it became clear that it was essential to our own health and well-being we pressed on. In every way it has taught us the necessity of two things that are true for us; loving God with our whole being…and loving others as we love ourselves without condition. That’s it. That is our truth both as individuals and as a couple.
Unfortunately, while trying to love God and others, everything continues to be filtered through our culture and tribe. We’ve discovered that each has rules for us to follow in order to be allowed in, each one defining what actions indicate love and loyalty within them. Any deviation and we’re seen as something other and that is simply a very hard place to be. It has become clear to me that when we grew enough to really heal some things, we may have to break some of these rules and whether we like it or not, we will suffer the consequences. No matter how hallow or pretentious we find these rules when life and death are on the line, they can remain sacred to our families. Though they are what we first knew and what made us who we are to a large degree, going back to them is not an option because the fires of our life’s circumstances have deeply changed us.
Rising Strong is Brene Brown’s latest book and it’s really all about this process. In reading it I found that it was incredibly validating for me but equally very difficult. I came to see that sometimes Rising Strong literally means rising away from what you thought was your one true solid foundation.
I continue to want a whole-hearted life and most of all an authentic one, like I think Jesus lived his life. I really do want that. I guess, I am still surprised that when he said it would be a narrow way, he really wasn’t kidding. I’m still surprised that there really are crosses to bear. I’m surprised that my mind, my heart and my soul are all required to be engaged in the transformational journey for as long as I live. Though I would give just about anything to gain a good outcome in the eye of my tribe and culture, the one thing I cannot give up is authenticity. I just didn’t think it would really be so hard. I just didn’t.